Getting The Story Right

Gina Wurtz takes us through the development of one of her screenplays

Every time I read a piece by Gina Wurtz I feel either empowered or overjoyed. I think if I were to describe how her work makes you feel I would say it’s like the exact moment you realize Dancing Queen has come on at a bar or an event and you get to sing along. It’s exactly the pick-me-up you need when the world is scarcely providing them. Gina always manages to make me feel excited about the simple pleasures we often are made to feel guilty about liking at all. I am overjoyed every time she posts her work or she tells me the pop culture event she is researching for a new piece. She always writes with a perspective or opinion I never would have thought of on my own, but agree with entirely. Her ability to look beyond the surface of the films or art we look to for comfort and tell us why they effect us so deeply in the first place is incredible. The excitement she has for both her work and other artist’s work reminds me why I enjoy creating in the first place. Gina always reminds her readers to have fun with the pieces we enjoy creating and consuming. I asked her to be part of this newsletter because I believe her to be an incredible artist. But also because I think Gina uses comedy and the things we love to comment on the modern issues we now all face daily with incredible skill. In the newsletter below Gina broke down one of my favorite pieces she’s ever done. A full screenplay that had me actually laughing out loud, reading my favorite parts to everyone I could. She talks about process, character development, and how she didn’t let the pandemic keep her from creating the work she loves. I am more than happy to present the ever so talented writer, Gina Wurtz.

Hi, I’m Gina! I’m a writer who discovered my love for screenwriting when I wrote an unaired sci-fi/mystery web series titled Area 41 back in the Summer of 2017. Since then, I graduated with my BFA in Screen Studies from The New School in Manhattan. My favorite writing style is taking experiences or people that I know and exaggerating them for comedic effect to make a point about a societal issue. This is what I did when I wrote the script for Tony Vampirelli. I’m also conscious of the work I’m putting into the world and the effect it will have on audiences. I want to create work that brings people joy and does not send negativity or harm into society.

I had planned to use Tony Vampirelli as my senior capstone, but filming was put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, this led me to re-writing and re-working the script into something I’m even more proud of. It also taught me a lot about unprecedented readjustments and how to work around unfavorable circumstances. 

Script Breakdown

Tony Vampirelli is the story of an Italian vampire living in America who must return to his home country of Italy after finding out that his childhood best friend, Vincenzo Tortinelli has been murdered. Tony takes it upon himself to solve the murder and avenge his best friend’s killer.

The character of Tony Vampirelli already existed prior to me coming up with a film around him. My sister’s boyfriend at the time had a series of alter egos, one of them being an Italian vampire named Tony Vampirelli. I was studying screenwriting at The New School, and since so many of our friends knew of Tony Vampirelli and loved him, I decided to write a film around his character. I made a PowerPoint presentation to pitch to him and my sister, and when I got the okay, I immediately started on the script process. 

Before writing, I created the characters and gave them all backstories. I wrote about what they were all like in high school, how they interacted with eachother, what their parents did for a living, and why Tony left Italy. This is a very crucial part of creating a story. Even though I don’t mention most of these things in the script, it’s essential to know and understand your characters. When you’re writing their dialogue, actions, or even deciding what job they work at or where they hang out, you want to make sure it aligns with who they are; otherwise, you might create something a little messy or all over the place. 

I knew I wanted Tony Vampirelli to be a very satirical film that mocks the stereotypes associated with Italian Americans. However, I also wanted to incorporate an origin story that explains how the Italian vampire came to be. At first, I thought maybe this could be something I drop into a scene through dialogue. Instead, I created an intro to the film that plays before we even meet Tony that showcases his origins. I had come up with the phrase “blood is thicker than gravy,” and I made this the basis for the intro. There’s a blood drought in Transylvania where the vampires live, and they desperately need to find a replacement. The most convenient thing for them to do is fly to Italy and see if gravy, which non-Italians refer to as sauce, will be a good substitute. 

I initially struggled with creating the environment of Italy for this intro. When I first wrote the scene when the vampires arrive in Italy, the setting was an Italian restaurant, and the dialogue was between the two vampires and an Italian chef. However, the characters in Tony Vampirelli had always been based around American Italians like Tony Soprano and the cast of Jersey Shore. The original intro didn't correctly express this. During covid lockdown, I spent a lot of time rewriting and reworking the script. At the time, filming in a restaurant wouldn't have been possible, so I changed it to an Italian family's dining room during Sunday dinner–something that my family did every Sunday when I was younger. This ended up fitting in so much better and set the tone of the film from the start. Even though the film is set in Italy, it isn't an accurate representation of the country as much as it interprets Italians and their culture from my perspective. 

I also remember a moment in creating the screenplay where I realized Vampires can't be in sunlight without burning into a pile of dust. I panicked for a second and thought that I had spent all this time writing a script that didn't make any sense. But shortly after, I came up with a line for Tony to say that explains why it's possible. There's a joke that since Italians typically don't have fair skin, they don't burn in the sun; they tan. So I wrote in a line for Tony that says, "I'm an Italian. We don't burn; we tan," and it ended up being one of my favorite lines in the screenplay.

Although I love all my characters dearly, one of my favorite characters to write was Lorenzo. At the time I was writing the script, I was watching an Italian Netflix series called Baby. One of the characters is played by a very good-looking actor named Lorenzo Zurzolo, and his character on the show was a colossal jerk. I used this as inspiration to create a very conceited, womanizer character. I would compare him to Gaston from Beauty and The Beast. As unlikable as he may seem, he has so many great lines that it’s hard to actually hate him; he adds so much humor to the film. 

I also mention multiple times throughout the film that Lorenzo is a northern Italian, which adds to his superiority complex. I wanted to explore beauty standards and race in our society. Northern Italians are more likely to have lighter eyes and fair skin, and people from Southern Italy, places like Sicily, have darker skin, eyes, and hair. Sicilians are often looked down upon by other Italians for having darker skin. When creating Lorenzo I was thinking of people like Leonardo Dicaprio, who has this beautiful Italian name but fits right into America’s beauty standard.

One of my favorite scenes to write for this film was the fight between Tony and Lorenzo. At this point, Tony is convinced Lorenzo is the killer, and he wants to “battle it out” with him to prove he’s right. This is a total mockery of toxic masculinity and how men will quite literally go to war over everything, despite it being completely unreasonable and never ending in any resolution. The petty feud between Tony and Lorenzo felt very high school, but it’s also the same rage that mafia men have against eachother. Lorenzo’s competitiveness around who has the best pizzeria, his family, or Vincenzo’s, was such a ridiculous, silly concept, but is so relevant to the behavior of men in our society. If you look at how men run companies or social media platforms, they’re always trying to outdo each other. I took a lot of inspiration from shows like Twilight Zone and films like Death Becomes Her because they take these societal things that we see as normal and exaggerate them to show audiences just how ridiculous they are. I love the dynamic between the two because typically, when writing a film, you want to make the audience side with the main character no matter what. In this case, the audience should support Tony while viewing Lorenzo as the villain. But it’s also evident that Tony and Lorenzo are mirrors of eachother. They’re both over the top competitive and consistently trying to outdo the other one, but they don’t even see it. The characters I wrote, named Marie and Josie, hang on every word Lorenzo says in the film. He entertains them because it makes him look good, but in this scene, they find out he was hanging out with another girl. Lorenzo is unphased by how he’s hurt them, which again gives you the idea of what kind of character he is–someone who completely disregards and uses other people.

Tony Vampirelli was so much fun for me to write, and it’s a great example of why I love storytelling so much. I got to take these ideas that initially started out as just a concept or just one character, and then I continued to build on them. Along the way, I came up with even more to add and ultimately had this entire story that I could’ve never imagined would play out the way it did when I first came up with the idea. From my perspective, if you took The Godfather, Jersey Shore, and Rocky Horror Picture Show and blended them together, you would get Tony Vampirelli. That wasn’t what I would have thought this character would turn into when he was first created, but I’m very happy and proud of what this all turned into. 

To read Gina’s personal essays and other pieces visit Gina’s Website

or her Instagram !

I grew up around a lot of family members who valued security, reliability, and safety in their lives and careers, but I always knew I wanted to do something different. I loved watching movies as a kid about adventurous, strong-minded characters like Pippi Longstocking or Disney movies like Beauty and The Beast. When we’re younger, we’re fed all these messages in media about following our dreams, and this ignites a spark, and it keeps us creative and enthusiastic. As we grow older, we’re surrounded by cynicism and negativity, and that initial spark dies out. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in pursuing my dreams is never to let that spark die out. I have kept that creative, excited child with extraordinary dreams alive, and it’s the one thing that keeps me going even when it feels hard or impossible. So my advice would be never to let the part of you that believed in magic and endless possibilities die.

This newsletter is brought to you by:

Greta Gerwig for breaking down walls and paving the road for the next generation of female screenwriters.

Caran Hartsfield for encouraging me to write what I know and reminding me no one else can tell my story.

Taylor Swift for fighting for artists’ right to own their art.

MTV’s Jersey Shore for bringing over-the-top Italian stereotypes into mainstream media.

The Walt Disney Company for continuing to inspire children to follow their dreams no matter how extraordinary they may seem.

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