Meet the writer Elaina Perpelitt
We recently had the chance to sit down with Elaina Perpelitt, writer of both episode 3 (Innocent) and episode 5 (Tonight).
MyTeeVee: Let's start with an introduction. Who are you?
Elaina Perpelitt: I’m Elaina Perpelitt. I also sometimes write under the name ZK Lowenfels. My first play and upcoming novel are under that name. I’m twenty-one, and I currently live in New York City. I’m originally from Oregon, where I grew up at a boarding school.
MTV: Where did the name ZK Lowenfels come from?
EP: My first writing teacher was my grandmother, Manna Lowenfels, and she also introduced me to my great-grandfather's work (Walter Lowenfels, who was a brilliant poet). Lowenfels is a tribute to her and the fact that I would not be the writer I am without her. I'll let ZK remain a mystery for now, although there is an explanation behind it.
MTV: Do you have any new projects coming up?[/vc_column_text]
EP: I recently sold a short film to Under 1 Roof Productions, and they are shooting this month. It's called I'll Eat You Alive, so you can keep an eye out for that. I also sold a short being shot this summer by Marcus Meisler, which is my first attempt at horror-comedy. It's currently untitled.
I'm hoping to mount my second play, You Probably Won't Die Tomorrow, in New York sometime this year, and my agent is submitting my debut novel, Beautiful Trouble, to publishers this month as well.
MTV: When you say you grew up at a boarding school, how much of your life was there? Were there benefits to growing up how you did?
EP: My parents graduated from the boarding school, and then stayed on as staff, and then had me. My grandmother also worked there as the librarian. I'd say most of my life up until 16 was spent there. When all the boarding kids went home for breaks, I would stay behind and often fill the hours with massive quantities of books. My mom would take me to the local library and I'd pile them to my eyes. I don't know if I'd be so in love with words if it weren't for that. I also got exposed to a wide variety of cultures from a young age and I now have friends all over the country and the world.
MTV: How did you hear about MATCH?
EP: I heard about MATCH through the Internet, completely by chance.
MTV: What was the process of submitting like for you? By that, I mean, what did you think might happen? Hope would happen? Did you have any expectation at all?
EP: I didn't think too much of it, really. I'd written these shorts for directing students at film school, hoping someone would shoot them, and no one did. But I read the description for Match and I was like, "Oh, this is me. This is the kind of stuff I do." So I was a little bit hopeful, but definitely didn't think one or both of my scripts would get chosen.
MTV: Innocent deals with some very intense, very real issues that young people face on a daily basis, and that most people are afraid to even talk about. Does it take courage to put stories like this out there?
EP: Like Allie, I was also twelve when I entered high school and I also struggled with her social anxieties and self-harm. I used to be terrified to write about anything personal, anything that would expose myself, especially any part of myself that was still vulnerable - and then I saw an interview with filmmaker Catherine Breillat in which she spoke about being fearless as an artist. It inspired me to let go of the limits I’d placed on my own imagination, the fear of being judged or exposed, what my friends would think, what my parents would think. Writing anything that scares me now... that’s sort of how I can tell it’s good. Allie is, in a lot of ways, a lot of what I wish I could’ve been. She has the strength to speak up to Daniel. I was struggling with the same issues that she has in her mind, but I was never able to articulate it at the time; I was completely internal. This piece was my way of saying it, and my goal – my hope, really – is that someone will see it, and feel seen by it. Feel less invisible. Feel less alone.
MTV: So, you actually started high school at 12? One can only imagine the day-to-day of that. Was there a saving grace to having to deal with the anxieties and self-harm?
EP: Yeah, it was actually miserable. I was petrified of people and pretty much constantly on the verge of tears. I'd skip lunch so I wouldn't have to figure out where to eat. Cafeteria politics, nightmare. My grandmother was my best friend during this time, and she'd always be like, "You used to be happy." She was concerned, I was writing all these dark poems about death. I don't know if I'd call it a saving grace, but I think there's a reason I experienced it. It has become a huge part of the reason I write, what I write about and who I write to.
MTV: Where does your style of writing come from?
EP: I think it comes from a composite of influences, mostly the ones that gave me permission to fuck around, which I love to do. That hyper intense realism, or that aspect of being stylized - that’s always the sort of work that has fascinated me. I remember seeing Rian Johnson’s Brick in high school, which used pulp fiction and noir-ish dialogue in a modern setting, and feeling like, "Oh, there’s no limits. You’re allowed to do whatever." I went and wrote a short film in iambic pentameter.
MTV: Did that film ever get made?
EP: Sadly, no. I tried at film school, but no bites. I was 15 when I wrote it, but if anyone wants to read it (or make it), email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can send it. It's called Escapegoat.
MTV: What inspired Tonight?
EP: First of all, teenage girls are my favorite subject, in case that wasn’t obvious. I’m very interested in the weird experience of being one, of being both an object of attraction to grown men and also still being a kid. I wrote the poem "Faustian Bargain" first, and my friend Gia read it and started writing a scene with it, a girl coming home in the rain. She’s like, "This is a film." I took that and turned it into the short. Big shout out to Gia for inspiring it. Tonight would not exist without her.
MTV: What about that piece most excites you?
EP: I'm most excited by its form, like a sort of poetry music video, the way the poem ties it together and builds to the reveal. I haven't really seen anything like this before.
MTV: Is the poetry presentation the main character does in Tonight something you’ve also done?
EP: Yeah, I have.
MTV: How did you get into that world?
EP: I did a few open mic nights, but that was about it. Poetry was my first love in terms of writing. It was my gateway drug.
M: That first taste always sticks with you. How was the experience? How were your words received?
EP: It was great. I read this long avant-garde piece, and for whatever reason, people stuck with me until the end. I always tell myself I should go back. I probably will eventually; especially living in New York, I have no excuses. But being in front of an audience (or a camera) still scares me; I'm massively introverted.
MTV: What was your transition from poetry to screenwriting?
EP: I fell in love with film around the time my father discovered Netflix. He’d start renting all these amazing old movies - Fellini, Kurosawa, Woody Allen - and I had grown up so sheltered, you know, I had seen so little of the world, and here it all was, like poetry but with all these other elements; I wanted to be involved. So I went to film school. I was also lucky enough to be mentored by an established filmmaker while in school, so I got to learn about screenwriting that way, which I think expedited my learning curve.
MTV: How was your experience working with MyTeeVee and (directors) Matthew Kaundart and Elspeth Victoria Brown?
EP: Amazing. I feel so blessed to have my work brought to life by such talented and passionate people.
MTV: Did you have many conversations with the directors before the shoots?
EP: I was living in LA at the time, so I was able to meet with Matthew a couple times. He was great, he came to my play, read some of my other work and used those as references in revisions, which is pretty much a writer's dream.
MTV: Was his vision for the film similar to yours?
EP: Matthew's was, yes. Innocent was pretty close to what I imagined. I think Elspeth had her own style and ideas about Tonight, and she ran with it and turned it into what it is.
MTV: Anything else you'd like to add about your experience so far with MyTeeVee?
EP: It’s very exciting to the think of the potential MyTeeVee has to provide opportunities for people from all over. I think one of the biggest discouraging things about Hollywood is the idea that it’s built through connections over talent, but I think as the Internet continues to provide opportunities, that becomes less and less true.