Family Stories Inspire Alumnus Screenwriter

Busy film set
Terri Polo looks to camera while director Maria Capp talks to Robert Davi on the set of ‘Pizza and Whine’ – written by SFTV alum Elliott Estrada.

 

“Written by Elliott Estrada” is a credit you’ll be seeing shortly on a feature film called “Pizza and Whine.” Estrada, a 2016 M.F.A. graduate from LMU’s School of Film and Television, said it was a combination of personal stories that lead to the script for his first feature film.

“Pizza and Whine” tells the story of four young women, sisters and cousins, who travel to Los Angeles for the holidays to face their dysfunctional family during the funeral of their grandmother. Their journey brings up a history of bad blood that threatens to divide them forever unless they can bury the past. “Pizza and Whine” was filmed over 16 days in January.

Being on set for the majority of the shoot was a great learning experience for Estrada. “This was my first experience of filming, so it was an eye-opening time for me,” Estrada said. “I was working very closely with the director, Maria Capp, and she wanted me on set as much as possible.”

When he first moved to Los Angeles, Estrada worked as a personal assistant for Capp. After almost two years in that role, he moved on to a job at William Morris Endeavor.

“But about nine months ago,” said Estrada, “Maria reached out to me about my writing, wanting to see if I was interested in writing something for her.”

Capp’s daughter had written a one-act, one-location stage based on a personal story. “After reading and watching the play, I pitched my take on the film and Maria loved it,” said Estrada. Their goal was to make a fun, family film that is built on the real-life personal struggles young women deal with every day.

“So, while the original play wasn’t my own personal project, the feature script was and writing it allowed me to tell my sister’s inspiring story of graduating from law school while having a daughter,” said Estrada.

Elliot Duque Estrada pic - Family Stories Inspire Alumnus Screenwriter
Elliott Estrada, MFA 2016

He attended LMU’s School of Film and Television on the graduate M.F.A. screenwriting program from 2013-16. After graduating, he began a full-time job at WME where he worked in the story department reading scripts every day.

“It was a great gig for someone who wants to be a writer, reading other writers on a daily basis and seeing the type of projects that were getting attention around town,” said Estrada. While working at WME, he was signed by a management company and the Gersh Agency and since then he has been building his writing portfolio with the goal of selling and/or getting staffed on a show.

All looked to be on track until last fall, when WME shut down its story department. “I was let go,” said Estrada. “However, it was a bit of a blessing in disguise as it paved the way for writing ‘Pizza and Whine’”.

Estrada is pushing for success: “This is one of the hardest industries in the world and if you’re not putting in the time then you will not be successful. It’s easy to push off the work and say ‘I’ll do it over the weekend’ but you really need to be developing your craft on a daily basis. Having student loans facing you can be a tremendous motivator!”

“I was given great advice while at LMU, I think from Stephen Duncan,” Estrada added, “which is that writers have a lot more power than we’ve been led to believe. We’re trying to find an agent or manager that believes in us, then we’re trying to find a production company or studio that wants to make our project.

“But agents and production companies need us just as much as we need them. If these executives could come up with content, they would. They need our creative minds just as much as we need their help in getting our stories out there.”

 

 

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Maria Capp, director “Pizza and Whine” (blue shirt) at work on the feature film set. The movie was written by LMU School of Film and Television alum Elliott Estrada.