Shane Hallawa

What inspired you to become a screenwriter, and what keeps you motivated to keep writing?

I’ve been writing stories for fun over the past fifteen-plus years, inspired largely by shows and movies in the tokusatsu genre, anime, and ‘classic’ Western/American movies and shows from “yesteryear.” My decision to publish officially was a recent one; there are many independent creators and new companies cropping up in the wake of “dissatisfaction” over many media franchises. I think “The Stylite” has a unique enough story/worldbuilding that can garner plenty of interest.

Can you tell us about your writing process, from the initial idea to the final draft?

I first started with designing the armor suits that Teresa Amadei, her older cousin Matthew Abbate, and the Saracen wear. My first draft for the novel was started only in 2019; after taking a year break, it was finished around Eastertime of 2022. The rest of 2022 was spent getting the draft beta-read and creating second and final drafts, and compiling the series bible before finally publishing the script in 2023, and the actual book early in 2024.

How do you approach creating characters, and what techniques do you use to develop them?

The creation of Teresa Amadei as the protagonist is multifaceted. I’vd written stories in the past either starring male heroes or starring an ensemble male and female cast. So this time, for something different, I opted for a female protagonist. When it came to actually putting pen to paper to develop her, two of the main influences for both Teresa and her mother Juliana were “Barabbas” by Par Lagerkvist (and the 1961 movie adaptation starring Anthony Quinn), and “Miracle on 34th St.

Juliana’s personality is comparable to Doris Walker’s in “Miracle,” not one who is inherently bad, but a woman who is “of the world” and advocates its norms because “that is what is considered right.” Barabbas as portrayed in the Bible has no real character, but Lagerkvist’s version portrays a duality of “cynicism or derision toward a higher moral order, in the face of reality,” and “innate awareness that things are not right in the world and himself, but unable to define it or commit to a side.” The relationship between Teresa and Juliana throughout the story exemplifies this conflict, with Teresa embodying the latter, and Juliana the former.

Can you share with us a bit about your latest project and the story behind it?

The initial idea for “The Stylite” came back in the summer of 2014, while I was doing a graduate course. I was reading the book “In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and The Rise of the Global Arab Empire” by Tom Holland, which details the history of the Middle East and Mediterranean in Late Antiquity. The book went into detail on the Byzantine Empire, life in Constantinople (modern Istanbul) the stylites/Desert Fathers & Mothers, Christian monks/nuns who lived in seclusion in the dessert, and the Zoroastrianism of Sassanid Persia, namely their fire temples. Reading all of that both indoors and outdoors in the summertime, one could feel immersed in the hot, dusty environments of that part of the world. From there came the first idea of a superhero-like character based on the stylites and the fire temples of Persia.

What do you think sets your writing apart from others in the industry, and how do you showcase your unique voice?

I wanted to write Teresa in a manner different from what has been “conventional over the past several decades when it comes to female characters, especially in media targeted to younger people, namely in her relationship with her elders, and her “sibling bond” with Matthew. Often media wants to show these type of characters as “antagonistic to social norms” in general; and with regards to male siblings, the relationship is often portrayed in a “lopsided” way where the brother gets “discredited” in some way for some sort of “hypocrisy” that vindicates the sister’s views. Now Teresa has antagonism, particularly with her mother, but in a different way (or at least, a different style) than is often the case in media. The jibing between Teresa and Matthew is one part “normal sibling interaction,” but not at the expense of discrediting Matthew, the “elder brother,” as a character, which would ultimately have hurt his role in the story.

The dialogues and bantering between characters, good guys with good guys, heroes with villains, and even villains to each other, are all meant to express various themes and ideas that reflect many issues in the real world, especially cultural events in the West over the past thirty years. Yet at the same time, I tried to maintain a balancing act in weaving all these things in a way that doesn’t overshadow the story and characters to become a speech, but rather fits each character’s personality and motives.

How do you balance your personal creative vision with the needs of producers, directors, and other collaborators?

I invite producers and directors to take a look at my spec script and see if they are interested in taking/working with it. Ideally I would discuss the terms of use, what they would want or have to change for reasons of practicality, budget, etc., and whom I would really want to play the characters in the story. I have a list of actresses, three in particular, whom I think would be suitable to play Teresa, provided their and their managers’ interest in the project. Casting Matthew, on the other hand, has proven more difficult.

Can you talk about a particularly challenging moment you faced while working on a project and how you overcame it?

Dialogue has been the constant issue I’ve had with writing, namely coming up with such that sounds natural yet not too “contemporary” or “slang-y.” I like to use the dialogues from old TV shows and movies from the 1940s through the 2000s, as inspiration for my work. The trick has always been to try to emulate their style and “grandness” while still feeling like something my characters (especially the younger ones) could believably say. It often takes a few rewrites before coming up with something that I think is workable. The ultimate test of whether it worked, is how readers/viewers will respond.

How do you see the role of screenwriting in the film industry evolving, and how do you see yourself fitting into that future?

I see more independent content creators (of all types) taking chances with putting out their product and seeing what is successful.

Can you share any advice or tips for emerging screenwriters who are just starting out?

Nothing particularly unique, beyond “write what you know,” make sure your characters and themes are readily understandable by readers/viewers, and submitting your work to as many events, festivals, etc. as possible or as befitting your work.

Finally, what are your long-term goals as a screenwriter, and what legacy do you hope to leave in the industry?

My only goal at the moment is writing/publishing my novels, and getting my scripts noticed by producers, managers, etc.