Sarantis Raftopoulos

"Born and raised in Athens, Greece, Sarantis Raftopoulos is a rising screenwriter whose narratives are steeped in the rich history and intellectual legacy of his homeland. A graduate of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens with a degree in Political Science and Public Administration, Sarantis has skillfully woven the complexities of politics and human nature into the fabric of his storytelling.

Expanding his expertise, Sarantis furthered his education at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), earning a graduate certificate in Film and TV Development. This cross-continental education has endowed him with a diverse palette of narrative techniques and a deep understanding of the film and television landscape.

Sarantis' portfolio boasts a variety of unproduced scripts, from shorts to features, and pilots to spec scripts, showcasing his ability to craft compelling narratives across multiple formats. With a drive to see his stories on screen, he is currently on the verge of bringing his latest short film, Defining Moment, to fruition, an endeavor that promises to not only highlight his creative vision but also cement his status within the industry."

Can you tell us about your journey into screenwriting? What inspired you to pursue this career path?
I jokingly say that I didn’t choose to become a screenwriter, rather, screenwriting chose me. From a very young age, I was captivated by the storytelling power of movies and television, though I had no personal connections to the entertainment industry. My fascination wasn't just with watching narratives unfold, I was constantly brimming with stories of my own that demanded to be told. As a child, I remember giving my toys elaborate personalities and weaving complex tales during playtime. I used to have a notebook filled with stories and movie ideas. Despite this early passion, I initially tried to follow a more conventional career path. However, the call to write was persistent and irresistible, it haunted me, in the most inspiring way. Finally, surrendering to this inner urge, I took a definitive step toward my dream by enrolling in a writing workshop. This experience confirmed my desire to pursue screenwriting seriously and led me to further my education and skills at UCLA. There, I immersed myself in learning the craft, driven by a clear goal of sharing my stories with the world.

What is your writing process like? Do you have any specific rituals or routines 
that help you stay focused and creative?
My writing process is fundamentally anchored in organization, both in a physical and metaphorical sense. To me, clarity of vision is essential. You can't effectively translate an idea into a screenplay without a precise understanding of the story's trajectory and character arcs. I'm a firm believer in the power of outlines and beat sheets. My process starts with nurturing the seed of an idea. This involves extensive research to ensure authenticity and depth in the story. From there, I dive into character development, fleshing out personalities and backstories which, in turn, inform and enrich the plot. In terms of my physical workspace, I thrive in environments that are clean and organized. A cluttered space leads to a cluttered mind, so I keep my workspace tidy. This organizational approach extends into my writing hours, which I prefer to schedule during daylight. There is something truly magical about writing while bathed in natural sunlight. It’s as if the rays energize my creativity, casting new light on my ideas and helping them flow more freely onto the keyboard.

How do you approach developing characters for your scripts? Are they inspired by real people, purely fictional, or a combination of both?
It’s a combination of both. Although I haven't directly based any characters on actual individuals, the influence of people from my life is inevitably woven into my fictional creations. For instance, if I'm crafting a character who’s a lawyer, I naturally reflect on lawyers I know personally. Elements of their demeanor, their way of speaking, and their ethical compass might subconsciously inform the character's development. This isn't about replicating a real person on the page but rather capturing the essence of authenticity that those real-world interactions provide.

What do you consider to be the most challenging aspect of writing a screenplay?
Any good screenplay has to evoke some emotional reaction from the reader or viewer. So, one of the most challenging aspects is effectively conveying emotional truth. This requires a deep dive into the character's psychological and emotional landscapes to ensure their feelings and reactions resonate with the audience. It's about translating complex human emotions into dialogue and action that feel real and maintaining this
emotional integrity throughout the screenplay to keep the audience engaged. For example, in one of my favorite recent films, Everything Everywhere All at Once, by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, despite its fantastical and chaotic narrative, the core of the story is a profoundly relatable mother-daughter relationship. This emotional anchor makes the story compelling and resonant. As a screenwriter, I try to write scripts that not only entertain but also connect deeply with the audience.

Can you share any tips or techniques you use for overcoming writer's block?
Whenever I encounter writer's block, my go-to strategy is to go back to the drawing board. It's crucial to revisit the foundation of your story to identify any gaps or misalignments in the narrative. I often find that digging into additional research can unlock new avenues for the story or offer fresh perspectives that strengthen my writing. Additionally, I turn to films and scripts that echo the themes or style of my current project. This not only helps me gather inspiration but also allows me to study how other writers tackle similar narrative challenges. Watching how they unfold their stories can spark ideas and solutions for my work.

What genre do you feel most comfortable writing in, and why?
Choosing a favorite genre to write in is quite difficult because I feel equipped to handle many like a Swiss Army knife. However, I find myself most comfortable writing character-driven thrillers, psychological dramas, and suspense mysteries. There's an undeniable thrill and a sense of liberation in exploring the darker aspects of human nature through these genres. Creating dark characters and crafting complex, twisted plots allows me to delve deep into the psyche of my characters and the suspenseful situations they navigate. The tension and unpredictability that are inherent in these genres captivate me. I enjoy the challenge of keeping the audience on the edge of their seats, guessing and gasping until the very end.

How do you balance staying true to your vision as a writer while also being open to feedback and collaboration?
Screenwriting is not just an act of creation but also one of adaptation and compromise. As the script develops from a concept into a full-fledged screenplay, it undergoes numerous revisions, some coming from personal insights and others from external feedback. The key lies in discerning which critiques and suggestions align with the core themes and messages of the story I want to tell and which might lead it astray. This involves clearly understanding the script's foundational elements and a commitment to safeguarding them as the screenplay evolves. Ultimately, it's about ensuring that the finished product delivers the emotional and intellectual impact I envisioned while being adaptable enough to incorporate constructive feedback that enriches the narrative.

Can you discuss any memorable experiences you've had while working on a screenplay, either positive or challenging?
A memorable experience I've had while working on a screenplay involved my current project, Defining Moment. This script has undergone numerous transformations over the years, each iteration bringing it closer to what I had in mind, yet not quite hitting the mark. The journey with this script taught me the importance of patience and letting ideas mature over time. I recall a particular phase when I struggled to refine the plot to my satisfaction. No matter how much I tweaked it, something didn't feel right. That's when I decided to step back and give the script some space, to let it "marinate in its juices", so to speak. After some time away, I returned to it with a fresh perspective and clearer head, which made all the difference. This experience was both frustrating and instructive, emphasizing that sometimes, the best thing a writer can do is take a step back. It’s not just about continuously working on a script but also about allowing it to evolve naturally.

Are there any particular themes or messages that you find yourself returning to in your writing?
I often explore the theme of trauma and its profound impact on personal identity. For instance, in my TV pilot Thymele, I explore a character's journey through the aftermath of a significant loss. Similarly, in Defining Moment, I focus on a character overcoming the enduring scars of a turbulent childhood. These stories not only explore the psychological struggles stemming from traumatic experiences but also highlight the resilience of the human spirit. Characters in my scripts find new strengths and insights as they rebuild their lives, providing a hopeful outlook on personal recovery and self-discovery.

Defining Moment

While recounting the darkest night of his life, a man enters a psychological maze, blurring the lines between past atrocities and present realities,