Emerging leaders

Screenwriter’s take on Hollywood and the value of mentors

A writer and a model, Jacobo Fe Gismera has won numerous awards in the entertainment industry. Originally from Spain, at the age of 19, Jacobo became the youngest Spanish author in the historical writing genre with his novel "Perfectus Imperator." Last week, he won WeScreenplay College Competition. He also has eight years of experience as a model and was featured by publications in 12 countries. A Fulbright Award Alumni of UCLA Screenwriting & TV Writing graduate program, Jacobo works hard towards his career in Hollywood despite facing numerous challenges. One of these challenges is discrimination, he says. However, this doesn't hold him back.

In this honest chat with W Insight’s Joanna Socha, Jacobo discusses his motivation, struggles and plans for the future. He also shares his experiences, lessons learned, as well as advice for others facing similar challenges.

How did you discover that screenwriting is your passion?

At school, I was always this storyteller kind of kid. When my classmates missed class, for instance, I always enjoyed telling them what happened. At one point, I realized there are different ways you can tell a story and different reactions you can provoke depending on the words you use. When I said something in a particular way, I could make people laugh or feel nostalgic. That’s how I realized that language can generate different emotions.

Jacobo Fe Gismera (photo by Kyle Nguyen)

Were your parents and people around you supportive of your passions when you were a child?

Well, I’m fortunate because my family is very artistic. My father, for example, is an architect and an inventor. My mother is a psychologist and has the ability to solve any little problem, like MacGyver. So I’ve always received a lot of support from my parents, who influenced my art a lot even though they’re not strictly linked to the entertainment industry.

At the university, I wrote my first book – a historical novel. Almost everybody at my university, even people I’ve never had the chance to talk with, bought the book. For me, that was symbolic. Creating and writing the story, and then the reaction and positive feedback I received from people, produced some love inside of me and made me decide that I want to keep writing the rest of my life.

Have you ever had this feeling that you produced something that you were super proud of, but not many people saw it, or not many people read it, and you felt like you put so much energy into that, and this energy did not come back to you?

Of course! That’s the most challenging part of the process. I struggle all the time with critique. For example, one script that I wrote received vastly polarized opinions – on the one hand, it has attracted numerous awards; on the other hand, it also received some harsh criticism.

Let’s get back to your first year at university in Spain when you wrote the historical novel. How did you manage your time to write the book, pass exams, and also have fun?

There is this stereotype that a writer or a screenwriter is sitting alone with a coffee, isolated from society. I think that’s closer to prejudice than reality. In my case, yes, I was writing a book, but at the same time, I was going out, traveling, etc. Every Friday, for instance, I played soccer with my friends. If you look at my career now, you also could say it’s weird – modeling and writing historical fiction sound like a crash. But it’s possible to make it. At university, I did a dual bachelor’s in business and law plus an associate degree in filmmaking. So, you could say I had no formal historical education and no experience in writing a book. However, on the other hand, I found out I could use my economic or legal knowledge to add interesting elements to my writings.

How would you describe your stage of career now?

I’m constantly looking for opportunities to showcase my work. It’s challenging because there are so many of us knocking at the doors. It’s hard even to prove that you are good or bad, especially if you’re a foreign writer.

In filmmaking, connections are critical, so I’m trying to improve my networking onsite. It’s hard to get noticed when you don’t have contacts, including agents or production companies. And there are thousands of people with similar experiences to you. But when it hits, it hits!

Today, the awards and grants I’ve accumulated and the mentors I’ve met have given me some credit and publicity. I think I’m close to announcing big news. Maybe in early 2022.

How do you not lose energy and passion for what you are doing in such a competitive environment?

Well, honestly, I take inspiration from the stories that I write. I usually write about people with big goals who struggle in a hostile environment. Also, I’m still relatively young and still have a lot of time to achieve my goals. Also, it’s worth thinking that maybe the screenplay you wrote when you were 20 was terrific. But perhaps you will sell the 10th or 11th screenplay and then rewrite the screenplay you wrote many years ago. It’s all about timing, too. It can be that the script that you wrote ten years ago wasn’t a hit at that moment, and then 20 years later, it will. Persistence and patience are the main ingredients of success.

Listening to your story made me think about the movie “La La Land.” Spoiler alert: one of the main characters, an aspiring actress, writes this one-person play and organizes a theatre and all the logistics to perform it. After the play, when the lights are on, she realizes that only a few people have shown up and watched her. She, of course, is heartbroken because she has spent all that time, energy, and money to make it work, and then only a few people came. So she decides to give up. Sometime later, she receives a phone call from one of the people that have seen her performance, and it turns out to be someone in the industry. For me, it’s a heart-warming scenario, like you sometimes only need this one person to notice you. And by the way, Damien Chazelle wrote “La La Land” in 2010 and for years, he couldn’t find a studio that could agree to finance it. It took him to write “Whiplash,” which got five Oscar nominations, to get noticed by studios and restart his approach with “La La Land.”

Exactly! I believe it’s about proper timing and connecting with the right person at the right moment. And this is the thing, in art, you can’t immediately judge whether something is good or bad. The truth is, if tomorrow Steven Spielberg says that you’re his next screenwriter, many people will say you’re good. And the truth is that you were exactly as good or as bad as before Spielberg said that.

This is why I believe you need a mentor, especially in art. This industry is all about relationships. Veterans in the industry can spur your talent and support your work. You need a person who sees potential in you and can invest their time in you.

Photo by Indrek Arula

Is it like that in modeling as well?

Definitely! Especially now, with such diverse standards we have, you can’t really say a person can or cannot be a model, but if tomorrow Dolce & Gabanna chooses a person completely unknown to promote their brand, the person will become a supermodel overnight.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when trying to make a career in Hollywood?

For me, one of the biggest problems that I still struggle with is discrimination. In a sense, the fact that I have an accent immediately makes people think that I can’t write proper English, which is just not true! Nobody ever complained in any festival or competition that I had any errors in my writing, and I count on my best friend, Mojo, who’s bilingual and carefully checks each of my writings by my side. However, coming from the outside and not being a native speaker are the most significant barriers you can find in the US.

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Have you ever had a moment of doubt when you wanted to give up?

None. It’s still my big dream, and I feel like it’s a matter of time. I know it sounds very repetitive and cliché, especially when you constantly hear things like “keep working” and “be resistant,” but nothing happens over time. Of course, there are moments when I’m a bit sadder, and I keep asking myself why this or that project takes so long? Why is there no progress? And it’s true that some colleagues from the industry have told me, “I pass, I cannot do this anymore” – it’s hard. Luckily, I have a very supportive family, friends, and girlfriend. I keep going and take new projects to avoid getting stuck and attached to one idea. Some writers spend years on the same project with no results. I have a different approach. I try one idea; if it doesn’t work right now, I go to the next one and see what happens next.

It’s easy to say “follow your dreams” and “don’t give up,” but at the same time, as an adult, you have to have money to sustain yourself and survive basically. So, do you receive any money from your creative work, and if not, how do you support yourself?

I do some modeling outside of the US. In the US, I usually survive through grants, scholarships, etc. I keep working hard and believe one day it will pay off. It will. I know.

Anyway, I feel ready for whatever comes. This year, 2021, I also applied for an exceptional work permit in the US and, if it’s granted, I have some big plans in LA.

Interview by Joanna Socha
Edited by Phyllis Budka

Please check out Jacobo’s IMDB profile

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