by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)
Taking the most personal aspects of our life and including them in our stories can be terrifying. Only the bravest writers dare to share their difficulties, embarrassments, and addictions with their audiences. Charlene deGuzman is just such a brave writer.
After working for a number of years in front of the camera, deGuzman has brought her experiences with sex and love addiction to the screen in Unlovable, which she wrote and stars in. Surrounded by a creative team that includes John Hawkes, Melissa Leo, Mark Duplass, and Suzi Yoonessi, the script is based on events from her own journey.
LA Screenwriter’s John Bucher sat down with deGuzman to discuss her writing and how she got her story to audiences.
John Bucher: Can you talk about the initial spark for Unlovable?
Charlene deGuzman: Well, in 2013, Mark Duplass started following me on Twitter, and I sent him a DM that said, “Oh, my god. Thank you for following me, you’re one of my heroes.” He wrote back and said, “If you have anything you’ve written that you want me to see, go ahead and send it over.” But I didn’t have anything at the time, so it wasn’t until an entire year later in 2014 when I had started recovery from sex and love addiction that I did.
A big part of my recovery was trying to find what I was into, what I liked to do, what makes me happy, what my purpose is. I wrote this as a TV pilot, actually, that was based on my experiences with the addiction, and so I sent him a DM again. This was a whole year later. I told him I had this pilot. He had me send it over, and the next day he wrote back that he wanted to meet me and he wanted to make a movie.
John Bucher: The film is quite fun in different places, and the tone is very different than people might anticipate for a story that deals with such a serious subject. Was that intentional on your part?
Charlene deGuzman: Absolutely intentional. That was actually something that Suzi and I both wanted right from the get-go, portraying this in a light, bright, colorful, uplifting way. Because that’s true to who I am, and even my experience. Even throughout everything, I was still who I was. So, I really wanted to show that, and I thought it would help it be even more acceptable. We’ve seen sex addiction portrayed in many ways, but we haven’t seen sex and love addiction very much.
John Bucher: You’ve had an extensive background in film and television before you made this film. This is very different though. You’re acting alongside some true Hollywood heavyweights like John Hawkes and Melissa Leo. How did you even begin to wrap your mind around trying to tell a story with people that are so celebrated in this particular community?
Charlene deGuzman: It’s so funny. Because even just hearing you say that, I think whenever I hear it said to me, it still kind of freaks me out. Like, I don’t believe it yet. When it was happening, it was so surreal. I’d be on set, and I’d even just check out during scenes because I would be freaking out like, “Melissa Leo is talking to me right now.” Or “I’m in a scene with John Hawkes. Why is he looking at me right now?” It would really be so surreal.
I did have a little bit of imposter syndrome. There were times where I really was panicking at home and thinking that I had tricked everyone into making this movie. I think everything happens the way it needs to happen. And for some reason, I was gifted this experience. I needed to take a deep breath and really get present with it and embrace it and go with it. That’s what the feeling was the whole time.
John Bucher: What is your writing process like? Are you someone who writes early in the morning, late at night? Are you someone who binge writes, or do you do a little each day? What does that look like for you?
Charlene deGuzman: For me, it’s so important to be in the flow. I know other writers out there feel the difference. Because for me, I’ll commit to at least sitting down and getting in front of a computer whether I feel like it or not. I put myself in front of the computer, and I say, “We’re going to sit here for an hour and see if anything comes up.” And for me, I’ve learned that forcing it just isn’t worth it. It’s not worth my time. Because whenever the time is right and it does show up, that’s when I’m on the computer all day. I can feel it when it is being channeled out of me and onto the screen.
So, my advice is always to just first do it, because that’s always the first hard step. Sometimes I’ll sit down and I’ll just start writing. I tell myself I’ll go back and edit it later. I just write whatever it is, because truly that first goal is always just trying to get in that flow. When I feel I’m in that flow, I know I’m in it because it feels really, really good and I don’t want to stop. It’s not until I get to that place that I really let myself go. Because if I’m forcing it and I’m totally resistant, then it’s just not time. I think a big part of my practice has been learning to trust that that’s okay. Eventually shows up.
John Bucher: You’re pulling so much from your own life, your own journey, but you’re still trying to create something that’s going to work on screen. Can you talk about where you had to draw the line on any decisions that weren’t exactly true to your own experience?
Charlene deGuzman: Yeah, that was interesting to experience. I learned very early on to really let go of my personal attachment to it. That’s why it was good to have other people I was working with, to have Sarah Adina Smith and Mark and Suzi and Jen. Because I’m so inside my own head with this experience, it was so valuable and important to bounce these things off of them because I needed to make sure that they were understanding what I was trying to portray.
John Bucher: What would be the ideal thing that the audience would take away from this film?
Charlene deGuzman: Well, I hope, first of all, to bring awareness to sex and love addiction. I hope people that relate to the experience of it, whether they’re addicts or not, feel hope when they leave the theater. I hope they feel relief. I hope they feel less alone. I hope they feel connected. I just want to bring hope to anyone who feels the same way Joy does in the beginning of the film. You know? I want to show that anything’s possible.
Because honestly if I could get through it, anybody else could get through it.
Unlovable is now playing in select theaters and on-demand.
John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and the upcoming Secrets of Short Visual Storytelling. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to International Ambassadors. He teaches in the Joseph Campbell Writers Room at Studio School LA and at The LA Film Studies Center. John has also conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his blog, welcometothesideshow.org.