Big Break Finalist Christina Eliopolous, writer “King of Florida”
Christina Eliopolous is no stranger to the industry. After graduating from NYU, she’s worked as a copywriter, and written and directed a number of films, including some of her own, and some for a number of nonprofit organizations. “I actually learned the most about storytelling through shooting documentaries,” she says, “you don’t have the luxury of making everything up, and you have to be super conscious about real people and what they do in real situations.”
That’s partly why her Big Break winning screenplay King of Florida is so steeped in Greek culture: her parents emigrated from Greece in the ‘60s, got married in an arranged marriage after two dates, and continue to run a diner they started from the ground up. She explains, “Greeks have a love for tradition, language and grandeur. I mean, they invented tragedy for crying out loud.” Her undeniable passion that exudes in her voice certainly reflects that sentiment.
The original script deals with the happenings of a young Greek boy in depression-era Florida, where he lives in a village of sponge divers. “These divers would come over from their homeland and this was their biggest skill. It was extremely dangerous, and these people were ballsy, daring and brave to devote their whole lives to it.” The boy’s father suffers a life-threatening injury while diving, and the boy’s faced with an all-too-soon scenario of having to become a hero for his family and the town he lives in. She says, “The central theme of the story is when a tragedy befalls you, you eventually realize you have to rely on yourself to overcome it.”
A very distinct sense of magical realism in the story serves to further enlighten this idea of sudden empowerment as well. “In his world, he’s a philosopher king. He’s at that age where he can’t process the entire planet. Florida is his universe. Much like a lot of us in the Greek culture, he hasn’t quite figured out where myth ends and religion begins, so he makes these gods as extensions of his personality. He parodies the classic myths as if he’s amongst the gods himself.”
The poetic nature of the script evokes a sense of wonder and growth that works on many levels, she explains. “He basically lives in three places: the land, which is home to his family, friends, and the village, underwater, hopefully working with his dad someday, where he can escape reality on a physical level, and the realm of the gods, where he can escape reality on a mental and emotional level.”
There’s a very distinct familial element to the story, not only in the central family itself but in the town he lives in. “When you live in a small village, it’s not a place where you can walk in and remain anonymous.” She sees this as a strength, “Greek culture is very based in tradition, and the traditions and wisdom passed down from my family stays with me to this day, so much so that some of these characters directly resemble my real life counterparts. The father in the story is a lot like my father, and the grandmother gives the exact advice my grandmother used to give.”
Due to the strong evocation of this far gone period, the story doesn’t necessarily translate to modern times, which works to transport the audience to a different universe of sorts. “When I start to come up with story ideas, I tend to fall in love with realms before anything else. The lyrical aspect of this story is intended to let you float away and go to a happier place. The world can be really rough, enormous, and sad, and I want to take you away from all that for a little while.”
It’s not all fun and games, though, despite the script winning the family genre category. “The scene of the father’s injury could potentially be very devastating for kids to watch, but I felt it was important to include because that’s just reality. It would be great if kids were spared from pain, but they inevitably get exposed to terrible things, and it’s up to us as loving adults to help them through that. That’s another reason why family is so important in our culture, and why I think this is a family film.”
As for the future of the script, she would love to see it produced, and a combination of the personal aspects of the story and her film background put her in a unique situation. “I’d love to direct the film myself, but what I care about most is that the script is done justice and is made well.” Considering she’s hard at work preparing to direct another short film of her writing in the near future, hopefully her wish comes true.
In all, just writing the script was a fruitful journey for her. “I’ve never loved a character as much as I have in any script I’ve ever written, and thinking of ways to make this character grow and become the powerful, strong hero he thinks he’s destined to be has actually instilled a lot of strength and courage in myself, and I truly think I’m a better person after writing this script.”
King of Florida was written on Final Draft.
For more information on The Big Break Screenwriting Competition, click here!
Anthony Gagnon is a writer/director, originally from Milwaukee, WI. He grew up in a family of magicians and travelled the country as a juggler until deciding to attend film school. Since graduating from the American Film Institute in 2012, he has been heavily involved in the Los Angeles indie film scene, writing and directing shorts, music videos, features, and pilots. In addition, he’s a guitarist and songwriter in the metal band, Of the Earth.