[Typically, this is the area where we add a brief and eloquent summary of what to expect in the article—however. . . no summary will do Eva’s story justice. Just read it.]
A terrorist attack almost prevented Eva Gonzalez Szigriszt from fulfilling her dream of becoming a film director.
It was March 11, 2004. Gonzalez Szigriszt was 18 and living in a town south of Madrid, Colmenar de Oreja. She had an exam the next day, and if she passed, she’d possibly get accepted into the most prestigious film school in Spain: Escuela de Cinematografía y del Audiovisual de la Comunidad de Madrid (ECAM for short). Her older sister signed up to take the test, too, and together, they were aiming to be nothing less than the next Coen brothers.
In lieu of taking an early-morning train, the sisters decided to travel the evening before and stay overnight at their grandparents’ house. They arrived around midnight, set their alarms, and went to sleep. The next morning, as they were nervously waiting to take the test, one of the proctors made a startling announcement—there had been a terrorist attack, with some suggesting it was the biggest bombing in Spain’s history.
The target: the train station the sisters were supposed to use that morning.
“It was very emotional, because I survived something like that when. . . a couple of people I knew didn’t survive,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said.
The survivor’s guilt and the tragedy laid heavily on Gonzalez Szigriszt’s heart as she tried to focus on the test she hoped would begin her career. But she couldn’t make it through without crying. In fact, she couldn’t make it through at all.
With many unanswered questions, she handed in the exam and left. And although she didn’t get into that film school—and took several detours in life—she found her way back to the entertainment industry. Today, she is a Hollywood screenwriter who has created and sold an adaptation for TV of a comic book series to a major studio; optioned an original pilot; and wrote a horror TV series for Crypt TV and Facebook Watch. She also recently developed a show in Spain, in collaboration with the Spanish Olympic Committee.
“Despite the global pandemic, professionally, it’s been an amazing year so far,” she said.
“The hard work is finally starting to pay off.”
Gonzalez Szigriszt compares her childhood to Chocolat, the 2000 film based on a novel by Joanne Harris.
“The main character, Juliet Binoche, takes her daughter every year, when the winds of the North come, to move away and leave their problems behind,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said.
“I feel a little bit like that character because I did that a lot.”
Gonzalez Szigriszt was born in Madrid, the child of two musicians. Her parents owned a recording studio, so naturally, she and her older sister grew up around bands, drugs, and rock and roll. Gonzalez Szigriszt describes instability and having to mature very fast. She says her parents would often take her and her sister to various places, whether it be for vacation or work, and then decide to move there at the end of their stay. Her parents divorced when she was 10, meaning she had to travel even more, going back and forth between houses.
All told, Gonzalez Szigriszt has more relocations (39) than she does years on Earth (35).
After the divorce, Gonzalez Szigriszt moved in with her mother, who decided to stay at their summer house in the coastal town of Guardamar del Segura, in Valencia, Spain. She joined the local Red Cross as a volunteer for their youth program, hoping to find a bit of stability in an oftentimes unpredictable life.
“My family was very disjointed all the time, kind of going apart and coming together. And the Red Cross had a solid structure because it’s almost like the military,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said.
“So you have the sense of community, the sense of family, you have people that have your back, no matter what.”
Gonzalez Szigriszt took first aid classes, and by the time she was 14, she was volunteering in an ambulance. Being a paramedic gave her an adrenaline spike she never previously experienced—she loved saving lives. During her childhood, she went from working on weekends to volunteering for the Red Cross for months. Soon, she started volunteering internationally.
Gonzalez Szigriszt recalls a time when she traveled to North Africa to meet the Berber people and provide aid to nomadic tribes. One day, the bus she was traveling on stopped abruptly.
Some military from first world countries had taken over the only water well in the area. She later learned that they were trading water to sign people up for pharma trials. Nobody seemed to bat an eye. But Gonzalez Szigriszt was enraged.
“When I came back, I realized I wanted to be a person to change the world and fix injustices.”
But Gonzalez Szigriszt had a different idea of how she could help solve the world’s problems: diving into the world of martial arts.
Gonzalez Szigriszt is a certified ninja.
. . . yes, that’s a real thing.
After her experiences in the Red Cross and watching a documentary about human trafficking in South Asia, she decided she wanted the physical and mental agility to fight evil.
She eventually started classes at a local dojo in Madrid.
On top of all this, she had a crucial decision to make.
In Spain, Gonzalez Szigriszt says, when a person turns 16, for the last two years of high school, they have to choose a more specialized program depending on what career they are pursuing next. That prepares students for college. With her interest in medicine work, Gonzalez Szigriszt thought to attend the scientific high school. She wanted to work with Doctors Without Borders. Specifically, to be a heart surgeon.
“But my teacher called my dad, and they were like, ‘Look, your daughter can go into medicine if you want. She’s a very good student. But look at all these essays she’s written. She has the talent to write,’” Gonzalez Szigriszt said.
“They continued to tell my father, ‘We think that we wouldn’t be making a good choice for her or helping her if we don’t put it in front of her that she has the choice to go into that direction if she wants to.’”
Her teacher’s recommendation made Gonzalez Szigriszt doubt her future. She was attracted to the medical field, but also had a love for writing and creating. She credits her grandfather—a former Director of the National Theater in Madrid (with more than 30 years as the director of dramatics in television, and twice director of the National Theater). Gonzalez Szigriszt spent many days during her childhood watching him work on stage.
When the theater began running a program to find the next generation of producers, Gonzalez Szigriszt got in, shadowing directors, producers, and her grandfather. Ultimately, this would influence her decision to attend high school for the arts and abandon the medical field.
His name was Alberto Gonzalez Vergel, and he was Gonzalez Szigriszt’s most significant role model.
As Gonzalez Szigriszt’s grandfather, he worked on television shows for years, and she eventually found herself on set, learning how to break down scripts and absorbing everything about the world of television and film.
She said Gonzalez Vergel was so respected during his career that he received the most honorable accolades possible. He was also invited by Saddam Hussein, the fifth president of Iraq, to a month-long theater festival. She says Hussein was a fan of her grandfather’s work and invited his entire company to the festival. She had heard of that story before but thought it wasn’t accurate. To her surprise, she had confirmation of their true courtship after her grandfather died this year, and she read his diary.
“At 16, 17-years-old, I was like, grandpa is a badass,” Gonzalez Szigriszt laughed.
Aside from assisting her grandfather while he was directing, she would scour the film library, watching new movies at every chance. As she watched more films, her appreciation grew, and she fell deeper in love with the industry.
“Theater was an outlet to tell stories, to change the world,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said. “Instead of being, you know, a doctor in a desert in Africa, I could change the world with art.”
That’s when Gonzalez Szigriszt decided she wanted to apply to ECAM, the esteemed film school in Spain, which only accepts 12 people in its directing program a year. When she didn’t pass the exam, a defeated Gonzalez Szigriszt decided to abandon the idea of film school. She then applied to the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Facultad de Bellas Artes, an art university. She was accepted and attended for two years. Sculpting, painting and creating.
But she wasn’t happy.
“A friend of mine said, ‘Hey Eva, have you tried animation? Because you love art, but you also wanted to be a filmmaker and this thing kind of blends both,’” Gonzalez Szigriszt said.
The animation school was expensive, but Gonzalez Szigriszt was selling wedding dresses, her one and only “mortal” job, she likes to say, and was making decent commissions. She ended up enrolling and dropping out of art school. When her grandfather was hired to direct The Crucible for the National Theater, she left the animation school and wedding dress job to focus on that production.
While Gonzalez Szigriszt’s grandfather was preparing for the play, he had an assistant director who didn’t show up for work one day. So she was thrust into the role, as she knew most of what to do from shadowing her grandfather. Gonzalez Szigriszt said she did so well, she became his permanent assistant director after that.
From there, the grandfather-granddaughter duo was unstoppable. They co-founded a company together called Eskene, which means “scene” in Greek.
“From 2004 to 2009, we had two big productions that were very successful, and we were touring and doing all the things,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said.
Around the same time, Gonzalez Szigriszt traveled to London. As part of her job, she would often travel abroad to see plays hoping that she’d find something unique and buy the rights for her company. During one of her trips, she met Sir Peter Shaffer, the playwright of Amadeus and Eccus. She ended up getting the rights to one of his plays, Five Finger Exercise.
But she didn’t only receive the rights. It became her opportunity to direct.
It was a dream come true for Gonzalez Szigriszt, who had grown to love directing from her years spent at the theater. Everything was coming together, up until the economic crisis of 2009 plagued the country.
Funds were pulled, the play stopped. The theater closed.
“And then, at the same time, I was diagnosed with cancer,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said.
At just 25-years-old, in 2009, Gonzalez Szigriszt was given a shocking diagnosis.
It came after a year of pain passed off as kidney stones, which Gonzalez Szigriszt had suffered through in the past. When she began exhibiting discomfort in her lower abdomen, doctors only assumed it was another stone. But after a year of the on-and-off discomfort, doctors finally ordered a colonoscopy and internal scan.
She was diagnosed with uterine cancer that has spread to both her colon and bladder walls.
“I broke down hard. I didn’t want to die. I couldn’t die.”
“It was clear that I was an absolute mess because. . . the nurse who was in the room almost cried, it was awful,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said. “I had one of the worst cases of endometriosis my gynecologist had ever seen, too.”
As the doctors continued scanning inside Gonzalez Szigriszt, they found multiple cysts and tumors. She was encouraged to start an aggressive treatment right away.
“But I had this overwhelming feeling that chemo was going to kill me,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said.
She decided to investigate how to slow her metabolism through diet and meditation. Being a martial artist in Budo Ninjutsu, she felt she could use what she learned throughout the years. She also had many operations—not selling any “miracles” here.
Most importantly during this ordeal: being sick made her reflect on her life and realize that she had never actually pursued her dreams after the terrorist attack derailed her plans.
“I wanted to make movies and television and all these things. Even though I was happy and successful, and I worked in something I grew to love, I never gave myself a chance,” she said.
“It occurred to me that I was killing myself by destroying my dreams.”
While she was sick, Gonzalez Szigriszt decided it was time to land a spot at her top film school, the one she had given up on years prior, to finally pursue filmmaking. After applying again, and taking the dreaded exam, she was accepted, and for the two years she was sick, she wrote scripts as part of the screenwriting program.
“And then I bought a ticket to LA,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said. “That was the day I decided I was going to survive.”
She had her last major operation in the summer of 2011. With her stitches still healing, she boarded a plane on her birthday, September 3rd, and headed to the City of Angels.
Gonzalez Szigriszt likes to say she’s lived the lives of 70 people.
After 26 years spent in and around Spain, Gonzalez Szigriszt landed in Los Angeles. With only a small suitcase in hand, she used a Super Shuttle to get to her new home—a co-living space on the corner of Highland and Franklin Place. Then she prepared to attend The New York Film Academy in Burbank with her sights set on being a film director.
While in the program, she interned in development. First at Bold Films, when they were producing films like Nightcrawler and Drive. Gonzalez Szigriszt read a plethora of scripts, analyzing them, and providing feedback to her superiors. After Bold, she landed an internship at Vendôme Pictures, a French company based in Los Angeles.
“The way I got the internship: they wanted to make a movie about this restaurant in Spain called El Bulli, and I had been there before it closed. When I was a child, my parents took me there,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said.
“I didn’t even know that we’re developing this, but they asked me in the interview one of my favorite memories around food. I told them my experience at El Bulli, and then they were like, ‘Wait. You have to intern here!’”
Gonzalez Szigriszt graduated NYFA in December 2012 but needed employment to stay in the United States. She took the first gig she could find, as a copywriter at an advertising company working on big campaigns for the Olympics and FIFA. Though she felt she was losing sight of her purpose, why she had come to Los Angeles in the first place. One weekend, she met a filmmaker from Finland, who’d left his wife and child back home, come to America, and was living in his car, trying to sell one of his scripts.
“My friend was like, ‘You two should meet. He’s so passionate and crazy like you—Europeans,’” Gonzalez Szigriszt laughed.
“He told me the concept for his script, and I said, ‘Dude, if you get into the right circles, you’re going to sell that script so fast.’”
A month later, Sony bought the script for a million dollars.
“That inspired me to the max. I thought, you know what? I’m going to quit this job as a copywriter.”
Gonzalez Szigriszt counted her savings and downgraded her life. She began sharing a room with several other people and finally changed course.
Except this time, she realized she wanted to focus on screenwriting.
After a Christmas trip home to Spain in 2014, Gonzalez Szigriszt had an epiphany.
Going through old boxes, she found many of her childhood diaries. As she read through them, she realized she never wrote a true story. Her journals were full of fictional characters, inspired by her life.
“I realized that all my life, the only stable thing has been writing,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said.
“In any situation, I will always write. When I was sick, I wrote a novel and my thesis script for school. It helped me heal. It has always been writing, writing, writing—it was the only constant.”
When Gonzalez Szigriszt got back to the states, she began her screenwriting journey. She decided she would dedicate the first year to writing one idea she had for a television show. It was based on the novel she had written. As she wrote, she questioned her abilities, mainly since English wasn’t her first language. She decided to enter the script into several competitions, understanding that if she placed, she at least knew her English was on par. Her script placed as a quarterfinalist and semifinalist in a couple of contests, and it was the encouragement she needed to keep going.
“I was a woman in a world of men, because I write genre (science fiction, horror, thriller. . .),” Gonzalez Szigriszt said. “I have an accent, I’m a foreigner and an immigrant, so my work needed to be undeniable.”
That’s when Gonzalez Szigriszt says she had her Slumdog Millionaire moment: the moment her training in the arts, animation, theater, film, and television all came together. She created a lookbook, cut a sizzle reel, and began marketing her script. She did everything herself thanks to her time attending an art university, animation classes, and film school. She went above and beyond what most screenwriters do for a reason.
“I know the problems on the other side of the table from when I interned in development,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said. “When people came on a pitch, they will leave the room, and then whatever executive was there would have to pitch it to their superiors, and it was never the same.”
“So, I got obsessed as a writer that I needed to stay in the room after I left the room, so that’s why I created a lookbook.”
A lookbook is essentially a visual pitch for a show. She designed it to look like an expensive architecture book you would find on a coffee table.
The strategy paid off.
It has long been assumed that Hollywood is not for the faint-hearted—a cutthroat industry with sharks ready to bite.
In 2014, Gonzalez Szigriszt received a call from a manager, a connection made through a mutual friend. The manager had several projects in need of a specific female writer. He said she fit the bill. She met with him, and he earned her trust, especially since they had a mutual friend whom she trusted.
“I was so new in the industry that I didn’t think of taking his credentials, so I decided to go and work as his client, and I got the opportunity to pitch at a major production company,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said.
Gonzalez Szigriszt pitched to the company’s vice president, left her lookbook, and waited for a call. But the call never came. . . until a month and a half later. Gonzalez Szigriszt was with her manager when she picked up the phone.
“It was insane because you could hear the vice president talking, but you could hear the president of the company screaming behind her as she was talking calmly,” Gonzalez Szigriszt laughed. “The president was saying ‘Why didn’t we buy this already? Tell her we’ll meet on Sunday!’”
The company optioned Gonzalez Szigriszt’s script, and she continued to write as her manager worked on getting her more meetings. In late 2016, he set up an appointment with Scott Free Productions. Gonzalez Szigriszt said she immediately felt awkward when the person she was meeting for the general said she only had 15 minutes.
She chalked it up as part of the business. Luckily for her, her 15 minutes turned into two and a half hours. They loved the show, and in January, they were to have more extended conversations about how to move forward. But with the announcement of a new Ron Howard movie set in the same time period as Gonzalez Szigriszt’s script, and a Hulu pilot also set in the same period, they ultimately decided to pass. Still, they gave her an open-door policy.
Gonzalez Szigriszt took them up on their offer, pitching an idea for a sci-fi feature. She ended up developing the film with an executive in the feature department.
But the company went through some management changes and they decided to focus on under-$20m projects. “Mine was like District Nine meets Taken—way more than $20 million.”
“But in the end, I ended up with a beautiful script.”
At this point, Gonzalez Szigriszt had to renew her visa and needed her manager as a sponsor. She went through the process and then suddenly received a call from her lawyer who had received a call from Homeland Security.
“They said they don’t have an issue with me at all, but they asked who my manager is,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said. “They said they didn’t have any record of him.”
Gonzalez Szigriszt told her manager, who refused to provide paperwork. The situation broke their client/manager relationship and revealed a new revelation: the man she believed to be a manager wasn’t a manager at all.
It was the beginning of 2016, and Gonzalez Szigriszt’s visa was expiring. She needed new representation—fast—not just for her career but to sponsor her stay in the US.
She queried managers and ended up with six meetings. Many offered representation.
Gonzalez Szigriszt decided to sign with Ken Stovitz, who represented Will Smith for years. Although she was happy to have real representation and a sponsor, she felt like she needed an agent to make her dreams a reality.
One night, she describes a dream she had where she was at a fancy awards ceremony, on stage accepting an award and thanking her agent, David Saunders. When she woke up, she googled the name to see if he was a real person. He was real, a partner at APA Agency.
She wrote him an email.
“I’m thinking, he’s never going to reply, and this will never go anywhere,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said. “And 10 minutes later, he replied, and he was like, ‘What a beautiful email to wake up to, let me call Ken and pursue.’”
Gonzalez Szigriszt eventually signed with Saunders, who she remains with to this day. Although she’s happy with the work they’ve done together, she wants to emphasize to new writers that signing with a manager and agent doesn’t mean “you made it.”
“When you sign with an agent or a big agency, you’re a nobody, you’re their last priority,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said.
“One of my agency’s clients is 50 Cent, who makes millions of dollars a month, you know? So I’m not the priority. Which is fine. I know I’ll be someday!”
Over a decade later, and the Red Cross is still positively impacting Gonzalez Szigriszt’s life.
In May of last year, her agent sent her on her first general meeting since they had signed. The company had purchased the rights to an indie comics series and were seeking a writer. They were holding an open writing assignment, and Gonzalez Szigriszt participated.
“My Red Cross experiences inspired my pitch,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said. “Because the comic was tough to adapt but filtered through those experiences, I found a way to ground it.”
She immediately connected to the main character, a female Puerto Rican teen who doesn’t feel like she has a place in the world: “I could totally relate to that!”
“I guess I ended up with the best proposal and the best pitch for it, so even though I didn’t have any credits, my proposal won.”
Eva is not only the creator and writer, but is set to executive produce with the same showrunners who just won an Emmy for Netflix’s Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. The show got sold to a big studio in late February.
And this sparked several new ventures for her, including optioning a reimagining of that first TV pilot she ever wrote to Lloyd Levin. She also recently finished writing an animated horror show for Crypt TV to be released on Facebook Watch, as well as created a sci-fi show in Spain revolving around the world of sports, in conjunction with the Olympic Committee and The Facto Productions. And she is set to direct her first feature film with acclaimed Brazilian director Vicente Amorim. Eva wrote the script, a contained psychological thriller set in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria. The script was voted onto The Tracking Board Hit List 2019 as one of the best in the market.
While Gonzalez Szigriszt loves to create in the world of sci-fi and psychological thriller, she has a huge heart too. When you ask her what her ultimate goal in life is, it’s not to be a Hollywood big shot—it’s to provide meaning to children in the foster care and prison system.
“I want to buy a ranch and give them a chance away from their original backgrounds to help them discover who they are, and discover, you know, what path they want to take using writing as a tool,” Gonzalez Szigriszt said.
“And eventually, I want to pay for their studies if they choose that path. . . that is the ultimate goal. So, the reason why I’m working hard for my contracts right now—because I need that money!”
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