Madina Ismailova

Aspiring Screenwriter/Director

What topic do you discuss in your script? And why?
In my script "Night Hag," I delve into the haunting realm of sleep paralysis, drawing on the cultural folklore that exists around the phenomena. Our protagonist, a teenage girl, finds herself battling not only the terrors of her nightmares but the very real consequences of attempting to confront them. At its heart, the narrative is an exploration of fear, the lengths one goes to in order to confront it, and the unintended consequences of such actions. I further incorporate underlying themes of abuse, which, while not overtly present, casts a shadow over the narrative and shapes the psychology of our protagonist. By integrating the theme of abuse, the script seeks to highlight the devastating psychological impact it has on victims, the lengths they may go to escape or confront it, and the tragic consequences that can arise when trauma meets the thin line between reality and imagination. In discussing this, "Night Hag" hopes to raise awareness about the repercussions of abuse, the importance of understanding and healing, and the need for open conversations about such experiences.

How do people feel after reading your script?
The feedback I've received suggests a variety of emotional reactions from readers. Many readers have described feeling deeply moved and unsettled, given the intricate blend of psychological horror, folklore, and themes of abuse. Several people expressed an overwhelming sense of sympathy and sadness for the protagonist, understanding the depths of her trauma and the tragic consequences of her attempts to confront it. The blurring lines between reality, dreams, and past traumas make the narrative both haunting and evocative, prompting readers to reflect on their own memories and fears.

Others have highlighted their appreciation for the way the script delves into cultural folklore and traditions surrounding sleep paralysis, expressing that it brings a fresh perspective to a phenomenon that many experience but rarely discuss in such depth. Ultimately, my hope is that "Night Hag" serves as a thought-provoking piece, challenging readers to consider the complexities of trauma, the power of cultural folklore, and the blurred lines between the conscious and subconscious.

Do you think that films can change people for the better or for the worse?
I've personally felt the deep influence of films on my own perspectives and emotions. Films have expanded my horizons, teaching me about different cultures and inspiring me at times. Yet, I've also been challenged to discern when movies glamorize harmful behaviors or perpetuate stereotypes. I believe that as viewers, we must consume cinema thoughtfully, and filmmakers should be responsible in their portrayals. For me, cinema's true beauty lies in its potential to enrich our understanding when approached with an open yet critical mind.

According to 3-act dramaturgy, how would you define your story?
In crafting my short film, I found it both challenging and fascinating to encapsulate the essence of the whole story in a short script. The setup, confrontation, and resolution all had to be precisely timed and executed to deliver a powerful narrative in a limited duration. However, embracing the 3-act structure allowed me to create a concise yet emotionally resonant story.
Act 1 - Setup:
This establishes the protagonist's world and her problem. The teenage girl experiences the horrifying recurrence of her sleep paralysis nightmares, where she's strangled by a monster but cannot move or scream. This act introduces her desperate need to find a solution and sets the emotional tone of her distress. The inclusion of her father's hot chocolate ritual might hint at deeper, more personal undercurrents, subtly establishing familial dynamics.

Act 2 - Confrontation:
In this act, the girl embarks on her quest for a solution, adding depth to the story. She researches mystical books and learns about the knife-under-the-pillow folklore, providing hope. The weird neighbor boy's introduction and their interactions not only give her a means to combat her nightmare but also add layers to her world, hinting at potentially other troubling dynamics outside her immediate family. The tension builds as she prepares herself to face her fear and reclaim control over her life.

Act 3 - Resolution:
The climax and resolution occur in this act. Armed with her newfound knowledge, she goes to bed with the knife, anticipating the return of the monster. The omission of her regular hot chocolate ritual could symbolize her break from routine and an unconscious desire to change her circumstances. However, in a tragic twist, when she believes she's successfully combated her nightmare, she wakes to the horror of having harmed her father. This act concludes with the realization of her actions, the tragic blurring of reality and dreams, and the devastating consequences of attempting to confront suppressed trauma.

This narrative structure using the 3-act dramaturgy allows for a gradual build-up of tension, deep character development, and a powerful, emotionally charged climax, making "Night Hag" a haunting exploration of trauma, folklore, and the consequences of blurred realities.

How does the main character develop?
The main character, a teenage girl, starts as a vulnerable individual, haunted by recurring sleep paralysis and nightmares. Her fear of these dreams establishes her as someone struggling with internal demons, possibly hinting at deeper unresolved traumas.
As she confronts her fear, she shows determination and resourcefulness. Her interactions with the weird neighbor boy and her research into mystical books indicate a shift from passive suffering to active problem-solving.

The tragic climax is where her development culminates. By placing the knife under her pillow, she's taking a brave step to confront her nightmares directly. However, the horrifying outcome - stabbing her father.

Overall, the main character transitions from a state of vulnerability and dependency to taking agency and the perils of confronting trauma.

What actors do you imagine in your project (topologically)?
For my protagonist, a teenage girl, around 15-17 years old, an appearance that's relatable to many, possibly with expressive eyes that can communicate fear, desperation, and determination without much dialogue.

An actress with a strong ability to handle emotional and psychological drama, capable of portraying vulnerability and resilience.

For the father middle-aged, with a gentle yet slightly worn-out appearance, hinting at possible stresses or secrets.

Someone who can balance being a caring father figure and possibly having undertones of ambiguity, especially given the tragic climax, adds depth to the father-daughter relationship.

Neighbor boy, an actor who can bring an air of mystery and unpredictability, oscillating between being potentially threatening and genuinely helpful.

Why do you think your script should attract director?
"Night Hag" delves deep into the human psyche, offering a unique blend of psychological horror and profound emotional drama. Its exploration of sleep paralysis, intertwined with cultural folklore, presents a fresh, intriguing narrative seldom seen on screen. The story's layers—dealing with trauma, familial dynamics, and blurred lines between reality and imagination—provide ample opportunities for a director to showcase their creative vision and storytelling prowess. Moreover, the tragic climax is a potent cinematic moment, promising a film that lingers in the audience's mind. In "Night Hag," a director finds a script ripe for innovative visual storytelling, rich character development, and a tale that resonates powerfully with viewers.

At which festivals did you receive the award?
Virgin Spring Cinefest - Best Screenplay
Black Swan International Film Festival - Best Short Script
Seattle Filmmaker Awards - Finalist for Best Short Screenplay

Which screenwriters are your favorite and why?
Greta Gerwig has significantly impacted contemporary cinema, both as an actor and as a screenwriter/director. Her scripts are characterized by their authentic voice. They capture the nuances of daily life and personal relationships with a refreshing honesty, making her characters deeply relatable.
Gerwig crafts multifaceted female protagonists, as evident in "Lady Bird" and "Little Women." These characters are central to the narrative and represent a broad spectrum of emotions, desires, and conflicts.

Instead of relying heavily on traditional dramatic structures, Gerwig often lets her characters drive the story, resulting in organic and true-to-life narratives. While her scripts delve into deep emotional territories, Gerwig's distinctive wit shines through, offering a balanced blend of humor and poignancy.

With "Little Women," Gerwig demonstrated her ability to breathe new life into a classic, making it relevant for contemporary audiences while retaining its timeless essence.

Greta Gerwig's unique voice and dedication to crafting genuine, layered narratives position her as one of the most exciting screenwriters working today. Her scripts resonate because they capture life's and relationships' complexities with warmth and realism.

About which topics are your screenplays?
My screenplays predominantly revolve around four central themes:
Love, in its multifaceted forms, is a recurring motif. Whether it's the romantic love between partners, the platonic love between friends, or the often complicated love within families, my narratives delve into the intricacies, challenges, and beauty of human connections. Love is both the problem and the solution, highlighting its double-edged nature in shaping our lives.

A significant portion of my scripts focuses on the female experience. From stories about young girls finding their voice to tales of mature women confronting societal expectations, these narratives aim to capture the myriad of situations, choices, and emotions that define womanhood in various contexts.

Central to my work is the theme of personal growth and transformation. Characters often embark on internal and external journeys, confronting their fears, biases, and pasts to evolve. These stories emphasize that growth often comes from facing adversities and is a continuous process, regardless of age or circumstance.

Both nurturing and challenging family dynamics play a pivotal role in my scripts. Families serve as the backdrop against which individual stories unfold, showcasing the support, conflict, traditions, and legacies that familial ties bring. These narratives often challenge conventional definitions of family, emphasizing that it's not just about blood relations but also the connections we choose.

What motivates you the most to write screenplays?
At the core, it's the desire to tell stories that reflect the diverse tapestry of human experiences, emotions, and connections. The magic of cinema, its ability to transcend borders and touch people across different cultures and backgrounds, fuels my commitment. I'm also driven by the challenge of the medium, the delicate balancing act of crafting dialogue, setting, and character within the constraints of film. Moreover, seeing characters come alive on screen, giving life to words on a page, is an unparalleled joy. Finally, the opportunity to ignite discussions, evoke emotions, and potentially influence perspectives keeps me returning to the writing desk, eager to craft the next narrative.

What are your plans in future careers?
I aspire to collaborate with renowned filmmakers, producers, and actors, harnessing our collective creativity to produce films that entertain and make significant cultural and societal impacts. I'm also interested in branching into diverse genres and experimenting with various narrative structures to push the boundaries of conventional storytelling. Moreover, I aim to contribute to projects focusing on underrepresented voices, ensuring that cinema becomes more inclusive. Alongside my screenwriting endeavors, I'm keen on exploring roles as a producer or director, allowing me to have a more holistic involvement in filmmaking. Ultimately, my goal is to leave an indelible mark in the world of cinema, creating timeless pieces that future generations will cherish.

The Night Hag

Written by Madina Ismailova
Emma, 14 year old homeschooled teenager, with memory lapses in her past, has a very realistic dream of a monster strangling her. Her parents believe it's just a nightmare, but Emma is eager to find out what is happening in her house.