Five Minutes With...last year's Monte Miller Award Winner Rhianna Malezer

02 October, 2023

When screenwriter Rhianna Malezer won the short form Monte Miller Award with her script The Stockman, her feelings about winning doubled as brilliant writing advice: 'The story flowed directly from my spirit. It’s very affirming to know how much more impactful my work can be when I am true to my own voice.'

When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
I was a little kid in primary school when I first dreamed of being a writer, but I didn’t actively begin pursing my writing career until 2019. It took me a while to gain the confidence in my voice and abilities. My other love is art department, and I was very fortunate to have many wonderful experiences in that field. I remember working on-set of a big blockbuster in Poneke, Aotearoa (Wellington, New Zealand) and loved it so much that I felt a fulfilled sense of completion – like I couldn’t top that experience and it was time to find the next mountain to climb. I also felt a craving to work on films that weren’t being made at the time, and I wanted to be a part of creating the change I wanted to see. I found myself jotting down notes for script ideas at my stand-by trolley between takes, and knew it was time to give screenwriting a serious go. It took me a couple more years to find the guts to take the leap, but I got there eventually.

What inspires you?
Other artists and storytellers. Art galleries, music festivals, film festivals, creative industry panels and conferences. Witnessing other artists speak from a place of deep truth, via their various artforms. In particular, I’m very inspired by other First Nations filmmakers doing incredible work across the globe. It’s powerful to witness and be in the presence of. At a deeper level, I’m acutely aware that I stand on the shoulders of giants – other First Nations filmmakers that have paved the way in the film industry, as well as my own Ancestors and family. I’m here because I have opportunity others haven’t had, and that’s not something I take lightly. It does feel like a responsibility, but not a burden – I feel empowered to speak my truth, because others have provided me that opportunity and I don’t intend to waste it.

Why did you join the Guild?
I joined the Guild for two reasons – for community, and to have support around understanding my rights as a writer. I’ve made some good friends through AWG networking events – it’s important to have a community of fellow writers around you. I’ve taken advantage of other resources provided by the Guild as well. Being able to access AWG’s legal advice services to go over contracts and agreements has definitely been a benefit for me.

Best moment of your writing career?
Winning the Monte Miller Award was definitely a highlight – it came at just the right moment and gave me important validation as a writer. The fact that it was for a very personal story made it even more special. On an every day level, my greatest joy comes from brainstorming ideas with other passionate, like-minded storytellers and the feeling you get when something flows through you and shines with such purpose you can’t possibly ignore it. That’s when a story is telling you that it needs to be told and you are just the vessel – for me, there is no better feeling than this. 

Best advice you’ve received about writing?
I had a friend once express to me that writing and storytelling is all to do with energy. We are always dealing with energy when we create – it’s an almost spiritual experience and it’s important to honour the process and allow yourself to be guided by it. I try to remember this when I’m struggling with perfectionism in my work, or trying too hard to ‘manufacture’ something. It’s helpful in removing the ego from the process and my writing is inevitably better as a result.

What is your best tip for writers?
To be honest, I’d just recycle the above advice that was given to me. Another great piece of advice that definitely isn’t my own, but one I’d pass on to others, is to simply live. To expose yourself to ideas and experiences and live life fully. You have to be connected to the world to tell stories that will matter to the world. And thirdly, I think it’s important to remember that even the most specific stories from the most specific perspectives can speak widely to the world – so long as you are tapping into that deeper authentic truth within yourself, it will always transcend and prove itself to be universal.

What are you working on now?
So many things, but all are in their juicy infancy stage! I have short documentaries and short films I really want to make, as well as larger projects germinating in my brain. I’m currently feeling drawn to more experimental works where I can explore craft and play around with concepts. A lot of these story-babies are very fun and celebratory, and even when dealing with difficult subject matters, they lean more into the healing than the trauma. In particular I’m feeling drawn to stories that celebrate Blakness, queerness, family and chosen-families – not necessarily all at once, but bonus if they do!

What are you currently reading?
Mostly scripts I can’t talk about – but I’m about to go on holiday and keen to read The Visitors by Jane Harrison and Yellowface by Rebecca F. Kuang.

What are you currently watching?
I’m watching the latest seasons of The NewsreaderSex Education and Only Murders in the Building, as well as comfort-rewatching Feel Good and Preppers. I've also been watching a lot of First Nations theatre – Daniel Riley's Tracker was beautiful and I can't stop thinking about Hannah Belanszky's incredible play Don't Ask What The Bird Look Like. I was also recently a judge at a film festival for high school students, so I’ve been watching a heap of short films by young people – it’s exciting how much talent is coming out of the next generation. There were quite a few experimental works by young people with something important to say that just blew my mind.   

Find out more about Rhianna and The Stockman here