Interview with Italian Author, Illustrator & Storyboard Artist Giuseppe Cristiano

Interview with Italian Author, Illustrator & Storyboard Artist Giuseppe Cristiano

Not just one of the most renowned storyboard artists in the business, Giuseppe Cristiano is also a novelist. Not many people are aware of his prolific work as a writer except the many manuals published worldwide (The Storyboard Artist published in the US by MWB is also available in Chinese) but many of his titles are currently being published in Italy and are also available in English on kindle.

First, can you tell me briefly about your latest book?

“Colours” is a fantasy adventure story featuring a girl and her motley crew of friends who save the world that’s losing all its colours.

  • What type of person do you think would enjoy reading this book the most?

It’s a story for everyone really, kids as well as adults.

  • What was the biggest hurdle you struggled with during the process of writing this book?

I wrote the idea when I was working for an animation company I think back in 1998. Originally it was a TV miniseries that I had in mind. And I was imagining it as a blend of real action and puppets like the old classic movies The Dark Chrystal or Labyrinth. But the production company was more interested in a fully animated show. I didn’t think it would have worked so I dropped the idea. Years later I went through some of my old boxes and found my notes. Then I realized that perhaps I could turn it into a novel. It took me a while because I was working a lot on other projects and my publishers weren’t interested in me writing fiction.

Author Giuseppe Cristiano

  • Do you have any rituals or techniques you use to help you write?

Not rituals but routines. Because I work with many projects at the same time I must organize my work accordingly. If I don’t have routines and order in my work I end up procrastinating, not that there is something wrong with it. I find that part of the creative process. But even for procrastination I have a certain routine. I am a person of habits and I won’t start writing until I have everything planned out. Same thing with my work as storyboard artist. I won’t be drawing the final frames until I have finished with the setting of the scenes and brainstorming. The cleanup of the sketches is purely a mechanical work, just like writing the story when every piece of it is in the right place. So, I work with structure, plot, characters, location, scenes, story-line and then finally I sit and start writing. In a way I use the same process of film-making.

  • What is one surprising fact that you learned while doing research for a book?

That often you end up getting ideas for the next book.

  • What do you think makes a good story?

That’s an interesting question. Recently someone I know was giving a creative writing class. The person in question pretends to be a writer but doesn’t really have good ideas, what he is good at is language, grammar. A good idea makes a great story. But you can’t get good ideas if you think you know better than everyone and ignore a large part of popular culture because you don’t believe it’s smart or intellectual enough. In the end you can learn grammar and the elements of style, you can even imitate other writers but coming out with great ideas is a totally different story. Like many musicians, you can learn to play and instrument and read music but writing songs is another level. Paul McCartney doesn’t read music but that didn’t stop him on being the musical genius he is.

  • If you could be one fictional character from any book – who and why?

Jack Torrance? Just kidding. My wife made up a character I turn into when I am in a creative process. She can see when that is happening because I change getting lost in my thoughts. It’s called Gruman, someone that seems in pain, struggling but at the same time glowing madness that might seem dangerous or funny, like a mad jester. Once she told when they made a documentary about my work that she doesn’t know when I go to sleep or if I sleep at all when I am in that transition period. I might get stuck in my studio for days until I emerge with something, that could be a story, a tune I recorded or a script I just finished.

  • Where can people find you and your book?

They are all mostly available on Amazon. My Italian titles can be found also in bookstores, they can be ordered from all online stores.

  • How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?

I start with an idea, I write it down as row as I get it. Then I rewrite it adding more and more details, shaping it into a synopsis. I work with a generic plot list. I start building it in blocks. Only when I have the whole structure written down I create an outline. But before writing the story I define the characters. As if I was doing a casting audition, I try to get their personalities and faces, who they are. This way writing the story comes really easy.

  • How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

Sometimes I do sketches of them. To give them a personality. It’s something I use to do when I work with storyboard as well as do floor-plans of the scenes. That way I know how to move in the story.

  • Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?

I have quite a few. I use post-it for example. I lay out the whole story on the wall in my studio like a timeline, each post-it is a scene or sequence. It’s something I learned writing scripts. Sometimes I also use different colors to mark the mood of a scene (action, drama, transportation, climax, etc.)

  • How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?

When I don’t have any question left.

  • What is your goal for the book, ie: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?

It’s weird but when I finish a story I am already working on the next one. The fun for me is the creating process, from the idea to the structure, etc. When I get my copies from the publishers I shelf them and move on to the next project if I haven’t started that yet.

I have always been bad in promoting my work for that reason. The work I do does not really permit that to me. As a storyboard artist what I do is invisible to everyone except the director and the people involved in the production so once it’s finished there are rarely even credits (except if it’s a movie). So I guess I am used to produce and finish work to simply move on to the next project. That doesn’t mean that I don’t feel proud of the things I do I just get less involved once the work is out.

  • How has your background influenced your writing?

That’s interesting, I work a lot with directors and doing storyboard for films is in fact working with storytelling. Very often we have to rework scripts because things don’t actually work in a logical way. Sometimes we need to force a scene, or create the means for a scene. So I think my work as storyboard artist has a lot to do with my writing. It works both ways because I started up my freelancer career as a scriptwriter therefore in my work as artist I go back and forward between the two fields: storyboarding and script-writing. I also sketch out my stories sometimes, to have an actual vision of a scene. 

  • What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?

Yes, when I am sitting at my desk I try to accomplish a certain goal. Meaning that I wouldn’t leave until I finish. That is what I actually do in general with my work, also as storyboard artist. I can’t leave a job, unfinished, on my desk. About writing it’s different because you can only type that fast or can only finish that many pages per day, there are all sort of limitations. I try to do at least 4 or 5k words per session on a good day but I might type down perhaps 3k in general. But for that I would need to establish a routine. There are hours in the day when is practically impossible to work in full immersion and any distractions can break the pace. The first manual I wrote it took me a week. I was much younger then and could do an all-nighter without repercussions 🙂

  • Do you have any rituals that you follow before sitting down to write?

Rituals? I have quite many. One could say that I have all sort of OCD. First I need to have my desk in order. When my desk is messy then it means that I am very stressed and have got to much on my hands. First comes coffee and music. I do some sort of selection, pick a few CDs from my collection to decide the mood. For some jobs I might need a certain tempo. Writing is different I need for the most instrumental music and usually I go for prog rock. But it varies, it can also happens that I would need total silence. The music is in the background, louder of softer depending on what I am working on. I also avoid the socials, when I have to work it’s a huge distractions. In general I don’t have many apps on my phone and I don’t really spend much time on the socials. I tend to do that when I am not on the computer. I also like to write in early or late hours. I usually wake up very early in the morning, I don’t really work through the night anymore unless it’s necessary.

  • Do you have a favorite snack food or favorite beverage that you enjoy while you write?

I only drink water, coffee or tea when I am sitting at the computer. I removed sodas and sweet drinks since long time now. But I indulge myself in a shot or two of alcohol my favorite being Whiskey, Rum or Grappa.

  • What are you working on right now?

A collection of short stories. I realized I had a lot of small ideas that wouldn’t really work as novels. At the same time I am also doing a new graphic novel.

  • What is the one-sentence synopsis of your work-in-progress?

Maybe just the title could suggest something? It is called “Return to the Desert”. Hopefully it will be out in the spring or before the summer.

  • Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Not sure, perhaps. I always wrote stories or drew them. It’s a combination of the two passions I always had. When I was a kid I wanted to become a comic artist. Then later on I discovered storyboard and since I loved movies and storytelling it ended up being the right profession for me.

  • What was the first story you remember writing?

Not really sure, if it was either the journey of a few cavemen which I later also illustrated or a sequel of Jaws. I was very little and I wasn’t allowed to watch the movie but my dad had the book and I read it. Then my imagination started and I went on writing my own jaws story.  

  • What is the most difficult part of the whole writing process?

Isolating yourself. Sometimes can be really difficult when you have a family or when you are traveling. Any interruption can take you back to square one. In fact sometimes I silence notification that are not necessary which are the socials for example but anything can be a distraction breaking the flow. For example a courier delivering a package. To me, in order to be effective in my work I must set a routine. That way I would be in control.

  • What is the easiest part of the writing process?

I think the actual writing is the easiest part. All that leads to that is the real work.

  • Does writing come easy for you?

Not really the writing but the ideas come easy. I thinks stories are all around one just have to know how to tell them.

  • Do you have mental list or a computer file or a spiral notebook with the ideas for or outlines of stories that you have not written but intend to one day?

I have boxes of old ideas, sketches and scripts collected over the decades. Every single note I wrote are there. I kind of have the habit to keep everything. Recently I found even notebooks from my school days.

  • Have you written any other books?

Yes, quite a few. Some of them are old stories I wrote more than 20 years ago. I put them aside since I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Other were ideas for different medias. For example when I worked for an animation company before the year 2000 I used to write all sort of ideas and concept and now I am going back to those old ideas rewriting them into novels.

  • Do you keep a pen and notepad on your bedside table?

Almost, I always have one in my bag or jacket when I am out.

  • What has been your greatest internal struggle to overcome in relation to your writing career?

As storyboard artist at one point I realized that there weren’t any manual about the profession and at that time I was occasionally giving classes to Film Schools and Art Academies. It was when a student asked for some reference books that I realized maybe I should have been writing one. So I did, I wrote a Storyboard Manual and it was one of the first available. It sold out pretty quick because some of the schools I gave courses ordered them in bulks. Eventually other publishers approached me and I started writing manuals that ended up translated in several languages for big names such as Thames & Hudson, Barrons, Eyrolles, MWP etc.

I am still publishing manuals and a new one is coming out in Italy next month.

And that’s the struggle, many of these publishers kind of listed me as a non-fiction author. It has been quite difficult to expose myself as a novelist. Even though I started up as a writer in the late 80ies.

  • What is a talent you have that nobody knows?

I am ambidextrous.

  • Who designed your cover?

I do it myself most of the time.

Check out Colours by Italian author, illustrator and storyboard artist, Giuseppe Cristiano, below.

About Giuseppe Cristiano

Giuseppe Cristiano is an Italian author, illustrator and storyboard artist who has worked all over the world for more than twenty years. He collaborates worldwide with advertising agencies, film production companies, animation and games. In 1998 he opened the first storyboard school in Stockholm, Sweden. Since then he has published many storyboard manuals translated in English, Swedish, French, German, Polish, Italian, Chinese. Over the years he has published novels, illustrated books and graphic novels.

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