Screenwriter Spotlight: Finalist Tom Silva

Chicago Screenplay Awards Questionnaire

By Chicago Screenplay Awards Dept.

What’s your name? Where were you born? Where do you live? And what’s your hobby? 

My name is Tom Silva. I am an Indian-American born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I’ve been in Chicago for most of my adult life so I call this home now. I don’t have hobbies as much as passions. I’ve been making films for a while. My Outside of film, I had a rock band called Clara May that put out a couple of records in the early aughts. I also write fiction; two of my short stories were published this year — in Canada’s Nashwaak Review, and in The Bombay Review.

Where did you come up with the concept that just placed as Finalist in the screenplay contest? How long did it take you to develop it into the screenplay it is now? 

Marriage of Convenience is really based on many of the women in my family, who I observed growing up, who had to deal with the struggles of being very accomplished, cosmopolitan women and deciding on whether to enter into a medieval institution —  an arranged marriage. When the series, Indian Matchmaking, became a giant hit of Netflix, I realized how fascinated people were by this. So, my screenplay is about showing you what the series didn’t – what happens after the matchmaker leaves and the families go home and the young couple has to deal with being married to someone they’ve only known for a short while? And then, what happens if your teenage love reappears, further complicating the situation. Marriage of Convenience was one of three screenplays I wrote during Covid. I took about 12 weeks to write it

From concept to finished draft, can you take us through your screenwriting process? 

For me, the first step with writing a script is taking a few weeks to establish the structure using index cards in Final Draft. I’ll usually see the scenes emerge over those weeks – when I’m commuting to work, while I’m in the shower, when I wake up, when I’m biking. I jot those ideas down and transcribe each scene until it becomes a soldi structure. Once, I feel like I have a strong outline, I write the screenplay in about 8 weeks. During this time, I’m pretty secretive about it – I rarely discuss details with anyone since I want to be in that world on my own with my characters. One of the biggest things with this screenplay was getting the voices right. These characters are many things all at once – Indians, Americans, Texans, Midwesterners – so I spent a lot of time on the dialogue. Once I finish a draft, I’ll usually have a person I trust read it  – often industry people who give me very detailed , practical notes. I will then integrate these into a finished draft. I do the same with coverage from competitions. 

When did you realize that you wanted to become a screenwriter?

Probably when I went to film school at Columbia College in Chicago and realized that no one was writing films about people who looked like me. I knew if I wanted to tell stories about South Asians, Indian-Americans and other people of color, I’d have to write them myself. 

Who are your biggest filmmaking/screenwriting influences? What about their style do you like or borrow?  

I have a picture of Ingmar Bergman on my wall. His films like Winter Light, Autumn Sonata and The Silence rocked my world because of the way they dealt with relationships – especially marriage and love affairs. He broke taboos and his films showed us that relationships are messy. I was inspired to never shy away from emotion and to try be honest. Bergman also influenced so many of the American filmmakers I love, especially Noah Baumbach whose film The Squid and the Whale is one of the best American screenplays ever written. Other screenwriters I admire – Bo Goldman, Robert Towne, Philip Kaufman, David Mamet.

Have you ever been obsessed with a movie or TV show? If so, which one? Why? 

Among recent shows, I loved the HBO series Big Little Lies because it was stunningly acted – one of the greatest casts ever assembled for a TV show between Nicole Kidman, Rees Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Meryl Streep. The director, Jean-Marc Vallée gave it such a lyrical style , using a nonlinear structure moving back and forth in time. I love this type of writing and filmmaking, mixing memory, sense impression, fantasy and reality. For us film nerds, there was a lot of the French director, Alain Resnais in it, especially Hiroshima Mon Amour.  Other films and screenplays I’ve loved from the last few years – Waves, Christine, Promising Young Woman, Prisoners, Afternoon Delight, The Kids Are Alright, The Sisters Brothers

What’s your favorite moment in cinema history? Why? 

Such a tough question. It all depends on the genre.  I’ll list a few: for a gut wrenching moment, I would say Anna Magnani’s last scene in Rome Open City; for greatest acting, I would say Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris; and for a pure badass action moment, the Union Station gunfight in The Untouchables. 

Who’s your favorite character in cinema history? Why? 

Among action films, how about Ripley in Aliens? Was there ever an action hero who had that many dimensions – emotional, raw, controlled, fearless, and sympathetic at the same time. Ripley Rules. 

If you could talk to anyone from any era, who would it be and what would you ask them? 

In terms of film, maybe the early American filmmakers after the Lumiere brothers invented film technology. Griffith and Porter and those directors took a medium that was a recording device and then found that splicing two shots together generated meaning and engaged our emotions. That must have been like the discovery of fire – earth shaking. All of us as screenwriters and filmmakers, I think, search for that feeling when we sit down to write something. The blank page is an infinite canvas and anything is possible.   


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