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WRITES.CAMERA.AX-TION!: LAVA G. KHONSUWON

By Mo Moshaty    March 14, 2024

Lava is a Thai American filmmaker based in New Mexico. She works as a director/producer for documentaries, was in the 2023 Association of Independent Commercial Producers mentorship program, Commercial Director Diversity Program cohort, and Stowe Story Lab New Voices Fellowship. Lava is driven to create films that amplify underrepresented voices, and overcome challenges. Lava is also the Festival Director for the New Mexico Asian Film Festival and Founder of Asians in NM Film. When not creating films, Lava loves sculpting chickens in pants, hanging with her critters, and building an off the grid house with her partner John.

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2. Tell us about your first brush with the horror genre. 

When I was in 5th grade, I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street at a friend's sleepover. I was so intrigued but also…TERRIFIED. For weeks I was scared to fall asleep. Probably should have followed the film rating, but I was a wild child. Heck, Freddy still scares me. That’s my karma for not listening to my mom! 

3. What about the genre pulls you to work within it?

When I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker (which was in the 4th grade), I wanted to tell stories to help change the world. I’m fortunate to be hired to create documentaries and docu-style content, but I also want to create narrative films that will also incite change. So last year, I took a Sundance Collab workshop, Writing Horror for Film & Television, where part of the class we explored how the horror genre has the ability to bring awareness while taking the audience for a ride. Although, I am writing in the horror genre these days, I probably float under a subgenre of supernatural, thrillers with creepy spirits. I’m trying to write something that I will direct and not give me nightmares (or my mom).

4. On this horror journey have there been bumps or disappointments?

So far, I’m fresh in the process with my screenplay, Spirit Well. My biggest bump has been finding time to rewrite my script. I was super fortunate to have been selected in 2023 for the Stowe Story Labs New Mexico New Voices Fellowship. During the fellowship, I wrote my rough draft for Spirit Well, and received awesome notes to strengthen the story. However, I had a film festival to organize/curate (I’m the director for the New Mexico Asian Film Festival), and work on paid jobs. Can’t complain! These are great things, but time has been limited since our Fellowship Retreat. Basically, I’m mostly disappointed in myself for not having time to develop my story. 

1.  Give us the best elevator pitch on your work.

My horror screenplays are about unleashing my rage, fear and

healing into a story that will drag the audience on a rollercoaster of panic and amusement about a broken human that you cheer on.  

5. What was the first horror screenplay you’ve written? Any production, publishing?

Spirit Well is my first feature horror screenplay. I wrote a couple of short horror screenplays and gearing up to direct a short horror this spring.

6. What’s your process when beginning a screenplay?

When a story comes to mind and I can’t stop thinking about it, I start to outline the screenplay from beginning to end. I do very basic bullet points, then start filling in the various beats. It also helps me to make a mood board on Pinterest and a Deck. I’m more of a visual person, so having images on a mood board and a deck, can help me really see the story while I’m writing. 

7. World-building in horror can be as extensive or as contained as we wish. What comes first for you in the idea department, the plot, the character, or the atmosphere?

For me, I see the atmosphere in my world first. I’m very interested in the idea of other dimensions interacting with our dimension. It comes from my Thai upbringing and knowing about ghosts/spirits since I was a kid. It’s that feeling of what is possibly around that we can’t see but it’s there.

8. Who and/or what are your horror influences?

Jordan Peele is a huge influence for me diving into horror. I can honestly say, horror wasn’t a focus of mine until Jordan started doing horror. I loved him on Key & Peele, so it’s pretty awesome that Jordan Peele is both hilarious but then can take us into a dark, social issue, horror story. Because as fun as it is to write horror, I also enjoy branching into other genres. I really like that Jordan Peele can do both comedy and horror. He’s rad.

9. Is there a story inside that you have seeds of but can't seem to connect that's dying to get out?

YES. But I can’t elaborate …YET. There is a dark, horror-esque story I have brewing in my mind.  

10. How do you handle extensive notes or a rejected screenplay?

Getting extensive notes or a rejected screenplay is totally fine by me. If I’m getting extensive notes, I am very open to listening, take what works and dump what doesn’t. Some notes can really elevate my story, so I appreciate that. Rejection is part of this journey. Thinking everyone will love or even like my stories, is completely unrealistic. You could write/make the best film and have people hate it. You can write/make a piece of crap film and someone will like it (mom’s included). Rejections or extensive notes don't stop me. 

11. What has been the most difficult part of your screenwriting journey?

Finding time to write has been my biggest obstacle to move forward on my screenwriting journey. I have a ton of ideas, outlines, etc… but then I have to work, a pile of laundry, dishes, family to help, animals to care for and sometimes sleep.  

12. What has been the best/most rewarding?

The community I've met in the screenwriting and horror community has been the best. This job can be a lonely one and finding the connections I've found have made this journey so much more fun. I'm so grateful for them.

13.  Which horror element or creature from film/lit terrifies you and why?

The paranormal, evil, spirits that lurk in the dark make my hair on my neck stand up and plant their essence in my brain. Why do they pop into my mind when I am ready to go to bed?!  Freaking Hereditary…

14.  What project are you looking forward to next?

Rewriting my script, Spirit Well, is what I am most excited to work on next. Since it’s loosely based on a personal experience of finding myself after a divorce, it’s therapeutic to create this story. The story incorporates my Isaan Thai culture and takes place in the dimension of the dead.  No, I did not get sucked into a dimension of the dead, but at times, it felt like it. 

15.  Where can folks find your work?

My website: www.beinglava.com

Instagram: @lifewithlava

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lava-khonsuwon-6bab45213/

Read more about Lava's experience with Stowe Story Lab' New Voices New Mexico Retreat here!

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Mo Moshaty is a horror writer, lecturer and producer. As a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and life long horror fan, Mo has lectured with Prairie View A&M Film & TV Program as a Keynote, BAFSS Horror Studies Sig  and The University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Mo has partnered with horror giant, Shudder Channel, to co-produce the 13 Minutes of Horror Film Festival 2021 and 2022 with Nyx Horror Collective and her literary work "Love the Sinner" was published with Brigid's Gate Press in July of 2023 and her two volume collection, "Clairviolence: Tales of Tarot and Torment Vol. One and Two" will be published with Spooky House Press in the Spring of 2024

Mo is the creator and Editor-in-Chief of NightTide Magazine

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