Q&A: Writer of “Skin Deep” at Austin Film Festival

By Helen Fernandez “Skin Deep,” a film selected for this year’s Austin Film Festival, follows a young woman named Leah, played by Zara Zoe, who has just been diagnosed with terminal Melanoma. The film’s writer, Monica Zanetti, plays Caitlin, a woman with mental health issues who befriends Leah and helps get her out of her comfort zone. After its world premiere at the festival last Saturday, “Skin Deep” received the award for Best Narrative Feature. ORANGE talked with Zanetti on her experience during the film’s production.

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ORANGE: Is this your first feature film? What made you want to write about someone who has skin cancer? ZANETTI: It is my first feature film. I had the idea for the characters of Caitlin and Leah for a while. I just had the scene where they meet so clearly in my head, but I didn't know where it was going to go, so I wrote that scene and then put it away. Then I wrote a play and another film and almost forgot about it. Then one day I just woke up and it hit me exactly what their story was going to be, and so I wrote it really fast because I didn't want to forget it. I had a personal experience with Melanoma a few years ago and whilst my experience was different to Leah's in “Skin Deep,” I was suddenly introduced to this very serious cancer that I knew so little about and I feel very strongly that more people need to be made aware about the dangers of melanoma – particularly in Australia. It would be great if “Skin Deep” could help with that.

ORANGE: When did you decide you wanted to act in the film? ZANETTI: I did always know to some degree that I would be playing Caitlin. I didn't let myself think about that during the writing process though, as I didn't want to be subconsciously censoring myself. I wanted to keep her pretty raw.

ORANGE: How long did it take you to write Skin Deep and what was the most challenging aspect of the writing process? ZANETTI: I wrote the first draft in about four weeks, and we shot on draft 14 about five months later. The hardest part was probably having to change parts of the script that I loved for logistical and budget reasons. There was originally some scenes that took part on a train station, which we just didn't have the budget for in the end. So they were changed to take place on the street. They still turned out beautifully though.

ORANGE: What was your favorite scene to shoot? ZANETTI: The tattoo parlor scene was so much fun. Mainly because the shop was functioning when we were in there, which is what makes the scene look so real. I think Zara is so excellent in that scene too, and we just had so much fun playing around with it.

ORANGE: What kind of writing/acting training do you have? ZANETTI: I studied the Meisner method for three years pretty intensely in Sydney. All my writing training has been through reading many, many scripts and books over the years.

ORANGE: After this experience with Skin Deep will you focus on acting, writing, or keep doing both? ZANETTI: I do want to keep doing both. As hard as it is, it's just so rewarding making your own work.

ORANGE: What is the Australian film scene like? Do you see a big difference compared to the one in Austin? ZANETTI: Australia makes really great films. However, we have a much smaller industry, even compared to Austin. I did see a lot of similarity between Sydney Film Festival and AFF, which was nice.

ORANGE: What tips can you give aspiring writers? ZANETTI: Reading is so important. Not books on "how to write,” but fiction, non-fiction, Sci Fi, kids’ books. It will absolutely make you a better writer!