“Goodness is a Thing We Do, Not a Thing We are” - Interview with Avishai Weinberger

We met with Avishai a few years ago at the CineStory Writers Retreat in Idyllwild. It was a great experience and I remember him as a passionate writer/filmmaker. We kept our friendship on social media as he lives in New York as an NYU Alumni and he grabbed my interest with his recent success stories, and achievements as well as a fellow Jewish writer/filmmaker. So I asked him for an interview and he said yes.
“Goodness is a Thing We Do, Not a Thing We are” - Interview with Avishai Weinberger

By Bessy ADUT

Avishai Weinberger is a screenwriter based in Brooklyn, New York. His scripts, largely science fiction and horror, have won awards at festivals and competitions such as FilmQuest, Nightmares Film Festival, and Cinestory, and have placed him in the Academy Nicholl Fellowship top 50. Some of those scripts are currently in active development with producers and directors. His short films have also played at festivals like Dances With Films, NoHo CineFest, GenreBlast, and more, where they've garnered nominations and won awards including Best Screenplay. His NYU thesis short, "THIRD DATE", was licensed by Alter and has over 1.6 million views on YouTube. When he's not writing, you can find Avishai enjoying the latest horror movie in theaters, leading Shabbos services at his synagogue, or walking his very cute geriatric dog.

Where are you currently residing?

I am located in Brooklyn, New York.

What are your current projects?

I just finished a spec called "Tour Of Devastation", about the aftermath of a giant monster attack. Aside from that, a few of my other scripts are in active development with producers and directors, though I'm not supposed to talk too much about that… yet.

Please share how you got started and got to where you are today...

I've been excited about filmmaking ever since I was a kid. In high school, my classmates came to me to shoot and edit their video projects. I actually spent a year and a half shooting a feature-length zombie movie in my high school on weekends. Then I attended a film school in Israel for a year, the Maale Film School in Jerusalem, and followed that with four years of film production studies at NYU. I'm an Orthodox Jew, which made it difficult to get as much on-set experience in college as I'd hoped -most student projects are filmed on weekends, and I can't work on the Sabbath. So while I remain in love with directing, I pivoted to screenwriting, since I could determine my own work schedule. Then I wrote a script in college that started doing well at contests and getting me meetings, which is how the long process of my career began.

Has it been a smooth road?

I remember reading a quote (was it Tarantino? I can't remember) that was along the lines of, "Everyone in Hollywood creates their own path, and then dynamites it behind them." I don't think that's entirely accurate. A better metaphor would be: We're all trying to find our way in a snowstorm. Each of us creates a path, which then fills up with snow behind us, which means nobody else will follow that same path, but they can still create their own. And some paths are smoother and more straightforward than others. Mine has had ups and downs, and while I've been blessed with certain life privileges that made aspects of my career easier than they otherwise might have been, it definitely hasn't been a smooth road. Projects fall apart, prospective creative partners sometimes prove to be bad fits, and obstacles arise. But that's all natural.

Tell us more about your life and career...

After college, there were a handful of times when it looked like my projects might take off. Each time, something came up that shut it down. But I like to say "any motion is good motion", and something that looks like failure one day can help you down the line. An example: I wrote a script I wanted to direct myself. I took it everywhere, hoping to find a financial partner. Nobody bit, but I met people along the way whom I became friends with. So when one of my scripts placed high in the Academy Nicholl contest in 2020 and started gaining interest from prospective producers and managers, I shared it with him, and he fell in love with it. He came on board to produce. And while that project is now in its fourth year of trying to get off the ground, we've made real progress, brought on more members of the team, and he's now the person I send all my scripts to. That's where I'm at in my career; still trying to get projects made, but in a stable business relationship with partners who are doing all that anyone could reasonably do to make that happen. (And, more importantly, we get along as human beings. Factors beyond our control can determine if projects get made or not, but mutual respect and understanding… That's worth its weight in gold.)

What do you think goodness is?

I think goodness is a thing we do, not a thing we are. Most people think they are good people, and sometimes they use that belief to justify actions that cause harm. But our choices matter more than what we think we are "deep down". Are we there for other people? Do we listen? Do we try to understand, even when we disagree? Do we appreciate the difference? Do we offer to help others who need what we can offer, while still doing our best to establish boundaries and take care of ourselves?

Who are you outside of your professional life?

Outside of my work, I'm a horror and sci-fi nerd in New York who relishes his Judaism and is in therapy to better cope with world events connected to that Judaism, and who has taken up bodybuilding at the gym. I go to the movies as often as I can. I spend a lot of time with my family, and -for the first time, at age 30- I am finally moving out of my family's home and into my own space.

Are you interested in environmental issues?

I'm definitely interested in environmental issues. Climate change is a real issue, caused by human action. This has been scientifically proven again and again, no matter how inconvenient that may be for people. Also inconvenient: I think the onus of caring for the environment largely falls on corporations, as opposed to individuals, because they are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gases and no amount of individual recycling or using paper straws can make up for that. It's important that laws should restrict industrial pollution.

Do you think the world is not a good place right now?

I'm worried. There's a lot of good in the world and a lot of complexity, but -at least speaking for myself and my family, from a Jewish perspective- it's been a really scary time. October 7, 2023 was a trauma that hasn't ended, and the fallout has been unbearable, whether that's the rising antisemitism in the world or the horrific civilian death toll of the war. It's all so complicated and ugly, and the human tendency to reduce these complicated concepts to either/or extremes instead of conversation, causes real harm to everyone. I think we sometimes forget that the world is bigger than our own sliver of it, because we can't see the whole, but our part feels like it's on fire; like the world's ending... And that's a really hard thing to grapple with.

How do you make the world a better place?

I try to help in small ways, because small ways are within my purview. First, I note that I'm struggling, so I take care of myself. I go to therapy. I watch my health. I keep busy. Then, I see who around me needs help, emotionally. And I reach out to them. I do what I can to take part in activism, but I try to be careful with this because sometimes our more brazen attempts to make the world a better place can cause unintended harm to those who don't deserve it. Last, I try to express concepts of empathy through my art, which may or may not sway anyone, but it's within my reach to do so, so I do it.

How can we all make the world better?

There's that Mister Rogers quote: "Look for the helpers." None of us can solve the massive problems facing the world, but we can do what we can to help those in need and whom we are able to reach. Small acts of kindness add up. Everyone is scared, and we can all help at least one person feel like the world isn't out to get them, by demonstrating that we are not out to get them, we are here for them. If enough of us do this, the world can feel safer. It's a start.

How can science and spirituality co-exist?

Science and spirituality fit quite nicely with each other. I should note that "spirituality" doesn't necessarily mean "religion", though religion can certainly employ spirituality. The way I see it is that science is about how things happen, have happened and can happen. It's the mechanics of the universe. Spirituality is about how we regard these things. It's about looking at the universe, our place in it, our place among each other, and noting how amazing it is that we are part of something so intricate and filled with so much potential. Science is facts, spirituality is feelings. I'd argue that one without the other is dead. Facts are strengthened by their implications; feelings are given form by their context.

If you could go anywhere, where would you (and why)?

This might seem silly, but right now, I just miss Aruba. The last time I went was in 2017. I stayed on a beautiful, seemingly empty beach, and wrote on my laptop while the sun set in front of me. It's a feeling I've been chasing ever since. I want to go back there.

Please let us know anything else you’d like to share...

One of the frustrating things about being a writer is knowing that it might take forever for your work to get made, if it gets made at all. So in 2021, I shot a half-hour short film with my sister (an actor, who co-wrote the short with me), and it's been touring festivals. It's something I can point to and say, "There's proof I did something." But even if it wasn't filmed; writing that was something. I remember a day during the writers' strike when things seemed grim because it was reported that the studios might stretch the strike out for months and months. To deal with that despair, I did one thing: I wrote. Writing is making something. Making something is within our control. If you ever feel like you don't have control, do what you can to make something.

Could you please provide shareable links (website, social media)?

I used to be on Twitter, but I am taking a break from it. If you want to find me on social media, I'm on Instagram: @avishaioddity

Could you please provide media links to share?

Here is a short film I made in college. It's not my most recent work, but it was a learning experience, and I'm proud of it.


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