Q+A: Tina Kabitsi

Feb 5, 2023
Dimitris Passas

One of the most celebrated contemporary Greek screenwriters, with a career that spans 20 years during which she delivered some of the most exemplary TV series, Tina Kabitsi is the name on everyone's lips when talking about high-quality television productions. Kabitsi explored the Greek language and literature in her bachelor studies (philology) and continued her studies in the Department of Theatre Studies in the University of Athens. Her educational background and fierce intellect are explicitly manifested in her screenplays which are brimming with intrigue, meticulous characterization and plausible dialogue. While she began her career writing comedies, in the recent few years, she changed tack and delved into the murky waters of crime fiction delivering Fever (Έξαψη) in 2021 and the acclaimed Oath (Ο Όρκος) during the course of the following year. Eagerly waiting for the airing of her latest project, titled The Fall (Η Πτώση), Tina accepted my invitation to answer my questions regarding her work. Here is what she said:

1) You began your career as a screenwriter crafting principally comedies for the small screen. How difficult the transition was towards a whole new genre like crime fiction/thriller? Did your previous experience in comedy proved helpful or a hindrance in relation to your creativity as a writer?

T. K.: The transition was natural, though not spontaneous. It happened because it was asked by the producer with whom I was collaborating at the time. The rom-com era had ended, the genre I was working with, and he asked me to write drama. The proposal came at a weird and difficult time for me, I saw it as a blessing, I didn’t invest in its commercial value -not at all- I rather invested in my personal joy, practicing my skills in a new genre and thus “Fever” was born.

My previous entanglement with comedy doesn’t usually influence my work. There are times however when, being tired, comedy lends a hand and makes writing drama a bit more fun. There… in deep drama, comedy is awakened from lethargy and inside my head, I write the scenes and the plots in a comic manner and the dialogue in a quirky one. They all feel so magical.

2) In your latest body of work, both in “The Oath” as well as in “Fever”, you are the only screenwriter, something rare in the field of international television productions. Was it a conscious choice to write alone such extensive, in terms of total episodes, series? Do you believe that similar collaborations entail a radical alteration in the dynamic of both the creator and his work?

T.K.: I'm not the sole screenwriter, I am the creator. I am working with a team.

3) In “The Oath”, the screenplay includes the extensive use of medical jargon, in some parts even extremely specialized. Which were the prime sources that helped you during the research stage and resulted in such accurate and plausible dialogue parts? Did you contact medical professionals in person too?

T. K.: How do you go about a subject for which you know nothing about? You read, learn and contact the specialists/professionals. That’s what I did. All the medical scenes are written by a consultant doctor, general surgeon Mr. Stratos Kouroumpas. I call him, express what I want and which purpose each medical scene has to fulfil and then he comprehensively describes the incident in medical terms. We have spent several hours working together.

4) “Street Medicine”, the main narrative vehicle in “The Oath” is a rather unexplored practice among the native audience. When did you hear for the first time the term and when did you decide to set it as a foundation for a TV show?

T. K.: It's an old story for me. I’ve read an article back in 2016 about a doctor with a backpack roaming the streets and helping the homeless people. I was so excited with the idea that I began researching street work. The more I was learning about it, the more I felt the need to write avbout it. Thus, “The Oath” was born. When Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) asked me to write the show, I met the Doctors of the World (MdM-Greece), a group which was working the streets and I got what I needed in order to begin.

5) In the series that you write, appears a phenomenon that is absent from other productions of the same genre. There is a perfect equilibrium between the various sub-genres included in the script. For example, you like to weave the purebred crime aspect with family drama. Is this success in finding the analogies a product of your experience in the field or it just happens in the process of writing?

T. K.: I feel inclined to mix the genres. Ι tend to bastardize things. It is the purebreds that I avoid. This blending is a challenge for me. I don’t think about it as I’m doing it. It’s the way I write. For example, “The Oath” was an existentialist drama (the debt of the doctor and the man to life), while at the same time being social (homelessness), medical (medical environment/incidents),whodunit (who killed the protagonist’s wife), mystery (the disappearance of Miranda Alyfandis). It was very, very hard, you can’t imagine how, but we did it.

6) In your work, you tend to avoid the “black-and-white” outlining of the main characters. There is no clearly defined villain and his counterweight, you don’t succumb to the cliched dipole “good guy Vs evil antagonist”. Do you thing that this adds to a more plausible depiction of the protagonists?

T. K.: But of course. This is not realistic. Nobody among us is black or white. Good or bad. We all have our shades. In the dramatic process, we say “Bad is the one whose story still remains untold”. If we hear his story, then maybe we will understand why he is bad and if he was always that way. This saying functions as a guiding light for me and my work and that’s why in every story I create, we always learn the personal story of the villain/antagonist. Antigone said that “Nobody was born evil”. Nobody is bad of his own volition. Our Ancient predecessors have really grasped the essence of everything.

7) I read in an interview that you gave in the past that you are a fervent fan of the quote that is frequently attributed to William Faulkner, “Kill your darlings”. Ho do you interpret the meaning of the phrase and what is its significance in the process of creative writing?

T. K.: “Kill your darlings” is a well-known advice and technique among seasoned screenwriters. It’s about the bold decision to get rid of a story, a character or a plot for which you’ve worked hard (that’s why you “love” them) for the greater good of your work, because they don’t fit with the overall story. It demands a great deal of bravura in order to do that and it’s a sign that you have matured as writer. When you’re young and you write an exceptional scene which however doesn’t help the basic plot , doesn’t advance the action, doesn’t serve, in any way, your story, it is tough to erase it for the simple reason that you like it. Inexperience hinders you from comprehending that it creates a problem, a chasm, a lag in the flow. As you acquire experience, you easier kill your darlings because you are more focused on the correctness of the plot. The significance of this phrase is critical for the writer’s work as it advancers the plot while retracting anything that intercepts it.

8) What do you think about the recent booming of crime shows as well as those pertaining to the categories of mystery and thriller in the Greek television? What was the reason that prompted the major Greek channels to invest in crime fiction?

T. K.: Channels invest in anything having commercial value. Anything that the viewership asks for. Anything they believe that will prove to be lucrative. We live in an era characterized by fluidity regarding moral values, fear, and isolation. It is the after-covid era where love is bleeding out but mystery survives. Hooray for crime fiction!

9) Your latest project, a brand new series titled “The Fall” is due to be aired in the forthcoming month by the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ΕΡΤ). Tell us, in brief, the major points of the story and also how did you experience the writing process of that show in comparison with the previous one (that is “The Oath”)?

T. K.: The new series “The Oath 2: The Fall” due to be aired in September 2023 is about a humanist doctor’s quest for redemption. The fall and the ascent. The show is divided into three thematical units: 1)The hospital, 2) The prisons and 3) The trains. Three cycles in one. Our hero is a modern Prometheus, a saint doctor who pays a heavy price for his struggle in favor of the common good. It is the vindication that comes as the result of a long-term fight.

"Gods [...] but now I have to stand on my own feet and not anymore being circled by evil. Do me this favor and I shall be happy". ("Helen" by Euripides)

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