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LXiA Spotlight

Rodrigo Carvalhedo

We got to catch up with up-and-coming writer Rodrigo Carvalhedo! Rodrigo, tell us about yourself! What do you do? Where did you grow up? When did you realize animation could be a career path? What were you planning to do before that?

I’m a Brazilian screenwriter and creator, currently based in LA. My hometown is called São Luís, an island in Northeastern Brazil with some awesome tropical weather. I went to school at Federal University of Ceará and at Higher Education Unit Dom Bosco for Civil Engineering, mostly because I was never exposed to the possibility of pursuing a creative career. I learned a lot in Engineering, but my true passion has always been storytelling. I have been writing since I was 4, when I would turn family road trips into short stories. In high school, I started writing a sci-fi novel, which I managed to publish a few years later. The novel is called Gemeologia: O Dilema. Oh, and it’s in Portuguese! This whole endeavor of turning something as intangible as an idea into a physical book inspired me to pursue storytelling as a career.

Wow! Close shave. Describe your journey in animation. How did you get your start? How did you land your first gig?

After I reconnected with my love for storytelling, I decided to come to the US to continue my studies. I had just completed my Civil Engineering degree, but I was eager to jump into another program to study screenwriting. Moving here was a challenging process that took 3 years, several exams, language proficiency tests and applications, as I’m sure many international students can relate to. I have graduated from UCLA Professional Programs in Screenwriting and Writing for TV and am currently finishing Santa Monica College’s Animation Program, with an emphasis in Visual Development. Taking storyboarding, character design and animation classes has improved my writing, as I become more conscious of how each department enhances a project.

Last year, my animation pilot Enchanted Isle—about my hometown and the stories I grew up listening to—won the 2020 UCLA Screenplay Competition for Best TV Comedy Script. Since then, I have been working hard to keep on advancing. My scripts have been receiving positive feedback and accruing placements in professional competitions, such as the Screencraft Animation Competition and the Los Angeles International Screenplay Awards. I got the awesome opportunity to pitch my projects to some major studios, including Sony Pictures Animation. And in August 2021, I signed with my manager, Larry Hummel. Rise Up Animation and LatinX in Animation have been crucial through this process. Through them, I got connected with amazing people who genuinely believe in me and in my stories. I couldn’t be more grateful to all the mentors I met through the Rise Up mentorship program and to all the LXiA members who have been supporting me.

Rodrigo receiving his certificate from UCLA’s Screenwriting Program

Rodrigo receiving his certificate from UCLA’s Screenwriting Program

What’s been a pivotal moment for you in your career so far?

Having my animation pilot script Enchanted Isle win the Best TV Comedy award at the UCLA Screenplay Competition meant a great deal to me; not only because of the award itself but because it gave me some validation toward my writing. When I came here from Brazil, I chose to move away from my family and everything I knew for a dream. On top of that, I felt insecure about writing in my second language. Having my work recognized showed me I’m on the right path.

More importantly, I was thrilled to learn that my stories were resonating with people, especially one as personal as Enchanted Isle. While I’m fully aware that I still have tons to learn, that validation helped me be more confident in myself and in my stories. If I had kept them to myself, I would not have started reaching out to people, asking for feedback, and making awesome connections.

Rodrigo’s original story beat board

Rodrigo’s original story beat board

What’s a piece of advice you’d give your younger self about writing for animation / breaking into animation?

I would tell my younger self to be patient. I remember feeling lost through my Engineering degree because I didn’t know the career path that would bring me joy. Even though I had always been writing, it took a lot of introspection (and even bravery) to realize I wanted to be a writer. It’s natural when we are younger to struggle with figuring out our career path. Even for people who already work in animation, sometimes choosing your field can be challenging. My own experience was to look within myself: writing had been a constant in my life. When I finally realized that stories have inspired me from an early age to follow my dreams, I found my purpose: to pay it forward with stories that hopefully inspire the next generation to also pursue their dreams.

What do you wish more people knew about writing for animation?

For people looking into writing for animation, or writing in general, I’d say learning to be vulnerable and personal in your work goes a long way. A project can only benefit from a dose of your personal perspective. To add to that, a lot of people say “write what you know,” but one of my professors would always tell us, “Write what you feel.” How can you turn the emotions behind your life experiences into a story? This way, you pour yourself into the core of the project while still allowing the story to be free to expand. Also, learning to take feedback in such personal projects is crucial. Find people you trust to share your work with. And keep in mind that feedback is not personal; it’s always meant to improve your project and your craft.

Rodrigo’s background art of Central Park

Rodrigo’s background art of Central Park

Why is representation in the industry important?

I am glad to see representation be more and more a priority in the industry. To me, promoting representation is an endeavor that impacts both the present and the future generations. By advancing stories about and by people from diverse backgrounds, the industry not only allows those voices to tell their stories but also opens up the minds of people who had never seen themselves onscreen.

Growing up, I didn’t even know writing could be a career. I can’t help but wonder if I would’ve had that realization sooner if I had seen my culture onscreen. I only fully related to a show very recently with Irmão do Jorel. Look up “Irmão do Jorel lambada.” It’s hilarious! I hope that, as we strive for more diversity, people from all backgrounds can be proud of their culture and believe in their potential.

There’s a lot of thoughts on what it means to be Latinx. What does that mean to you?

I do my best to imbue every story I write with my Latin heritage. Some of them take place in Brazil or carry Brazilian elements within them. But I think representation goes deeper than the subject matter of a project. My new pilot, although not taking place in Latin America or portraying a Latin family specifically, carries the theme of living with joy, which is something deeply ingrained in my upbringing and in the Latin culture.

I like to think of representation in stories working in several layers, from transporting audiences to other places to presenting them with new ways to see the world.

What’s something you’re really, really hyped about?

Encanto! I’m super, super excited to watch it later this month. It’s been awesome to see the trailers and relate to so many aspects of the Colombian culture that we share as South Americans. I can’t wait to watch it on the big screen and then devour all the behind-the-scenes info I can find.

We can’t wait for Encanto either! Thank you for interviewing with us, Rodrigo!

Follow Rodrigo Carvalhedo on social media!

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