Joaquin Miguel Lopez
Cal State LA MFA graduate discovers passion for screenwriting
He will start a job with Marvel Television.
By Henry Fuhrmann | Cal State LA News Service
In a darkened Cal State LA theater, sitting on a folding chair in the next-to-last row, Joaquin Miguel Lopez watches intently as eight actors read from his script. The episode is conceived as the finale of a TV anthology called Los Muertos that is set both in the present and in an apocalyptic future in neighborhoods not far from campus.
The dramatic moments land with the hoped-for jolts, and the flashes of dark humor elicit knowing laughs from the audience of about three dozen. Lopez beams. Afterward, audience members shower him with praise for the script’s true-to-life Latino and Latina characters and themes during a question-and-answer session. The attention might seem a bit much for a young writer, but if his accomplishments to date are any indication, Lopez will become accustomed to it.
Lopez, 26, received a Master of Fine Arts in Television, Film and Theatre, with an option in writing, on May 20. He already has significant internships and teaching assignments under his belt, and he has a coveted job lined up at Marvel Television.
“The opportunities I’ve gotten are so that I can help others. That made more sense than doing things for myself,” Lopez says, recalling feeling gratified yet humbled by the audience’s reaction to, and deep connection with, Los Muertos at the public reading in March. “When I write, I write so that I can enjoy it. But I also write because I feel like the stories that I’m telling, they need to be told. I don’t see them enough.”
Los Muertos is the culmination of a personal and creative journey that began for Lopez in his youth in El Sereno, continued during his undergraduate days at UC Berkeley and, for the last three years, led him to the MFA program at Cal State LA and a newfound passion for screenwriting.
"Joaquin Lopez decided to get his MFA at Cal State LA, specifically, because he hoped the environment at his university would embrace the stories and the people he wanted to explore in his writing: the people he grew up with in Northeast Los Angeles—his friends, his family, people that looked like him. That were him,” says his thesis committee chair, Ligiah Villalobos, an assistant professor in the Department of Television, Film, and Media Studies.
Lopez is the son of educators and part of a family of artists. He recalls spinning stories in his head on long bus rides to and from junior high and high school in the San Fernando Valley. He devoured literature (Chuck Palahniuk was an early favorite) and comic books (notably entries in DC’s Batman series written by Jeph Loeb, with whom Lopez has recently interned at Marvel TV).
He went on to UC Berkeley, studying the Beats, 1960s cultural movements and American literature, a seeming world away from his L.A. roots. After earning his B.A. in English literature in 2014, he returned home to help his parents care for his younger brother.
Lopez tutored or taught in writing programs serving low-income and first-generation students, including Upward Bound at Cal State LA and 826LA in Echo Park, a program founded by writer Dave Eggers. A friend suggested to Lopez that he explore taking classes at Cal State LA. His encouraging first classroom experiences with Professors Steve Rothman and Enrique Berumen introduced him to screenwriting, and he enrolled in the MFA program in 2016. Lopez credits Professor José Cruz González with helping him develop his skills as a visual storyteller and Professor Villalobos with helping him find a niche working in short film.
“I don’t know if I would have figured out that I was going to do this,” Lopez says, citing those influential professors. “Now I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
Lopez has already won notice in the industry, including a scholarship from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and funding from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to write a short film, which he set, naturally, in El Sereno. After graduation, he will begin his new job as a writer’s production assistant on Marvel’s Ghost Rider, a series that will stream on Hulu starting in 2020.
He even hopes to get back to Los Muertos one day and write the remaining episodes outlined in his MFA thesis. Villalobos, who first connected Lopez with Marvel, is thrilled about her student’s prospects.
“This is what makes me most excited about his career—that he will not only be telling incredibly rich and beautiful stories, but that those stories will be about a community and a people that are not often seen on the screen.”