By Shannon Corder
All three winning scripts in the 2007 Screenwriting Competition depict the personal journeys of characters who grapple with themes of identity, courage, and redemption. It’s no surprise that each of the three writers found inspiration from obstacles in their own lives.
First place winner Fracaswell “Cas” Hymen found his story outside himself. After spending a year deeply depressed over the stillbirth of his daughter, he found strength to rejoin the outside world. “Coming out of a serious depression made me reevaluate my life, and my goals. I decided to take action and steer my life and career in a new direction that was challenging, daunting, and exciting.” Cas found his stride with screenwriting courses and began forming ideas for what would be Focus. “My inspiration came from looking at a book of photographs one night. Most of the photos were of children and women who were victims of poverty, abuse, and ignorance. The faces touched me, and I began to wonder about who was behind the camera.” Focus is about Trina, a poor young mother from the south who moves into an even poorer Brooklyn neighborhood and photographs the beauty she finds among the downtrodden around her.
Second place finalist Greg Amici, or just “Amici” to his friends, discovered his talent by accident. “I was a singer-songwriter…and found out I had a polyp on my larynx. The only alternative to surgery was complete vocal rest, so I gave up speaking (and singing) for a couple of months. I used that time to complete a screenplay.” He found he was pretty good at it, and later moved from New York to LA to pursue it more seriously. Inspired by a stint of substitute teaching he did along the way in New Jersey, Greg wrote Let X = 2, about a substitute teacher who finds love with a disgruntled math teacher.
The idea for third place finalist Annabel Oakes’ My Invisible Savior came from her family. “Growing up with a fairly conservative Catholic father and a fairly liberal mother who had a more open view of religion confused me, and gave me a really unique perspective on religion and politics. Like Zoe [her script’s main character], my goal …was to figure out my identity and my place in the world.” Savior is the story of a little girl who tries to convince a liberal community of the existence of her invisible friend, Jesus Christ, only to have the community overrun with media from the religious right.
Each script was assigned a mentor to help the authors revise them before 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places were chosen.
“Monte Merrick gave me a note that made me aware that a key element of the ‘movie playing in my head’ was not on the page,” says Cas of Focus. “My revisions were all about making this key element as clear to the reader as it was to me.”
“The obvious difference between the UCLA Extension contest and all others is that you’re provided the opportunity to resubmit another draft when you get into the final round,” says Amici. “The end result is that it’s not just about winning the competition—it’s about writing a better screenplay.” He added, “I’ve become much better at rewriting since I started at UCLA Extension. Because of my classroom experiences, I’m able to see my work in a more subjective light—a little less precious and a little more pliable.”
Annabel says her hard work has really paid off. “There are little successes every day and breakthroughs. I’ve been able to quit my day job, so I’m writing full time now. It’s a nice lifestyle. Not the most lucrative all the time, but it’s nice.”
“Winning the competition has been a validation of my journey into uncharted territory,” says Cas. Agencies and production companies have already expressed interest in his script, and he plans to continue taking classes with the Writers’ Program. “Experiences at UCLA Extension have changed my life—actually, they’ve brought the creative part of me back to life, and I am filled with gratitude.”
Shannon Corder is the Program Assistant in Screenwriting for the Writers’ Program.
Special thanks to our Writers’ Program instructors who served as Screenplay Contest judges:
3rd Round Judges and Mentors
1st and 2nd Round Judges