Stay tuned until mid-September when the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners of the 2008 UCLA Extension Screenplay Competition will be named. In the meantime, screenwriting program assistant Chae Ko gives us something to chew on. Below, some of this year’s top 10 finalists respond to Chae’s inquiry about, uh…, bananas.

I have an infatuation with bananas.

They are tasty, healthy, potassium-powered and don’t forget — very easy to carry. I don’t think people appreciate their versatility enough. Why would they? They are just a fruit.

I couldn’t stop thinking about bananas while helping to coordinate this year’s UCLA Extension Screenplay Competition. You might ask, “What do bananas have to do with writing screenplays?” Here’s a little story.

I was born and raised in Korea, where summers can be torture. Hot and unbearably humid, your sweat sticks to you. I didn’t mind it much. But what I did mind was how bananas were a luxury item. Imported and high-priced, it always bothered me that I couldn’t have them when I wanted them. Bananas were quite a rarity. My family just couldn’t afford those luxuries.

One night over dinner, my life was about to take a sudden new direction. My mom said, “We’re moving to a place where you won’t need those chopsticks. Here’s a fork. Try it out!” I thought she went senile. Who in their right mind doesn’t use chopsticks? Then it dawned on me. We were moving to America.

Moving day came more quickly than I had imagined. At the airport I became incredibly sick. Thirteen hours on the plane… Excruciating. A three-hour commute from San Francisco International Airport to Monterey, California… Lasted longer than the flight.

That same night my mom tucked me in. I was in a strange new land and all I could think was…”Moving sucks!” Unbeknownst to me, my mom had a surprise waiting. “I know this day has been difficult for you,” she said, “but you made it through and I’m proud of you.” She then handed me a banana. Boy was I ecstatic. Then she said something I would never forget. “In this country, you can have as many of these as you want.”

From that moment on, I saw bananas differently and even now, eighteen years later, they have a profound meaning in my life. I see bananas as opportunities. In America we have a plentiful supply. So much so it goes unnoticed. So the question I had to ask the top finalists of this year’s screenplay competition was clear. With what type of opportunities has the competition and the Writers’ Program provided them? They all responded with their own respective “bananas”.

“As a beginning screenwriter you have to have a lot of things on a lot of burners and hope that something will catch fire eventually. So entering competitions like this one is just another angle you can use to promote yourself and your work. Query letters to agent and managers don’t work. Well, they almost never work. And sending your script out to production companies definitely doesn’t work. So for people who come to this industry with zero connections, it’s one of the few ways to get your work out there and read.”

Annabel Oakes – Top three-finalist for Lovestruck.

“The UCLA Extension Screenwriting Competition is part of a truly elite group of competitions in that it has been established to foster and promote the best in contemporary screenwriting. It’s a ‘pure’ competition: not established to sell seminars or study aids, not constructed to pay some producer’s rent—it’s all about the writing. The Writers’ Program not only gives the chance to become the best writer you can be, it also gives a clear, realistic and current view of the market realities of the business. No gauzy abstractions here—the Writers’ Program is aimed at people who want a career in the business. Like me.”

Cinthea Stahl – Top three-finalist for Identifying Marks.

“Now that there’s a half billion contests out there, it’s important to me to know that my tens of dollars aren’t going to some meth lab in the middle of nowhere. The UCLA Extension Screenwriting Competition has been terrifically exciting because I’ve had the chance to rewrite with the help of a professor.”

Matthew Moses – Top three-finalist for Joshua’s Dream.

“I entered last year’s contest and came in second. The hook-ups that followed were great. UCLA [Extension] did a really great job in terms of hook-ups with agents and managers. I went from having neither to having both. I don’t think I’ll be eligible for next year’s contest, because I’m starting to make some money as a writer, but I was still eligible this year, so I took a shot. Again, the exposure was great. Last year, I was a finalist in three other prestigious contests, and won a couple of others. They were all supportive, but no one worked harder for me than UCLA [Extension] did. I appreciate the loyalty. I also made some good connections during the courses, with both students and [instructors].”

Greg Amici – Top ten-finalist for Spitback.

“For up-and-coming writers like myself, I think contests are a great way to get some exposure in a town and a business filled with writers. And the UCLA name carries some weight, so it’s definitely helped me get people to take more of an interest in me and my work.”

Tony Nichols – Top ten-finalist for Mr. Unlucky.

“Since it’s so very difficult to get any attention for your work from producers, agents, and managers, any opportunity to get some recognition is important. I guess the biggest opportunity so far has been meeting other writers. There are a number of fellow students I stay in touch with. I pass on information on contacts in the business to them; they do the same for me. We read each other’s stuff. It’s essential to have at least a few writer friends you can depend on for honest feedback on your work.”

Michael Hoffman – Top ten-finalist for Remembrance Photo.

“I made the semi-finals, a.k.a. ‘Top Ten’ last year and loved how much UCLA Extension did to promote us. The Writers’ Program staff is exceptionally professional in handling the Competition. It is my favorite. I hope someday to make the ‘Final Three’, because then they really put on the dog. Friends in the industry have a very positive reaction even to just being ‘Top Ten’. So, since I had such a good experience last year, I couldn’t wait to submit for this year. It’s important to enter competitions like this if you are looking for an agent. Of all the competitions that have recognized my work, this is the one they seem to respect the most. The Writers’ Program has also helped me with publicity, on their website and other blogs. It’s been a great value.”

Graham Jones Jr. – Top ten-finalist for San Juan Hill.

Bananas are just a fruit to those who don’t look twice. Why not see it the way I see it? Fruit for thought.

Congratulations once again to the top ten finalists of this year’s competition. We wish all of them great success.


Chae Ko is the Program Assistant in Screenwriting Onsite & Online.

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