What do two “snarky” New Yorkers, a despondent tattoo artist, and a young boy with supernatural powers have in common? All of them are characters in the winning scripts of the 2008 UCLA Extension Screenplay Competition.

Last month, Rick Berg of Code Entertainment, Jennifer Bozell of O’Taye Productions, and Mike Esola from the William Morris Agency, read the scripts of the top three finalists and named the first, second, and third place winners of this year’s competition.

First place was awarded to Annabel Oakes for Lovestruck, a comedy about “two snarky New York women [who] get trapped in their worst nightmare…a romantic comedy.”

Second place winner Cinthea Stahl wrote Identifying Marks, a drama about “a despondent tattoo artist [who] makes a house call to a hospice, where a dying woman awaits a tattoo of her daughter, a casualty of the Iraq War.”

Third place went to Matthew Moses for Joshuwa’s Dream, a drama about “a young boy [who] uses his newfound supernatural powers to battle a higher being in order to save his dying mother.”

Each of the top three winners was mentored by a Writers’ Program instructor (a $700 value). Steve Mazur, Tom Lazarus, and Chrysanthy Balis worked one-on-one with Annabel, Cinthea, and Matthew, respectively, to help them ready their scripts for the final round of judging. Once the winners were named, announcements to the trades, studios, agencies, and production companies were made along with cash prizes of $1000, $500, $250.

I recently had a chance to speak with the three winners about their experiences, how they came to be screenwriters, and what their goals are for the future. Below are their always candid, and sometimes comical, responses.

Writers’ Program: So now that the competition is over, how do you feel about the experience overall?

Annabel Oakes:

“I know from placing in the competition last year that when the competition is over the experience really begins. Last year I placed lower in the competition with a much less commercial script, so I was surprised when I started receiving several inquiries daily from agents, managers, and production companies to read my work. UCLA Extension did a good job promoting those in the top ten. I got a lot of meet-and-greet meetings from this. Even though that script hasn’t sold yet, I made some really great, continuing relationships with people at studios and production companies. These are connections I couldn’t have made on my own as a writer without representation.”

Cinthea Stahl:

“This was a very positive experience for me.”

Matthew Moses:

“The competition was a great experience to see how hard I could push myself over the summer and even better now that it’s fall and I’m getting calls.”

Writers’ Program: When did you decide to be a screenwriter and why?

Annabel Oakes:

“I’ve wanted to be a writer most of my life and I suppose I settled on screenwriting when I switched my college major to film on a whim and my first writing professor gave me a lot of encouragement… When I started to get into screenwriting, I just loved the format. Something about the highly structured nature of screenplay-writing appealed to me — writing only in images, writing only in the present, and playing with subtext are the things I love about screenwriting. I moved out to Los Angeles with a vague notion of doing some screenwriting, but didn’t do anything with it for a few months. Then I spent a couple of years working in advertising. If there’s anything that will put the fire in your belly for the thing you really want to do, it’s holding a job you have absolutely no interest in doing. I took UCLA Extension classes at night after work and they really helped me keep on track with my goals.”

Cinthea Stahl:

“This was a pretty recent choice for me. I knew that I think visually. My stories come to me as a whole package; I see the beginning, the middle and the end all at once. My characters talk to me–insistently. It was either screenwriting or Prozac.”

Matthew Moses:

“Back in Chicago at the tender age of 16, I took an intro to screenwriting class and was intoxicated by the thrill of clever exposition and crafty plot points.”

Writers’ Program: What is your goal as a writer? How do you hope the Screenplay Competition and the Writers’ Program will help you achieve it?

Annabel Oakes:

“I have a lot of goals as a writer, but the big one is to do work I’m proud of and for that work to connect with and entertain audiences. I’d also like to be able to pay my bills, get my movies produced in a way that I’m happy with, meet all my writing heroes, successfully explain to my grandparents what it is I actually do, and adopt a unicorn that will clean my house.”

Cinthea Stahl:

“My goal is to be a working screenwriter. I want to create my stories and have them touch people’s hearts. I hope that this visibility from the UCLA Extension Screenwriting Competition will open as many doors as possible so that I can work with the producers and directors who can make this happen.”

Matthew Moses:

“Because of the Screenplay Competition I hope to secure an agent or manager. And the workshops in the Writers’ Program have been instrumental in keeping me focused and encouraged as I develop my scripts.”

Writers’ Program: What advice would you give someone who is considering entering the UCLA Extension Screenplay Competition next year?

Annabel Oakes:

“Never send out a first draft. Or a second draft. Or probably even a third draft. Scripts, especially spec scripts like we’re sending out for competitions, take a lot of time and a lot of rewriting. It would be nice to do a very careful outline, write a script, and have it work perfectly, but it’s never happened to me. I see writers itching to send out things that aren’t ready all the time. So when they get an opportunity, an agent wants to read it or something, they blow it because their script doesn’t work.”

Cinthea Stahl:

“If you feel that you have a strong script, show it to people whose judgment you trust. Ask for feedback. If you still think it’s a strong script after feedback, give it a shot.”

Matthew Moses:

“UCLA [Extension] courses have meant a lot to me. The workshops make the pursuit of a great script a little less solitary. The workshops motivate me to write on nights where I would otherwise watch basic cable and eat a pound of Skittles. So I guess it’s reasonable to say that I’ve also lost weight thanks to UCLA [Extension].”

The Writers’ Program congratulates Annabel, Cinthea, and Matthew, as well as the seven semi-finalists for 2008, listed here in alphabetical order:

Greg Amici, Spitback

Kateland Brown, Fire Storm

Robert Dorian, Zero Tolerance

Chris Eisenberg, First Impressions

Michael Hoffman, Remembrance Photo

Graham Jones Jr., San Juan Hill

Tony Nichols, Mr. Unlucky

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Chae Ko is the screenwriting program assistant in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Write to him at cko@uclaextension.edu.

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