Every writer needs inspiration to create stories and oftentimes that inspiration comes from the most unlikely sources. James Cameron got his idea for The Terminator, a film that revolutionized the sci fi genre, from a nightmare he had in which a terrifying machine emerged from flames. For the three top winners of the 2009 UCLA Extension Screenplay Competition, inspiration also came from unlikely sources. Here, Jacqueline Craig, Linda Malik, and Jillian Sim, share with us the compelling sources of inspiration for their winning scripts.
First place winner Jacqueline Craig’s Faery Tale is a story about a writer who finds herself terrorized by a Scottish folklore creature, and the idea for the story came to Jacqueline after she was inexplicably startled one night. “When I first moved to LA, I probably knew two people. I was in between production jobs and was sitting at home one afternoon, all alone, wondering what I was doing with my life. I had just moved into a new apartment, and there, out of the silence of my thoughts, came a strange “house noise” that literally made me get up and walk down the hallway to see what it was. That inspired me to write my script about someone who has just embarked on a new life but has no one to share it with.”
Second place finalist Linda Malik found her source material for The Lightkeeper’s Wife by watching a documentary on ghosts and lighthouses. “As I was doing research, I was reading about life on a lighthouse and the keepers and the incredible hardships they had to endure. I was especially intrigued by female lighthouse keepers and decided to write a drama about a woman who gets to take care of a lighthouse after the death of her husband.”
Third place finalist Jill Sim’s script Passengers is the story of “two American women, one black, one white, and their perilous journey into the Deep South to rescue a family held in slavery.” For Jill, initial inspiration was deeply personal. “My father’s family was multi-racial and we hail from enslaved Americans who lived and worked on both sides of the so-called ‘color line.'”
Armed with solid ideas, all three women took the next step by signing up for classes in the Writers’ Program. It was there that their stories blossomed.
“Developing the idea in the Writers’ Program was amazing,” says Jacqueline. “I had never written a screenplay before so it was like learning how to speak again. And the program couldn’t have been more nurturing and helpful. The teachers and students really came together to form a supportive and creative space for writing.”
Linda wrote her script in a thirty week-long course for advanced writers. “I developed the idea for my script in the Master Class with Tom Lazarus and by the end of the course, I had a completed first draft. I would totally recommend the Master Class to any writer brooding with a good idea.”
Reluctant at first, Jill needed some convincing before turning her family history into a screenplay. “I was super hesitant to start this project because I wanted to avoid writing the preachy, hopeless jeremiad set in slavery days that we’ve seen before. But then I bit the bullet and submitted a logline. After receiving nothing but encouragement and enthusiasm from my instructor and other students, I was able to complete [the script].”
While all three of this year’s winning scripts are wildly different in theme and plot, they have in common a strong female protagonist similar to Sarah Conner, the female lead in The Terminator. Judging from the positive feedback that this year’s competition winners have already received from studio execs, we may soon be seeing their characters immortalized on the big screen as well.
Soon, full interviews with the 2009 Screenplay Competition winners will be on the Writers’ Program Blog.
Apply for the 2010 UCLA Extension Screenplay Competition.
Chae Ko is the Program Assistant in Screenwriting (Onsite). Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.