Though we might not like to admit it, at some point in our lives we’ve all been guilty of envying someone else’s good news. Such is the premise of the winning script in this year’s UCLA Extension Screenplay Competition. Happy for You, written by Elissa Matsueda, is an ensemble comedy about three interconnected characters who have to feign joy at their friends’ successes while their own lives aren’t going so well.

As this year’s first place winner, Elissa received a cash prize of $1,000 plus the invaluable Hollywood-industry exposure that’s so highly coveted by new writers. Here, Elissa shares her thoughts about Happy for You and about what it’s like to be the first place winner in this year’s competition.

WP: Congratulations, Elissa. We’re genuinely happy for you! So what inspired your story? What research, if any, did you do for your script?

Elissa: Happy for You was inspired by a lot of little moments, actually. It seems like I’m at an age when, to varying degrees, things are starting to come together for the people around me: careers are shaping up, families are being formed or expanded. And there’s something sticky in the way that this happens for people on different schedules, in different ways, at different times, if at all. So I wanted to play with how we respond to other peoples’ successes (whether professional, social or romantic) when our own lives aren’t exactly where we want them to be.

WP: What were you doing job/life/career-wise before you transitioned into screenwriting at the Writers’ Program?

Elissa: I received my MFA in fiction at Brooklyn College a couple years ago, so I was writing a lot of short stories. After I moved to LA, I decided to give the screenplay form a try. I had this (utterly mistaken, though probably not uncommon) idea that writing a script would somehow be easy. I realized pretty quickly that that wasn’t the case, which is how I wound up at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.

WP: As a finalist, you were paired with instructor Keith Giglio who guided you throughout the rewrite practice. What was that like?

Elissa: The process has been great, if suspenseful! Going from entering, to the top ten, to the top three, to the final judging took several months, though obviously it was more than worth the wait. Keith Giglio was wonderful to work with; not only did he give me really helpful and thoughtful (and thorough) notes, he also made me feel like a peer. Which makes a career in screenwriting seem much more possible.

WP: How important do you think it is to showcase your work through a competition like this?

Elissa: I think it’s really important for undiscovered writers to have a way to showcase their work, and I’m grateful for any attention this competition may bring me. The Writers’ Program in general has been wonderful; not only have the instructors (notably Paula Cizmar and John Schimmel) been amazing, but I’ve also learned a great deal from the other students, some of whom even have film or TV writing credits or have made their own films.

WP: Any advice for students who might be interested in participating in the competition in the future?

Elissa: My advice would be to do it. There’s very little to lose and (hopefully) a lot to gain.

Next week: This year’s second and third place winners, Terrence Michael and Greg Amici, weigh in about their scripts, the competition, and what winning means for each of them.

New for 2011: The Writers’ Program rolls out its first-ever Television Writing Competition. Details here.

Chae Ko is the Program Representative for onsite and online screenwriting courses. Contact him at (310) 206-2612 or at cko@uclaextension.edu

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