Last week we interviewed the winners of the UCLA Extension Television Writing Competition. This week the spotlight’s on the winners of our Feature Film Competition. Greg Sullivan, a feature film certificate student, took first place with his drama script, Erin’s Voice. Greg shared recent developments following his win, as well as exciting news about his family.
Writers’ Program: What made you want to be a writer?
Greg Sullivan: I don’t remember ever not wanting to be a writer. I’d actually go so far as to say I have to be a writer because the stories won’t stop popping into my head. If I didn’t write them down I’d go nuts thinking about them. It’s only after I’ve really done the work on a story and committed it to paper that the characters start to leave me alone.
WP: What were you doing job/life/career-wise before you transitioned into screenwriting at the Writers’ Program?
GS: Life-wise I have a lovely wife who is very pregnant at the moment. By the time this article posts I’ll have a baby boy. As I write this he’s just hours away from making his way into the world. Job and career-wise I’m the Art Director at Joost Media where I work with and lead a very talented team. When I’m not pushing words around on a piece of paper for my latest story I push pixels around the screen as an animator, designer, and general purpose pixel monkey.
WP: Briefly describe the path your winning script took, from concept to completion.
GS: The idea for Erin’s Voice was sparked while I was at the Third Street Promenade. It was an unusually busy day and there was this really talented musician singing on an apple crate. No one was paying her any attention at all. The thought that leapt into my head was, “am I the only person that can hear this girl?” That thought stuck in my mind and soon it became, “what if I was the only one that could hear her?” That seed of an idea became Erin’s Voice.
I had the broad strokes written out on a notepad when I started my first class in the program. Over the span of two courses with Karl Iglesias I completed a decent first draft. The basic structure was raw but the characters and the ideas were there. I had to do a ton of research to really understand what it’s like to be deaf and to be able to convey that in the script. Deaf culture is very rich and deep. I wanted to bring as much of that as I could to this story. The version I completed in those first two classes is the version I submitted for the contest.
After getting that draft done I took two more classes, one with Matt Johnson (Advanced Rewriting Workshop) and one with Billy Mernit (Writing the Character-Driven Screenplay: Advanced Workshop) which were both great. Then I learned that I was one of the finalists and I had eight weeks to do a rewrite. I was given the chance to work with Steve Mazur who really saw what I was trying to do and helped me move in that direction. I was able to do a complete rewrite and that’s the version that wound up getting the win.
WP: How important do you think it is to showcase your work through a competition like this, and do you have any advice for students who might be interested in participating in the competition in the future?
GS: Since the announcement was made that I’d won, I’ve been in touch with over a dozen producers, agents, managers, and directors. I’ve had two meetings and have more scheduled. If I were to give any advice to future participants it would be to be brutal with your own work. If something isn’t working, cut it and trust yourself to be good enough to replace it with something better.
WP: What are your creative and/or professional goals for the future after winning this competition?
GS: Sometimes I think being the lead writer on a TV series of my own creation and working in a room of talented story tellers sounds like heaven. Sometimes I want to hide away in my office by myself and work on screenplays. For now I think I’d just be happy to write for a living. Since winning the competition, I feel like I’m a few big steps closer to that reality.
Next week: Our 2nd and 3rd place Feature Film Competition winners discuss their thoughts and impressions.
For more information about the UCLA Extension Television Writing Competition, visit here.
Chae Ko the Program Representative for Screenwriting (Onsite & Online). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 206-2612.