This week we interviewed Ana Maria Montoya and Robert Dorian, 2nd and 3rd place winners respectively of the UCLA Extension Feature Film Competition. Their scripts—Hanging Moon and Dead of Winter—earned many praises from their mentors and judges alike. Ana Maria and Robert both had much to share about taking writing courses, developing their prize winning scripts, and their hopes for the future.
Writers’ Program: Briefly describe the path your winning script took, from concept to completion, both in and outside of Extension courses.
Ana Maria Montoya: This may sound like mumbo-jumbo, but the genesis of Hanging Moon is largely mysterious because it takes place in a world I don’t know. I didn’t strong-arm this into being. I listened. It started with the main character, a feeling about who he is — this orphaned kid trying to find something solid among other refugees. I developed the script, from treatment to first draft, under the guidance of instructor Chrysanthy Balis, and I researched the Depression era, the deep South, carnival life, to try and make it as honest as possible.
Robert Dorian: There’s a whole process I go through with all my work. Once I have a “first draft” that has received feedback from my writer’s group and UCLA Extension classes, I call a table reading of all my writer friends wherein the entire script is read, and any issues – both large and small – are addressed. This saves at least two drafts, and produces another more polished rewrite. Only minor research was needed for this script. It’s set in Minnesota in winter, which I’ve personally experienced. I attempted to make the weather a character, though it provided, I think, a unique atmosphere rather than actively figuring into the action.
WP: Overall, from the time you entered the Writers’ Program to now, what impact have our courses had on you and your writing?
AMM: Before entering the Writers’ Program, I was spinning my wheels. Once I committed to class, I began moving measurably towards my goal of completing a script. While I had some understanding of craft, my UCLA Extension courses helped me apply it – while providing the structure and accountability writers with my flighty tendencies sorely need.
RD: After learning “the basics,” the classes I’ve been taking have all been workshops that both force you to write and bring your work in to receive feedback. You listen to all of it, take whatever has resonance overall, and proceed from there. My entire screenwriting experience has been formed by the Writers’ Program.
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?
AMM: This competition is a doorway – not the only one, but it is an entry point into the business. The contest became my goal from the moment I signed up for my first Extension class. My advice? Ship early. I missed a day’s work in order to make the deadline, got my draft to FedEx as the truck was about to take off, and was subsequently fired from my job. Since then, I’ve been washing down Top Ramen with cheap wine, so thank God I’m a winner.
RD: The UCLA Extension Screenplay Competition is more noteworthy than most others, in that the school actively works to publicize winners’ material through press releases, unlike other contests that exist solely for the benefit of the contest itself. This competition also has the cachet of affiliation with a noted school as opposed to operating out of an office in the valley (not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
WP: What are your creative and/or professional goals for the future after winning this competition?
AMM: I want to write movies that remind us we’re all hungering for the same essential stuff. For the sake of my Hanging Moon characters, I want to see their story on the big screen – whether or not it’s a long shot. I’ve never been daunted by statistics. Following one’s heart takes enormous courage. Yes, follow your bliss, but be prepared to face down snarling wolves and trained assassins along a road that’s largely unpaved.
RD: Right now I’d like to score competent representation and meet and network with as many people as possible.
For more information about the UCLA Extension Feature Film Competition, visit here.
Chae Ko the Program Representative for Screenwriting (Onsite & Online). Contact him at email@example.com or (310) 206-2612.