Though only a few short weeks have passed since the top three winners of the 2012 Feature Film Writing Competition have been named — Markham Cook (1st place for Restoration), Chandra Wicke (2nd place winner for Surviving the Captain), and Eric Borden (3rd place winner for Fever) – the buzz in Hollywood has already begun. And with last week’s ad in the Hollywood Reporter and a mailing of names and loglines to more than 1,000 agents, producers, managers and studios, the Hollywood buzz is about to get louder. Read on to learn how talented writers Markham, Chandra and Eric got their start, and how winning the screenplay competition has already propelled their writing careers forward.
Writers’ Program: How did you hear about the Writers’ Program and what made you decide to take courses?

Markham Cook: I heard about the Writers’ Program through a friend I met in a directing workshop. Over the years I had written several screenplays, but I was never happy with the result. I started working on a script about art forgery –a script that eventually became Restoration — but I couldn’t crack it. I gradually became so frustrated that I couldn’t even produce a coherent outline. When I heard about the Writers’ Program, and learned that I could do it online, I thought it was the right thing for me, particularly because I was working full time while taking the courses.

Chandra Wicke: I heard about the Writers’ Program through a friend that had taken classes. I had recently gotten to a point where I decided that I wanted to seriously pursue writing and thought that the classes might help me along the way.

Eric Borden: I was searching for a hardcore, legit program. Everyone has heard it said that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. The Writers’ Program destroys this idea by having instructors who are established in the industry. The opportunity to work with accomplished writers, to have them critique my work and help me improve it, was just what I was looking for.

WP: What was it like working with a mentor during the rewrite portion of the competition?

MC: Working with my mentor Cindy Davis took me to a whole new level. Cindy was incredibly enthusiastic and positive even as she gave me sixteen single-spaced pages of notes detailing my short-comings! Actually, what she gave me was a map to polish a script that was working reasonably well, strategies for deepening the characters, and ways to avoid some of the pitfalls of my story. Cindy made me look at my characters in a new way and helped make sure they were all properly connected to the story and make sure they were each distinct individuals. Cindy was also my biggest cheerleader, I always looked forward to her emails. The only downside was that I got to like her so much that I was scared I was going to disappoint her. In her notes she outlined her hopes: to help me do as well as possible in the competition, and impress the industry judges. Thanks to Cindy and my instructors over my time at the Writers’ Program, the script turned out well and we achieved our goals. But maybe more importantly, I learned how to write a screenplay. My only real regret is that I don’t live in Los Angeles, because I owe Cindy a drink.

CW: My mentor was Steve Mazur and he was great! He had pages and pages of notes regarding everything from small formatting issues to overall story notes. Using his notes really gave me a clear direction for the re-write.

EB: The one-on-one with Chrysanthy Balis was awesome. Her notes from top to bottom were helpful and insightful. I have a tendency to get excited and freestyle when I write, punctuation, grammar, all of it. This phenomenon sometimes takes over when I talk about writing, which can result in an all-over-the-place experience. She was great at reining me in and helping me get the most out of the one-on-one. But I think the best thing was that she was cared enough to identify that maintaining the integrity of my own voice was the most important part of the process.

WP: What sort of opportunities have you already experienced due to your placing in the competition?

MC: The whole process has been a whirlwind. On the same day that I learned I won first place in the competition, I also learned that the script (unfortunately the earlier draft) had moved to the semi-finals in the Nicholl Fellowship competition. A week later I was getting calls from agencies. And ten days after learning that I had won, I signed with my first agent. I still haven’t absorbed that. But I’m looking forward to getting back to work on the script, and working on another script I developed at the Writers’ Program. Writing a feature screenplay doesn’t seem impossible anymore. Just really, really hard.

CW: One of the competition judges liked my script and contacted me after the results were announced. He was kind enough to meet with me and is sending the script out to various directors that he thinks might have an interest. That’s a pretty cool opportunity that I wouldn’t have had if I had never entered the competition.

EB: The anticipation of the exposure this contest brings has been exciting all by itself. The idea is amazing, that my script might find its way to someone that can and will take something I conjured from thin air and make it concrete. If you need more excitement than that, check your pulse. I’ve also had a producer contact me regarding a separate project, a memoir I’m writing about my time as a bouncer in a Las Vegas nightclub. I can honestly say that wasn’t happening six months ago.

WP: Any other thoughts?

MC: I met so many great students in my classes, so many who impressed me. I got piles of great notes from my classmates and enjoyed reading their pages. I loved reading pages from a nurse, or a software designer, or an ex-marine who all had their own experiences to bring to the page. All of them made me work harder, all of them made me a better writer. Any writer or aspiring writer who is looking for more tools, for the benefit of an experienced voice, or even a group of writers to bounce pages off would benefit from the Writers’ Program. It’s obviously been a great experience for me. But I’d like to think it was a great experience for all of my classmates too.

CW: I’m really impressed with the level of promotion the Writers’ Program gives the competition winners and I’m excited to get my script into as many hands as possible.

EB: I’m excited for my next class in the Writers’ Program and I’m looking forward to climbing into the ring again in next year’s contest.

Chae Ko is the Program Representative for onsite and online screenwriting courses. Contact him at cko@uclaextension.edu.

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