The following is from an interview with the talented and brilliant screenwriter Danny Alex, our 2021 competition grand prize winner.

What's your background? How long have you been writing?  And what made you choose and or transition into screenwriting? 

I started as a songwriter in my teens and majored in English as well as Philosophy in University. I have been creating “content” in one form or another for many years. I also have an extensive background in business so it’s a time in my life where I decided to combine my business experience with my writing background. There is an explosion in the need for good content and a great time to be a creator. I am a believer in the idea that you can only be successful in those things you love doing. I love writing and so I do it.  

What screenwriting training have you received? And what were some of your biggest breakthroughs? 

I have found the most important thing is to understand the art of storytelling. The mechanics of screenwriting are fairly simple, but the art of storytelling is not. The foundation I received from studying English and years of creating, watching, and learning helped me put the pieces together. I also believe my background in philosophy has helped me create and organize my ideas. Ideas have to make sense and philosophy is math with words. I recommend people spend some time reading and understanding the mechanics of philosophy as well. I think it is also very important to be an emotional person so you can live through the eyes of your characters and turn those feelings into words. If you don’t feel it when you write it, your reader will not either.

What else have you written? What writing habits work for you?  Do you write in short bursts or long shifts, in the morning or late at night, do you write at coffee shops, at home, or at the office when no one else is looking? 

I have written a fantasy TV series called LEGENDS and another called END OF DAYS.  I also wrote a drama feature called DON’T FORGET ME with two others in development. I tend to write in long bursts where I can get my mind into the characters. To write about them I must become them, and I always write in quiet places where I am alone. My schedule is to be asleep by 7 pm and up at 1 am. The wee hours of the morning are a great time for me as well as weekends where I have long stretches of alone time.

What's the title of the script you entered, and what's it about?

I entered The SICKEN. The story is about a mother, Ruby Spade, and her family who get caught in a fight over a piece of land where a fanatical religious leader, Jonah Cage, killed his followers in his church in Batesville, Mississippi in 1933. His dead followers rise to become the SICKEN and do the bidding of the evil (Asmodeus) that is lodged there through Jonah Cage. The Mayor of Batesville has other plans. She wants to tear down the old church and build luxury condos, but Ruby Spade wants to preserve the land as a park and the church as a historical site. It all collides together one night as the evil within the church unleashes its rage on those who would destroy its refuge.  

Where do you look for inspiration and what inspired you to write this script? 

Inspiration is a random event most of the time, so you have to look for situations that inspire you when they occur. It starts with conflict for me. I want to understand and develop the motivations, who is fighting for what and why do they care. Once I understand who they are and what they want, the other pieces to the story become easier to assemble, regardless of genre. I love possession and psychological horror, so this was an idea I have had for a while. I also love to add children into the mix because the stakes increase when you have kids involved. It becomes real because I think everyone can identify with the love a parent has for their children. People should also realize a screenplay or TV script will undergo countless revisions and you should never fall in love with a scene to the point you cannot change or remove it.       

Describe your process? Do you outline your story first? Do you use notecards or a beat sheet? Or do you simply sit down and let it flow?

Such a great question. I think everyone wants to know how other writers get their ideas and develop them. It was the same as a songwriter. I love watching the process of how other songwriters put their lyrics and music together. For a storyteller, how do you pick the next scene? Where is it? Who says what? Ultimately, you have to do what works for you and remember there are no rules. For me, I just let it flow. I sit down, read the script from the beginning to get an emotional sense of where the characters are and then I get into their heads and become them. I write whatever comes to mind and write knowing that at least half of what I put down (all of it sometimes) will be discarded or at the very least, reworked and edited over and over. One other thing I do is I write each scene out on a Word doc with each scene on a single line in my own words. This allows me to visually see the emotional framework of each scene, pacing and picture in my head where the characters are. One thing that I do religiously is read each script over and over. On some days I read it nine or ten times. If you get bored of it then chances are your reader will too. Reading your script repeatedly, allows you to fully understand each character and their motivations. You should know your script inside and out.  

What was your experience with our festival? Are you happy with your involvement? What did you like most about your experience? And what could we improve on?   

New York Metropolitan Screenwriting Competition is one of the best managed competitions out there. I believe this is because Joseph and the Festival Team have so much experience in the business. It's hard for me to think of anything that could be done better or improve on. I have had a lot of experience in competitions in festivals and the NYMSC is a top 10 that I have been a part of.

What are you writing now and what do you plan on writing in the near future? 

I have two other psychological horrors that I am working on. One deals with quantum physics. I am an astronomy and science nerd so merging the quantum world with this world is intriguing and limitless. I am also writing a novel for my TV script, LEGENDS. Fantasy is my favorite genre, and the world I created for LEGENDS is epic in its size. It is the only project that I have considered writing a novel for. I love the characters and all the directions the story goes in. It is about Odin’s mortal bloodline in 55 BC, hundreds of years before the Vikings.

Any advice for those about to dive into their first feature-length screenplay?

Don’t do it until you are ready. You have to have an understanding of storytelling and how structure and pacing compels interest in the reader. I have a strong English background so a lot of these things I learned through education and then application. You have to have the tools if you are going to be a plumber, electrician, or any other discipline. For a writer, you need the tools that allow you to construct a story that will grab your reader’s interest. We are all on a permanent learning curve and the creative process is an endless road of ups and downs but too many writers do not understand the fundamentals of storytelling I find. Not from a 10, 20 or 50 point analytical plan but from a feeling and pacing perspective. Storytelling is a feeling.

Last, but not least, what have been your biggest victories since entering our festival? Any more awards, any representation, any options, connections, new opportunities, and or plans to relocate? 

I have won 201 competitions and awards shows since September 2021, so I have more than my share of wins, but I still fine tune all of my active screenplays. I have different goals than most writers. I am looking at producing my own features or developing business relationships that allow me to, at the very least, co-produce projects. I do not have an interest in just selling a script, but rather learning every component from script to screen. It is the same when I started my internet / media company, I learned how to code, SEO, Photoshop, and more so I could create my own successful properties. What most people find daunting I find exciting.  

The following is from an interview with the immensely talented screenwriter Richard Sullivan, a finalist in our 2021 competition.

What's your background? 

I think I'm quite unusual due to my age and not really having seriously considered screenwriting until after I had turned 70 years old. I was greatly inspired during the 90th Academy Awards in which James Ivory, on the cusp of his own 90th birthday, won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film Call Me By Your Name. Knowing that 90-year-old writers were writing Oscar-winning material was a real impetus for me to put my own nose to the grindstone.

Perhaps as you promote the NY Metropolitan International Screenplay Contest, it might prove some asset to point to my finalist placing as it might relate to "it's never too late" or to "inclusivity,” or as an example of the wide variety of entrants that the NY Metropolitan International Screenplay Contest attracts, etc. When I found your competition I was impressed with the opening message and how welcoming, inviting and positive it was, and that opening statement was a positive factor in my entering.

People in my general age group and even younger who think that their best years and accomplishments are now all behind them might take inspiration from my placing.

My finalist screenplay in the NY Metropolitan International Screenplay Contest is a continuation of my 5 Volume historical novel series, The First Ward. Beginning in 2009 I began avidly researching my family genealogy inspired by my sister's decades of collecting nuts and bolts materials—things like census records and birth and death certificates. One day we were talking on the phone, she spit out a name and date, I entered it into Google right then, and something interesting popped up that surprised us both. From there I found two searchable newspaper repositories, fultonhistory.com and newspapers.com, and the adventure began. I eventually found literally two thousand newspaper and magazine articles featuring or mentioning various ancestors, mostly all of whom lived in Buffalo's waterfront Irish First Ward. I found so much crazy material about these very flawed people within such a short period of time that friends encouraged me to write a novel, which has turned into a 5-volume series. The most common feedback I received from readers of this novel series has been "this reads like a movie" or "I'd love to see this on Netflix."

The 5th and final volume of the series was published in 2021, and after resting my fingers a few weeks, I got the screenplay bug again. I worked on it for about 6 months before entering the NY Metropolitan International Screenplay Contest. I knew I had a great story, because it was both crazy and true, but having no experience, I wasn't all that confident about my ability to write in screenplay format. Needless to say I was jazzed when I was chosen as a finalist.

How long have you been writing?

I've been writing since I was a kid. In my teens I created journalistic self-assignments as both writer and photographer which included my posing as a Vietnam Draft Dodger and traveling to Toronto on the bus and going through the entire process of registering, etc., undercover. After that I joined a traveling circus as a grunt worker pitching the big top alongside the elephants and dodging its lecherous clowns and drug dealers. At age 20 I hitch-hiked all over Europe for three months living on about $7 a day, often sleeping by railroad tracks or a highway or accepting invitations from people worried about my welfare.

After Europe I moved to Los Angeles. I worked for two years-plus for the Canadian Press as a photographer, going to all the glamorous awards shows, the Playboy Mansion and such. I've written and photographed scores of features for the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, Los Angeles magazine, the Detroit Free Press, a bunch of inflight airline magazines...lots and lots.

In the 90s I conceived a Hawaii photo-guidebook series and got Budget Rent A Car Hawaii to foot the bill. It won an American Airlines Travel Journalism Award as well as a Hawaii Visitors & Conventions Bureau award. I sold almost a quarter million copies until the 2008 financial meltdown which decimated Hawaii tourism in general, and my books in particular took a fatal hit, so I had to find a new chapter, and the First Ward novel series was born. 

And what made you choose and or transition into screenwriting?

I love movies and for fun started reading the screenplays from my favorite movies like the Godfather, On The Waterfront, Tarantino's films, and more. With my The First Ward novels wrapped up, it seemed natural to try and see if these ancestors might come more alive while making the worst of them accountable for their despicable choices that went unpunished during their lifetimes. Most of the material in the screenplay is a continuation rather than a duplication of the novels. To this day I continue to find shocking new material, even now—in fact, even during this past week.

What else have you written? What writing habits work for you?

I am compelled to write. Even on days when I don't write, I think and scheme and plan and keep my eyes open to get ideas, but most days I do write. I take breaks to walk my dog Mickey, and during those walks I get some useful ideas and figure out plot devices. One very helpful habit I have is writing down great dialog I’ve overheard on the street, found in old newspapers, etc. Because my screenplay for The First Ward takes place about 1900 I collected quotes from the newspapers I researched from that period—colloquialisms, slang, working class jargon, expressions we no longer use today—and I have special files on my computer where I continually add these and which I reference all the time as I write.

I believe one of my strengths is in dialog, and this now-huge collection allows me to have a more unique voice. Also, my dialog for this era is heavily voiced in my head by my own father, who himself was born in the First Ward in 1918. Even though the man attended Purdue University he never lost his dockworker cadence and jargon.

 Do you write in short bursts or long shifts, in the morning or late at night, do you write at coffee shops, at home, or at the office when no one else is looking? 

I live alone with my dog and have few other distractions to keep me from writing. I might write at any time of day. Often I will be inspired by something I read or I see on Tv and I'll run to the computer to get it down before i can forget it.

What's the title of the script you entered, and what's it about?

The First Ward is a TV Pilot envisioned as a long-running series about my relative Fingy Conners, who dominated over the city of Buffalo for 50 years. He began life as a violent street criminal, then turned multi-millionaire labor contractor who employed 6,000 dockworkers from whom he stole blind and treated cruelly. No one was willing to stand in his way until the Catholic Bishop of Buffalo reluctantly stepped up to the plate. My great grandfather Jim was a detective with the Buffalo Police Dept. and was a childhood nemesis of Fingy Conners—and apparently kept Fingy’s big secet, I assume to be employed as leverage, while Jim's brother became a powerful politician and an ally beholden to Fingy Conners, so that made for some very interesting situations IRL that I have had a lot of fun with in developing the screenplay.

Where do you look for inspiration and what inspired you to write this script?

Actual events inspire me. I admire writers of fantasy because I can't do that. I can weave a story through actual events, but creating stories out of sheer imagination, that to me is on a whole other level.

Describe your process? Do you outline your story first? 

I haven’t outlined much in the past, but am changing my mind now as storylines become complicated. I did no outlines for my novel series. With regard to my priest serial killer screenplay, I keep a timeline so as to keep the story straight, and because the progression of his crimes is so absolutely nuts that its hard to keep my head completely wrapped around it. 

Do you use notecards or a beat sheet? 

Notecards on my wall board are essential to keeping things straight and to reorganize. 

Or do you simply sit down and let it flow?

Many of my favorite ideas have come to me as I am hitting the keys, as if by magic. I edit continually. Even when I think I am finished, I'll go back for one more "final" read though and end up changing dozens of things and making real improvements. This means I am never actually finished. I just stop, because at some point, you simply have to.

What was your experience with our festival? Are you happy with your involvement? What did you like most about your experience? And what could we improve on?

It’s too soon to know what this might lead to down the road, but there’s no doubt that my placing has been very beneficial by allowing an intro to conversations with individuals in the entertainment industry and a boost to my own self-confidence. As far as improvements, I can’t see any issues or problems with the NY Metropolitan International Screenplay Contest.

You’re stating that notes are just one person’s opinions I feel is a very salient point to have been made, and much appreciated. Notes I have received by established professionals have disagreed with each other. This tells me that settling for, and acting upon, just one person’s critical notes is unwise and might be a mistake. I like to keep in mind how many projects have been passed over by any number of publishers, producers, networks, etc., like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, that went on to become huge hits.

What are you writing now and what do you plan on writing in the near future?

I plan to enter a couple of contests in 2022 after taking to heart certain advice provided by my NY Met judge and the follow-up notes by Manager Audrey Knox. I have basically outlined the first ten one-hour episodes of The First Ward and have first drafts of six episodes. 

Any advice for those about to dive into their first feature-length screenplay?

Since my own experience is so limited as a screenwriter, my advice would have to be general in nature. I'm afraid it's the same-old same-old. We learn to write by reading and writing. Reading winning screenplays by others has given me a blueprint. Almost every new screenplay I read teaches me something, either what to do, or to try out, or not. 

Last, but not least, what have been your biggest victories since entering our festival? Any more awards, any representation, any options, connections, new opportunities, and or plans to relocate? 

For young people, winning awards seems to be a foot in the door to getting a job, such as in a writer's room. I realize that, having been told to my face at age 40 by a number of producers that I was "too old" to write for TV back then, that in my 70s today nobody's going to pursue me to come join their team in a writer's room. However, rewriting others’ scripts appeals to me, and I have no problem traveling or even relocating. I think having few distractions works in my favor as I’m able to stay laser focused on a project. I spent most of my life living in Los Angeles — it's home to me more than anyplace else. Presently I live in Hawaii, but I am not nailed down.

I will keep you posted regarding any opportunities that come my way and will enthusiastically credit the NY Metropolitan International Screenplay Contest for opening the door for me!

 

Joseph,

I also want to thank you again for the exceptional experience I had with you and the NY Metropolitan contest. You asked that I report in after my conversation with Audrey Knox to let you know how things went.

I can't tell you how invaluable that hour was to me. Audrey seemed to know as much about my screenplay as I did, spouting characters' names as if she was personally acquainted with them and pointing out a few things that could make it read more easily, as I went a bit heavy on the local jargon and speech patterns, as you know.

She also suggested I play up the role of Detective Jim Sullivan to put him more at odds with the Fingy Conners character, and working together we developed a scene going back to their childhood that explains their animosity toward one another.

So, overall I greatly value this opportunity which you afforded me, and I want to you know how grateful I am!

Best regards,

 

RichardSullivan

 

The following is from an interview with the very talented Martin King, our 2020 Grand Prize Winner.

What's your background? How long have you been writing?  And what made you choose and or transition into screenwriting? I've been writing in some fashion as far back as my childhood. Always have been a storyteller of sorts and a lover of films, screenplay writing seemed like "natural selection," a place where my imagination could evolve.

What screenwriting training have you received? And what were some of your biggest breakthroughs? My only training is watching film and reading. I've dabbled in screenwriting for years. My first work was something I wrote years ago, "Frank & Harold" which I and a friend of mine produced and directed. It got some traction but I wouldn't consider it a breakthrough. I've written, directed and produced a short "Atomic Cocktail," winner, Palm Beach Film Festival & The Nihilist Film Festival, and a comedy feature, "Attack of the Slime People," winner, Ruff Cutz Film Festival.

What else have you written? What writing habits work for you?  Do you write in short bursts or long shifts, in the morning or late at night, do you write at coffee shops, at home, or at the office when no one else is looking? I'm an author of two novels and a book of poetry. I try to write a little each day, but often it's hit and miss, between moments of inspiration and lethargy. When writing books, I tend to go in long shifts, usually all nighters. I prefer isolation when I work.

What's the title of the script you entered, and what's it about? "Felsbrocken"  "A Nazi concentration camp commandant secretly befriends a Jewish prisoner to create a new kind of music."

Where do you look for inspiration and what inspired you to write this script? I can get fixated with Zeitgeist phenomenon and it can be a source of inspiration.  I'm a history buff, especially geopolitical and international conflicts. WWII stories for some reason grab my attention.

Describe your process? Do you outline your story first? Do you use notecards or a beat sheet? Or do you simply sit down and let it flow? Not big on formal outlines, however I find value in a good beat-sheet. Once I establish that, then I can let it flow.

What was your experience with our festival? Are you happy with your involvement? What did you like most about your experience? And what could we improve on?  This was a good festival, and I guess I say that because I won, my first win in a screenplay competition. Very happy to be involved. I guess I could say I wish there was more intra-competition between the writers. It seemed somewhat remote, communication by emails and phone calls. Would have been nice to have some kind of video presentation or a teleconference with festival staff and the winning writers. I'm a sucker for ceremony.

What are you writing now and what do you plan on writing in the near future? Got one in the oven, hopefully it will be ready in the next few months. And of course, there are always a couple on the stove top, on slow simmer.

Any advice for those about to dive into their first feature-length screenplay? Never go gravity, go helium. If your story does not uplift and inspire you, then don't waste your time.

Last, but not least, what have been your biggest victories since entering our festival? Any more awards, any representation, any options, connections, new opportunities, and or plans to move to New York or LA (or stay if you’re already here)? It's been a couple of weeks since I won. Yet the Red Sea has not parted. Maybe it takes a month...lol. I'm a native of LA, no need to move... so it's business as usual, as I continue to plow though the soil of the writer's mind. We'll have to wait and see what the universe wants to grow.

The following is from an interview with the talented Robert Languedoc, a previous finalist.   

1. What's your background? How long have you been writing?  And what made you choose and or transition into screenwriting?

Formally educated in Engineering and Computer Science, I’ve written technical papers for conferences and symposia for decades. When our first was born, I temporarily left industry to be a stay at home dad. A consummate consumer of movies, I always wanted to write a screenplay. Coupled with the free time I had while on sabbatical from the workforce, I decided to see if I had what it takes. In college I wrote a syndicated humor column, but I hadn’t attempted anything so ambitious as a screenplay. Spurned on by youthful optimism, I wrote my first screenplay after reading an article that detailed the shortage of scripts in Hollywood for aging actors.

2. What screenwriting training have you received? And what were some of your biggest breakthroughs?

I printed out a fifteen page article off the internet explaining the major points of script formatting, then I starting writing my first screenplay. I think formal education in the arts can make you better but can never make you great. I learned this from watching my son play the trumpet. He’s an accomplished horn player who arranges as easily as he plays music. My musical education consisted of learning how to recognize notes on a staff and translate that data to an instrument. I was pretty bad at the guitar until I got worse. My son learned to recognize notes by their sound, and his perfect pitch gives him a very unfair musical advantage. Like other arts, writing screenplays requires something intangible to be effective, and those that have it never seem to experience writer’s block. For them, there’s not enough time in the day to get everything in their head down onto paper.

3. What else have you written? What writing habits work for you?  Do you write in short bursts or long shifts, in the morning or late at night, do you write at coffee shops, at home, or at the office when no one else is looking?

I’ve written three screenplays because that is the limit of entries on many contests. I wrote a family film, a drama and a sci-fi. I recommend writing different genres to demonstrate a breadth of writing ability even though an industry professional once recommended that I perfect a single genre. I disagree. A good veratile writer can make the phonebook compelling. I write in year long bursts when I’m penning a film. It takes about three weeks to produce a first draft with the remaining time being spent listening to others and endlessly tending to the devil’s details. I don’t write everyday even though most authors like to say that they do so “to hone their craft.” I think about what I’m going to write every moment of every day so by the time I sit down with quill and ink, it goes pretty readily. Once I went into my local coffee shop to write because I felt that’s what all good writers do, but they kicked me out after two hours saying that the “free” wifi was not worth a $3.99 cup of joe. I guess I shouldn’t have worn an ascot.

4. What's the title of the script you entered, and what's it about?

Perigee Heart is a sci-fi about the International Space Station being repurposed as a luxury retirement home for Americans as medical research points to the health benefits of low gravity living until a pilot and his uncle begin to question the operation of the facility. It’s a story that couples the future evolution of surveliance technology with an unhealthy dose of paranoia for large corporate operations.

5. Where do you look for inspiration and what inspired you to write this script?

I wrote Perigee Heart one day after I was thinking about the staggering debt the country is in and musing what the future holds for a government too big to fail. In this world of extensive and sometimes flawed data, there seems like an endless amount of inspiration for conflict.

6. Describe your process? Do you outline your story first? Do you use notecards or a beat sheet? Or do you simply sit down and let it flow?

I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to write. Luckily, my wife is a consummate reader so she acts as my editor. She’s great at evaluating ideas and has come up with key facets in much of my work.

7. What was your experience with our festival? Are you happy with your involvement? What did you like most about your experience? And what could we improve on?

The New York Metropolotian Screenwriting Competition heralded a milestone in my writing career. Selecting my third script as a finalist in the contest allowed me to say that all three of my screenplays had garnished this status. Joseph also provided me with invaluable guidance for the next steps in my literary education by advising me to step back from the contests and to focus more on other things like making pitches. So many industry professionals give such vague advice like saying you need to be “more organically emotionally connected to your work.” Joseph said you need to be involved with this or that which I heeded much to my enlightenment.

8. What are you writing now and what do you plan on writing in the near future?

Currently I’m working on a comedy, the hardest genre by far. I hate when a trailer contains all the big gags in a film. I know advertisements are designed to get people to see a film, but there should be more than five funny scenes to choose from. I want to write a film that is so humorous that the viewing audience collective soil themselves. It’s my dream for theaters to reject my movie on the basis of the mess alone. Recognizing that I didn’t have the skill set to make people laugh for ninety minutes, I embarked on a humor blog posting twice a week for a year. I wanted to work under deadlines while producing a humorous product. I completed the year of blog then continued posting now only on Tuesdays. Blog of One has nearly eighty thousand page views and hundreds of subscribers. The task made me funny on demand and in general has been wonderfully educational. It gave me ample opportunity to write about celebrities, current events, medical procedures and politics.

9. Any advice for those about to dive into their first feature-length screenplay?

First off, listen to as much advice as you can get, but don’t heed nobodies like me who actually haven’t made it. If you have taken a class in screenwriting at a local college and you got an A on your final project which your professor wrote on the title page, “Great Job! You should enter this into a contest,” don’t bother. If that’s the only reason why you have a screenplay, then you’ll probably hate working as a professional screenwriter.

10. Last, but not least, what have been your biggest victories since entering our festival? Any more awards, any representation, any options, connections, new opportunities, and or plans to  move to New York or LA?

Over the past eight years, I’ve racked up eighteen placements in seven different contests with three different scripts. Recently, producer, film business consultant and author, Paula Landry recommended my family film to a production company for which she was conducting a script search. In 2018, Academy member, producer, actor and author Jimmy Hawkins read one of my scripts as a judge for the semifinal round of the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. He referred to the script as having a “good story” with “strong characters” and a “pleasure” to read. Being able to bounce ideas around with an industry professional who worked with Jimmy Stewart  in It’s a Wonderful Life when he was four years old was an unforgettable career moment.

The following is from an interview with the talented and brilliant Marie Wilson, a prior finalist.

1. What's your background? How long have you been writing?  And what made you choose and or transition into screenwriting? 

I had a wonderful childhood growing up on the west coast of Canada. I’ve been writing ever since I could hold a pencil, telling stories in pictures, then penning my autobiography when I was eight (it was one page). When I grew up, I wrote a novel and Harper Collins published it. I’ve always loved movies, so screenwriting was a perfect fit.

2. What screenwriting training have you received? And what were some of your biggest breakthroughs?

I took Robert McKee’s Story workshop and read his book three times. Whenever I feel stuck, especially structurally, I go to his book. He knows. I’m currently doing a screenwriting intensive through ScreenwritingU. It’s advanced and if I hadn’t studied with McKee first, I’d be lost in it! I have breakthroughs almost every time I write - they are all big even when they seem small.

3. What else have you written? What writing habits work for you?  Do you write in short bursts or long shifts, in the morning or late at night, do you write at coffee shops, at home, or at the office when no one else is looking? 

My novel “The Gorgeous Girls”, was promoted by Harper Collins as “erotica for the thinking woman.” It would make a great TV series. I’ve written short stories and a graphic novel called “Kist”, which I’m currently shopping around. I write whenever and wherever I have the opportunity. I write at home a lot but when distractions get too much I head for a local cafe. I love writing in cafes.

4. What's the title of the script you entered, and what's it about?

“Sideshow Bandit” is the title. It’s a dramedy, based on a true story, very Coen Bros. True Grit with a mummy. “In 1976, a funhouse mannequin is discovered to be a real human body. An autopsy sends us back to the 19th century and a failed train robber seeking fame and fortune. Fame only arrives in his afterlife as a carnival mummy.”

5. Where do you look for inspiration and what inspired you to write this script? 

I look to history for a lot of my inspiration. There are so many incredible untold stories out there. And I have a particular passion for bringing to light the stories of forgotten people, like  the Sideshow Bandit. I also have a keen interest in writing about marginalized communities,  current or historical.

6. Describe your process? Do you outline your story first? Do you use notecards or a beat sheet? Or do you simply sit down and let it flow?

When I get an idea, I make notes. Then I do research. And then I do an outline. From the outline I start to flesh out the scenes. I do more research. When the whole story is blocked in, I put each scene on an index card and tack them up on my wall. This functions like a big map and helps me see where I’m going, or more accurately where my characters and their stories are going.

7. What was your experience with our festival? Are you happy with your involvement? What did you like most about your experience? And what could we improve on?   

I had a good experience with the New York Screenwriting Competition. What I liked most was winning! And the fact that I got a phone call telling me I was the winner - that was a nice touch. I also really enjoyed e-meeting Sherry Robb, a very interesting LA agent who was introduced to me because I won the competition.

8.What are you writing now and what do you plan on writing in the near future? 

I am currently writing a screenplay about a Hollywood actress who winds up having to direct an amateur Christmas play in her small hometown. When she casts a young trans woman in the lead role, the whole town is thrown into an uproar. In the near future, I’ll still be working on that screenplay – screenwriting is rewriting!

9. Any advice for those about to dive into their first feature-length screenplay?

a) Read and study and ingest Story by Robert McKee. b) To avoid clichés, research your subject. Then let your research inform your scenes without putting it on display. c) Act Two is the hardest to write - if you’re having trouble with it, you probably haven’t thoroughly thought your story through: refer back to McKee; the answers are there. d) Read and study produced screenplays. e) Don’t give up!

10. Last, but not least, what have been your biggest victories since entering our festival? Any more awards, any representation, any options, connections, new opportunities, and or plans to move to New York or LA?

“Sideshow Bandit” has won numerous awards since it won the New York Screenwriting Competition. Among the most eventful was the Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto. It was also a big thrill when Calum Worthy (The Act) told his agent that he “loved” my screenplay. But with no one attached, Calum’s love went nowhere. For all the winning, I still don’t have representation. I find it very hard to get a screenplay to producers or directors without an agent and very hard to get an agent without an optioned or produced screenplay. Catch-22.

From an interview with the brilliant and talented Valerie Dalena, a prior grand prize winner.

1. What's your background? How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing story since I can remember. Starting at about age 8, writing stories in my room when things weren’t great at home was a wonderful way to escape. I’ve held jobs in TV and film, fashion design, women’s magazines and child abuse prevention. All have given me a certain insight into the human condition, contemporary issues and even the darker side of society.

And what made you choose and or transition into screenwriting?

I was taking classes in writings in the novel at UCLA and became interested in film as well. I got a job with a well-known screenwriter/director/producer and fell in love with the entire process and world.

2. What screenwriting training have you received?

So much. From books, from classes and seminars, but most of all writing, writing, writing.

And what were some of your biggest breakthroughs?

Discovering the book, “20 Master Plots” by Ronald Tobias. Reading things like the classics: “Save the Cat” and “Poetics.” Books by Sid Field, Linda Seeger, David Trottier, and Robert McKee to name a few. Reading scripts like MICHAEL CLAYTON by Tony Gilroy. Being a semi-finalist in PAGE Screenwriting Competition with my script, SAVANNAH ROSE, and then being chosen to attend Stowe Story Lab in Vermont. And, of course, winning GRAND PRIZE in the New York Metropolitan International Screenwriting Competition for our script, REST IN PAIN (now titled FINA’S CHILDREN). They got it – the added-in music and lyrics, the woman’s journey as a serial killer and her ultimate and tragic redemption.

3. What else have you written?

I write psychological thrillers about women who suddenly find themselves in life-threatening situations and have to overcome huge obstacles and dangers to survive. All of them struggle to discover the truth, what is real about themselves and their world. DEPTH OF FIELD was my first – a woman falls in love with a famous war photojournalist and gets caught up in a terrorist plot in Paris and Marrakesh. In SAVANNAH ROSE, a famous televangelist’s life is turned upside down when her former John threatens to expose her sordid past. In ANIMAL GAME, a New York socialite accompanies her Brazilian fiancé to Rio de Janeiro to meet his parents, her fiancé disappears, and she suspects everyone.

What writing habits work for you?

When I’m in the middle of a script, I start quite early in the morning, take breaks for exercise and food and get back to it. Sometimes a little wine helps. I can’t get the story and characters off my mind. Do you write in short bursts or long shifts, in the morning or late at night, do you write at coffee shops, at home, or at the office when no one else is looking? Ha. I write short and long, morning, afternoon and night, mostly at home.

4. What's the title of the script you entered, and what's it about?

REST IN PAIN, which is now titled FINA’S CHILDREN. It was co-written by my writing partner at the time, Mike Fuhrmann. The logline is: Haunted by her past, trapped between heaven and hell, truth and illusion, a mercy killer struggles to change her destiny, die in peace and save her soul, but first she must redeem herself with those responsible for the monster she’s become — her equally tormented younger selves. One gets a sense that something terrible has happened to Fina or she’s done something terrible, but it takes awhile to figure it out. The story world seems normal, but it’s just a bit off. Time is off. You start to identify with her, even though you might not want to. Then, you finally realize the truth. Our dream “Fina” is the incredible German actress Nina Hoss.

5. Where do you look for inspiration and what inspired you to write this script?

Inspiration seems to come out of the blue and usually has to do with a theme or question I’m pondering in my life. With FINA’S CHILDREN (REST IN PAIN), it all started when my writing partner told me about a story idea he had in high school. The finished product is completely different, but it started the creative process of this piece. I love the themes of FINA’S CHILDREN: Sometimes the right thing is the wrong thing; take care of your children for they are us; and what if the end was only the beginning?

6. Describe your process? Do you outline your story first?

I have done loose outlines and more detailed outlines. Usually I write down notions – characters I see in my mind, a locale, conflicts, dangers. I look for a hook. I paint a story world that’s interesting to me, one I want to explore and get to know.

Do you use notecards or a beat sheet? Or do you simply sit down and let it flow?

I’ve done both. Beat sheets are always helpful. When a story gets particularly complicated – as thrillers do – I often go to the notecard system so I can spread them all over the place and rearrange. It can actually cause pain to the brain.

Then there is that. I go back and forth. It sort of feels like “right brain” in the flow stages, and “left brain” when I’m focusing on plotting it out. Creating characters is a lot of fun and a good time to let the mind wander a bit.

7. What was your experience with our festival? Are you happy with your involvement?

It was fabulous. Of course. I’d highly recommend this competition to anyone who is serious about writing and selling screenplays.

What did you like most about your experience?

First, the personal phone call from Joseph that I had won. I kept telling him he had the wrong number. Then, I asked the contest to please forward my script to a particular production company. They contacted the company and got approval to send the script. And what could we improve on? Obviously, we all want exposure. This interview is a great idea and very generous.

8. What are you writing now and what do you plan on writing in the near future?

I’m finishing a final draft of a piece called MIMOSA PRECIOSA, written with a friend and colleague in Germany. This is somewhat a departure – an unlikely friend/love/roadtrip/comedy-drama. I love the wonderful, endearing, crazy characters. Since the story takes place in Germany and Southern Spain, we are meeting with producers in both countries to create an international joint venture production. I also have my own film and theatre production company, Stiletto Rosso Productions, LLC www.stilettorosso.com

9. Any advice for those about to dive into their first feature-length screenplay?

Learn about the market and marketing scripts. Learn about how producers and production companies work. Read – not just books on screenwriting, but on directing and acting. Take writing and acting classes. Talk to everyone about your story. Make sure it is protected with a copyright. Don’t give up. Set the intention. This business is super hard, but never impossible. It all depends on how determined you are and how hard you’re willing to work.

10. Last, but not least, what have been your biggest victories since entering our festival?

At least three times, we came very close to putting a deal together with producers in the US and in Germany. The truth is, we could self-produce and raise the money, but that’s probably not going to happen. I like collaboration. I like to find the team.

Any more awards, any representation, any options, connections, new opportunities, and or plans to move to New York or LA?

NY Metropolitan was the last contest I entered after doing well in the Austin Film Festival. Since then I actually moved FROM LA. I got involved with MIMOSA PRECIOSA and traveled to Germany and Southern Spain to meet potential collaborators and look at locations. I’m very involved in a local women’s film festival and create trailers and marketing for them. I live in a very active theater town so to make sure I stay close to the creative process and work with talented people on a day-to- day basis, I’m now producing a fabulous hit play that contains physical theatre and music, with an internationally known director. For me, it’s all about story: interpreting story, creating story – in promo pieces, scripts, live theatre -- however I can and whenever I can. 

Thank you for asking!