NYC MIDNIGHT: Congratulations on winning the 5th Annual Screenwriter’s Challenge. This year's competition attracted over 650 writers from around the world, the largest field we have had to date. Why did you enter the Screenwriter’s Challenge and what did you hope to get out of it?
Stuart: I think this is my third year entering the Screenwriter’s Challenge. I was originally intrigued by the idea of writing an assigned topic on a tight deadline. By this year’s competition, I felt that if the genre and subject struck a chord with me, I’d be able to craft a winning entry.
NYC MIDNIGHT: How did you get started as a writer? Where are you now in your writing career and what are your goals?
Stuart: I have always enjoyed writing, but it was in the early 1990s that I began to write for publication. I got into screenwriting to enable myself to write out a story idea I’d been nursing for years. Now I have several short scripts produced or in production, a commissioned feature script in preproduction, I’m working on producing a feature from a script I co-wrote with a director, and I have about ten spec scripts in my portfolio, several of which have won various screenwriting competitions. I hope by this time next year to be selling my work to producers.
NYC MIDNIGHT: You were also a finalist in the Short Story Challenge 2008. Do you prefer creative writing or screenwriting?
Stuart: I think I am better at screenwriting, having had more practice at it. I’ve developed a screenwriter’s habit of very spare description, which sometimes can be a weakness in short story writing. Also, I think I prefer writing dialogue to description.
NYC MIDNIGHT: Do you write on a regular basis? What is your general approach for writing a script, from idea to final draft?
Stuart: I think my general approach is to find a hook – an idea that grabs me and motivates me to write the whole story. I sometimes work from an ending backward, sometimes from an opening forward, and usually try to work out the entire skeleton of the plot before going back to flesh it out. I don’t write scripts or stories on a daily basis, but I find that a lot of the material is forming itself in the back of my mind even while I am doing other things.
NYC MIDNIGHT: In the first round, you received the assignment of genre (horror) and subject (a fireplace). You won your heat with “He Knows” : (Logline - Mommy and Daddy assure Timmy that Santa Claus knows who's been bad and good, and Timmy resolves to prevent Santa from leaving a lump of coal to ruin his parents' image of him as their little angel.)
Were you happy or disappointed with your assignment? Were there other 1st Round assignments that you would have preferred or despised, and if so, which ones? What genre(s) do most prefer when writing your own material?
Stuart: I was ecstatic to get a horror assignment. I grew up on The Twilight Zone and Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, so short-form horror is a favorite of mine. Comedy would have been hard, since I tend to think I am funnier than others think I am.
NYC MIDNIGHT: In the 24-hour final round, you received the assignment of genre (suspense) and subject (birth). You won the finals with “One Child Born” : (Logline - A Rwandan Tutsi farmer’s third child is coming. As he waits on his front porch for the midwife to do her work, his oldest son arrives home with the news that a Hutu mob is also coming.)
How was your experience writing a screenplay on such a tight deadline?
Stuart: Having entered the competition in previous years, I knew what to expect. I figured that I would get the assignment, think about it for a couple of hours before going to sleep, and then wake up and write. That’s in fact what I did.
NYC MIDNIGHT: Have you done any rewrites on your first and final round entries since the competition ended and do you have any plans for the scripts?
Stuart: I have not rewritten the scripts but I am entering them into screenwriting competitions with an eye to getting one or both produced. HE KNOWS has already won Best Horror Short Script in The Indie Gathering, 2008. So I am grateful to NYC Midnight for prompting me to write it.
NYC MIDNIGHT: This was our third year with our dedicated review forum where writers could share their scripts from the competition with each other and provide/receive feedback. Did you participate in the forums and/or get a chance to check out some of the scripts that were posted? If so, what were some of your favorites?
Stuart: I didn’t take the time to get very involved in the forums, mostly because I didn’t have a convenient place to post my scripts online so as to provide a link. If the NYC Midnight screenwriting forum provided hosting of the entered scripts, I would have been much more likely to participate.
Stuart: My short script AUTONOMY (originally titled DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE) won the An Abbreviated Screenplay Contest a couple of years ago and was produced by Silver Penny Productions. You can view it at: http://www.aascreenplaycontest.com/autononmyflash.html
My short script HONEYMOON CAPITAL has been filmed by Canadian director Dare Kent and is in post-production.
My short script TSUNAMI won the Renderyard Short Script competition last year and is now in production by Renderyard Productions in the UK. That will be an animated short, and I’ve always been a huge animation fan.
I wrote DIARY OF A COUNTESS for director Bea Egeto from her story. It’s now in pre-production.
I’ve won screenwriting competitions for my feature scripts THERE IS A SEASON, JUST LISTED, FIRERIDER, and TIME AND AGAIN.
NYC MIDNIGHT: You also mentioned that you will be producing your feature script, ‘BEYOND’, shooting in Southern India with Biju Viswanath (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1078209/) directing. What can you tell us about this project? Are there any sites or links where interested parties can follow the production? What are the plans for the film once it’s completed?
Stuart: I am still in the process of raising funding for BEYOND. It’s the story of a man who goes to India to escape the disapproval of his dying father and ends up learning that a father’s greatest fear can be disappointing his son. As it’s going to be filmed in southern India, we’ll be able to film on 35mm even on a very low budget. Biju and I plan to take the film on the festival circuit and then into distribution (whether theatrical, video or Internet remains to be seen). Biju’s website is www.bijuviswanath.com – when the project is funded, information will go up on that site as well as mine (www.creque.com).
NYC MIDNIGHT: Do you have any other ongoing projects or scripts that you are currently working on?
Stuart: I am working on a couple of feature specs and on one particular short script that I would like to direct myself. Also, if BEYOND does well, there will be other projects with Biju and other opportunities for me to produce my feature specs.
NYC MIDNIGHT: You took home over $5,500 in prizes including $1,500 cash, a $3,595 Scholarship to Writers Boot Camp, the Scriptwriter’s Suite from Final Draft, WriterGuard Premium Subscription plan and a free feature listing on Inktip. What prizes are you most excited about? Have you taken a WBC course in the past and if not, is this something you are looking forward to?
Stuart: It’s hard not to be excited about cash! And I am very much looking forward to the Writers Boot Camp course. I hope it will help me improve my writing as well as give me a shot of writing discipline.
NYC MIDNIGHT: What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters looking for their big break?
Stuart: I am not sure I am the best person to offer advice on big breaks. I am involved with The Writers’ Building (www.thewritersbuilding.org) and participated in their short script assignment workshop, which was excellent preparation for the NYC Midnight Screenwriter’s Challenge and also yielded the short scripts that are in production (AUTONOMY, HONEYMOON CAPITAL and TSUNAMI). I’d also recommend workshopping your screenplays on sites like The Writers’ Building and Zoetrope.com (www.zoetrope.com), and then entering the polished drafts in screenwriting contests. And if they win, don’t wait for agents or producers to call you: send out queries for your contest winners.
And most of all, cultivate contacts in the film industry. There are a lot of aspiring directors and even actors who have motivation to get movies made – and they all need screenplays.
NYC MIDNIGHT: Will you be back to defend your title in 2009?
Stuart: You bet! I want to prove to myself that winning this year’s competition wasn’t just blind luck!
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