Prior Winners

The Toronto Metropolitan Int'l Screenwriting Competition

I am so honored and excited to have been selected as the Grand Prize Winner for my screenplay, "Six Bullets at Sundown". I have gotten 6 contacts within a week and have an hour long consultation with a literary agent. I couldn't be more pleased by the incredible orchestration and efficiency of how this has been handled. This competition is a must for all emerging screenwriters. - Paul Grammatico 
This is a very important competition. - Stephen Don
It's a great festival! - Colin Caccamise
2020's winners were introduced to talent managers and production executives across the country including Audrey Knox at the Cartel, Nick Fullen-Collins at Artistic Vision, Justin Ross at the Bohemia Group, Chris Deckard at Fictional Entity, and Derrick Eppich at Empirical Evidence.

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2020 Grand Prize Winner!

Six Bullets at Sundown by Paul Grammatico

2020 Finalists

Apples Way by Edward Pionke
Tam Lin by Glen Cram

2020 Semi-Finalists

Retribution by Stephen Don
I’m a Rockstar by Miles Mcalister
The Three Lives of Angel Fleming by William LiPera
The Tactician by Michael Marceau
Parallels by Scott Nelson
Greetings from the Vortex by David Maddox
Antaeus by Colin Caccamise
The Paper Route by Danny Howell
The Mimics by John Saunders
The Scarecrow by Gemma Paul 
2020's winners were introduced to talent managers and production executives across the country including Audrey Knox at the Cartel, Nick Fullen-Collins at Artistic Vision, Justin Ross at the Bohemia Group, Chris Deckard at Fictional Entity, and Derrick Eppich at Empirical Evidence.

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An Interview with the talented and brilliant Paul Grammatico writer of Six Bullets at Sundown     

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

I have a B.A. in Theatre and Television Arts and have taken courses in Film/Video/Performance. I also have an M.A. in Archive and Records Management.

I have been writing on and off in some format for most of my life. I am a huge fan of film and have produced some in my past, the transition into screenwriting seemed to be a logical and challenging one.

What screenwriting training have you received? And 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 am a self-taught screenwriter and have learned through a lot of trial and error. Throughout my life I have written several poems, plays, short stories and feature length screenplays. I usually write in blocks when I have a scene in my head and need to get it out on paper which could be anywhere at any time.

What are some of your biggest victories?

My biggest have been being awarded the Grand Prize for my script, “Six Bullets at Sundown” at the Toronto International Metropolitan Screenwriting Competition. My other victories include being 1st Runner Up at the UK Film Festival for my script, “Garden of Delight” and the Winner for Best Feature-Length Screenplay at Oregon Scream Week for my screenplay, “The Keys”.

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

My script is titled, “Six Bullets at Sundown.” A Stranger arrives looking for Jericho Jackson and his gang of outlaws that have terrorized the local town for twelve years and who owe him something other than the bounty for their heads.

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

I’m sure that I get my inspiration from music, books, films, and life that I listen to, watch, read and experience. “Six Bullets at Sundown” is an adaptation of a short story that I wrote entitled. “Spoils”.

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 usually write outlines/treatments before I write a script, or they have been adapted from some form of work I have done previously but mostly I simply sit down and 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?

I couldn’t be happier about my experience with this festival. I am surprised and honored to be selected for the Grand Prize. This has been my first time having consultations with industry professionals which has been the best experience so far. (We introduced Paul to Audrey Knox at the Cartel, Nick Fullen-Collins at Artistic Vision, and Derrick Eppich at Empirical Evidence)

What are you writing now and what do you plan on writing in the near future? Any advice for those about to dive into their first feature-length screenplay?

I am currently working on a pilot for an eight-part television miniseries. I have also been working through some ideas for a novella, a children’s book, and some other feature-length screenplays.

My advice to anyone that is diving into their first feature-length screenplay is to make sure you have enough of a story to make it engaging and interesting. I would also make sure that you have thick skin as you will more than likely face rejection upon your first venture. Just take it in stride and learn from it. 

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An interview with the talented and brilliant Ed Pionke writer of Apple's Way   

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

Prior to 2008 I was an actuary and a lawyer. In something of a Butterfly Effect moment, I was with a group of friends and we got into an argument about the Mexican standoff/shootout scene at the end of Reservoir Dogs. To resolve the argument, one of my friends suggested going to simplyscripts.com and reading the screenplay. I did not even know that was possible. I followed his advice and since, due to the recession, I had time to kill in the office, began reading screenplays. After reading, oh I don’t know, for sure over 100 screenplays, I began to think, hey maybe I could write one. I’ve been writing screenplays and making films ever since.

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

I took a class in screenwriting at Chicago Filmmakers. 

I guess one breakthrough was in connection with my first attempt at a screenplay. I had an interesting cast of characters and a few scenarios and thought I’ll just start the thing and the characters will take over and the rest will come organically. The instructor in my screenwriting class warned me that that was usually not a good way to go and it is best if you have a beginning and an end in mind before you start writing. Three frustrating months later, I had to admit that, at least for me, having a beginning and an end was the way to go. Another breakthrough was doing a cold reading of my third script with actors and filming it. Spots where the dialogue was not working or clunky became readily apparent. I think hearing your script spoken out loud by actors is a great aid in the editing process.

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? 

Apple’s Way is my seventh screenplay. Five of them I wound up producing and directing myself. I got distribution deals for the first two, Mother’s Milk and Canvas. Asymptotes, the fourth, has recently been submitted to festivals (no luck so far). My Tube and Not My Brother are in post-production. Vampire’s Dilemma, the third, is sitting idle in my filing cabinet.

For me the first phase of writing is really just thinking about the idea and maybe jotting down a few notes. If it’s an idea that really takes hold and I find I can’t let go, I’ll actually start writing a few scenes. Usually, writing is sporadic at this point. Then, when things have started to come together, I’ll write every day and in longer shifts. I write exclusively at home, at any time really, but I find the longer, more productive shifts usually start in the evening and go to the wee hours of the morning.

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

Apple’s Way is the title. It is about an intern at a newspaper who goes undercover to write a story about a cult that lives in the community. She begins to form personal relationships with some of the members even though she has serious misgivings about some of the cult’s tenets. I tried to humanize the cult members as much as possible and not fall back on the “these people must somehow be delusional or damaged” trope that permeates so many films about cults. 

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

I don’t actively look for inspiration, it just comes, and from many and disparate sources. Mother’s Milk came from the discovery that some men apparently have a fetish for lactating breasts, Canvas from Vincent van Gogh’s letters, Asymptotes from a math lecture, Not My Brother from a personal family experience, etc. The inspiration for Apple’s Way came while watching YouTube videos about the Heaven’s Gate cult which I looked for after listening to a Sam Harris podcast.

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?

The process has been a bit different for each of the screenplays I’ve written. For Canvas, which I knew would be an epistolary piece and involve a fair bit of voiceover, I first wrote about twenty letters and then constructed the screenplay around those letters. I wrote Asymptotes while I had pneumonia and was housebound for ten weeks. I just wrote it page by page. That was the least amount of time it took to write any of my screenplays, certainly due to the fact that I was doing nothing else at the time other than sleeping (a lot) and watching TV. I have used notecards and a magnetic white board on three of the screenplays, including Apple’s Way. I’ll boil each scene down to one or at most two sentences and put them in order on the board. That way I can read the whole story in a couple of minutes, identify the scenes that are extraneous and the places where there are holes.

What are you writing now and what do you plan on writing in the near future? Any advice for those about to dive into their first feature-length screenplay?

I am currently outlining what I think will be the first few hour-long episodes of a mini-series called Trap Door. It is about a small theatre group and the conflict between generations. Maybe you could call it The Producers meets the culture war.

As to advice for beginning writers: Try to write as much as possible. Inspiration comes while one is working. There is no substitute for just doing it. The more you write the better you’ll get.

Get feedback. Identify people whose feedback is helpful and keep going to them as long as they’re willing to help. Pay close attention when you hear the same thing from different sources. If three people all have a problem with a particular scene or aspect of your screenplay it almost certainly needs fixing.

Have fun. Or at least have some fun. Writing can be lonely, frustrating and seemingly without reward (especially financial). It can also be exhilarating. If it’s only the former, maybe try something else.

The Toronto Metropolitan Int'l Screenwriting Competition

"Great contest! The staff is very communicative and have been so helpful in circulating my script and managers and producers. Within a week of the contest ending, they had already sent my script out and introduced me to more than half a dozen managers and producers. Highly recommend."
"Fabulous festival with quality and professional judges. Will enter again."  
"Thank you so much! I'm dancing with my cat round the room."
"Amazing, Kind, helpful and passionate."

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2019 Grand Prize Winner!

Rust - Justin Moran

2019 Finalists

Executed and Risen - Salvatore Bono
Dukkha - Rachana Suri

2019 Semi-Finalists

Worthy by Mary Griffitts
The Way of Dave by David Poulshock
The Secret World of Danny Lopez by Samuel Garza Bernstein
The Coup by Joe Ayella
A Jungle Dark by Courtney Suttle
Little Things Mean a Lot by Michael Monteith
The Beast by Eric Sollars
FOXRUN by Brad Nuber
Timber by Pat Stevens
Twilight Sleep by Alan Lambert
Scuppernongs by Lynne Ashe
The Peter Pan Dream by Chi Hsiu Chen

Great contest! The staff is very communicative and have been so helpful in circulating my script and managers and producers. Within a week of the contest ending, they had already sent my script out and introduced me to more than half a dozen managers and producers. Highly recommend.
I highly recommend this Festival; I had a very positive experience, and festival communications were excellent. I ordered the optional feedback, and the reader's notes were thoughtful and helpful for revisions. I'm very honored that my screenplay... was chosen as a semi-finalist; I plan to submit another script next year.
Outstanding festival. Excellent communication, and was contacted by one of the Directors informing me that I was selected as a top three finalist for my script. I was kept apprised of all activities and next steps in the process. My screenplay was sent to 6 agents/producers for consideration within 72 hours of notification! I highly recommend this festival and will gladly participate in it again! Thank you, TISC Team for make this event very special to me!

 

2018 Grand Prize Winner

The Outskirts of Paradise - Montgomery Burt

2018 Finalists

Egalite - Michael Head
A Good Marine - 
Tracey Thompson

2018 Semi Finalists

The Lost Tsar by James Rosenfeld
Bison Man by Michael Rhodes
Blackfoot by Wm. Derek Grasty
Hick by Marianna Moneymaker
Face Value by Mike Gallagher
A Century of Dreams by Brian Brockway
Stalag Dixie by L. Morris
Escape on the Danube by Daniel Costa
My Mother Murdered My Father by Josephine Perry
Immaculate by Charlie McNamara
Kananaskis by Brad Himour 
The Chronicles of Valor by Robert B.E. Atkinson
Hallow's Point by Brian W. Smith
Perry by R.J. Watson
The Great Canadian Gold Heist by The Nubers

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An interview with the talented and brilliant Michael Head author of Egalite 

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

I always had an interest in storytelling so I started focusing on short fiction while in high school and community/state college, then went on to a B.A in Creative Writing from Florida State University. I managed to get a few of my pieces published and won a few contests, but I had realized by then I was never going to write the Next Great American Novel. I was watching the DVD commentary for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and they mentioned William Goldman sold the screenplay for nearly half a million dollars and decided to try switching focus, so I watched "The Sting" over and over while writing the action and dialogue as best I could as an exercise. I found out FSU's film school offered a MFA in Screenwriting and applied on a whim, luckily becoming one of only five students accepted, and learned which of my writing skills translated well and which I had to learn from scratch. 

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

I graduated the program with an MFA in Screenwriting in 2017 and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great school. I was able to write and direct my own short film, do a semester in London to practice writing for the stage, and the chance to write both features and television projects and develop them until they were ready to pitch. One breakthrough I had was over the "rule" that every scene should have conflict in it. I tried to adhere to the rule like a good student but would argue that many scenes don't have conflict. But I watched the terrible movie "Colossal" where Anne Hathaway is a kaiju and they do this thing where every time she wakes up hung-over, she's slept on her arm wrong and it's all pins-and-needles for her. That little thing made me re-think what the word "conflict" really meant and I think my writing got a lot better once I started annoying my characters in addition to any suffering the plot requires of them. 

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 four television projects and about a dozen features that are polished and ready to pitch or submit. I prefer the time to binge-write rather than set some daily quota for myself. I like to have a select movie or two for comparison and inspiration playing in the background. I write sequentially (starting at the beginning) for the most part, but whenever I get stuck on something I'll either skip ahead to a scene I know I'll need later or take a break to edit what I already have. When I'm on my game I can usually churn out a rough draft with one editing pass within two weeks. Now obviously that will change shape in many ways before I'm done tinkering with it, but it definitely helps my confidence and commitment to the idea to be able to get that first draft done quickly. I'm also totally comfortable showing that draft around to friends and people whose opinion I value as I start the real work of honing the story. My revision process might last a year or more before I feel like it's ready for industry eyes, so I don't want any slower writers to feel any shame in their pace. 

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

My script was an hour-long television pilot for a series titled "Egalité." The series follows a family of Haitian immigrants in New Orleans during the War of 1812 who must decide whether to join the fight against the British invasion or spark a second slave revolution on their adopted soil.

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

This idea came after learning about the role of Haitian immigrants in the Battle of New Orleans. I thought about this community which had literally just waged the largest slave revolution since Spartacus (and by far the most successful) not only choosing to live in the heart of the slave south, but choosing to shed their blood again for the sake of their new homeland despite the racism they surely faced, free or not. 

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?

Professionally, I always start with a thorough treatment to go over with the client. That helps keep me from becoming too invested in a scene or side-plot in case they aren't happy with anything. Personally though, I like to just dive in from FADE IN: and press on until I have a draft. By the time I start typing I have a pretty decent sketch of the idea in my head already, so I can usually keep the wheels greased. If I hit a major roadblock I'll break out the notecards or seek inspiration from a comparable movie or TV show, but writing is often a war of attrition where the only option is to throw as many words at it as you can. 

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 great experience with you guys! I was put in touch with three producers who gave me great feedback on both my story and how to package it for optioning. Having those laurels on my resume has definitely helped me land some freelance work too. 

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

My directing partner and I are reworking ideas for a sort of Downton Abbey-esque take on Canada's Eaton family. I'm also kicking around ideas for a simple "two-hander" set in one location as a project to film right away. 

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

The best advice is to just keep writing! It'll never be finished until the words move from your head to that page, so do your best to keep traffic flowing. Beyond that, go ahead and pay for real screenwriting software and if you want advice on how to write better, read "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White. 

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?

Since the festival I've sold a few short screenplays to a small production company based in Toronto, ELD Films, and was hired to develop and write a feature screenplay on-location in Hawaii. I've had a handful of meetings with literary managers and agents but haven't been able to land representation yet. I am finally moving to Los Angeles, and it will be great to reconnect with the FSU alums out there. 

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I LOVE this Screenwriting Competition! Within a week of being notified that my Script was a finalist, they sent it out to 3 management companies and a movie producer!
Excellent festival and organising team! Was wonderful to get a personal call from Toronto to Belfast, Northern Ireland to congratulate me on my script! Highly reccommend!
Excellent contest! Any screenwriting competition that can provide its winners with access and exposure to real industry professionals is a contest worth submitting. Few competitions can actually provide this opportunity. Toronto International is the exception!

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Winter 2017 Grand Prize Winner

Oren Weitz - Accidental Angel

Winter 2017 Finalists

Michael J Daly - Forgive Me Not
Hunter Davis - Cogged

Winter 2017 Semi Finalists

Sam Tsembides - Ghost Bride
Shanaya Fastje - Waiting for Infinity
Laurentiu D. Ghiran - Umbrella
Olga Rojer and John McCaslin - Paradise Club
Anthony Salamnon & Ronnie S. Riskalla - Fire Mountain
Peter Haig - A War on Terror
Tom Jenkins - She Came From Outer Space
Kate Langsdorf - Hank and Martha in the Basement
Doc Comparato - Bending Light
Kunal Gupta - The Sniper in the Mist

Jay Jaworski & Lisa  Morgigno - Jaworski - The Music Men
 
George N. Ennesser & R.W. Pangia Jr. - Rule 35
Kevin Bruce - After Alcatraz: Surviving the Escape
Annie Macdonald and Bob B. Mac - A Gator’s Tale
Skatz Baxter - Ocean Effect
Samuel Lee Taylor - At the Mercy of Faith
Mark Christopher Boyd - Even a Just Man Falls
Robert Cox - The Door
Marina Albert - Maid in America
Russell Beneke - The Island of Blooming Stones
Stephen Delos Treacy - Winter Bird 
Jason Jung - John Q
Hugh Burns - Nine Bullets in Paris
Thomas Nesti - HookUp Cinema
Sabrina Besla - Jolene
Danielle Erlich - Legacy
Phil Kaufman - The Last Game
Robert B.E. Atkinson - Chronicles of Valor: I II & III
Nic Wells - Rewrite

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An interview with the talented and brilliant Hunter Davis writer of Cogged

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

Story telling has been a passion of mine since I was very young. As an only child, I would create elaborate worlds and intricate storylines with my G.I. Joes and He-Man characters. When I was older, I was heavily influenced by the wave of original action films in the 80’s/90’s like Aliens, Predator, T2, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Point Break, etc. At some point in high school I decided to get serious about writing, but I didn’t write my first feature screenplay until I was in college…and it was horrible.

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

I took dramatic writing classes in college, and over the years I’ve read at least ten different books on story and the craft of screenwriting. I was also a subscriber to Creative Screenwriting magazine and an avid reader of the trades along with various articles on screenwriting and interviews with prominent screenwriters. All these things were beneficial for me early on in helping me to learn and develop my craft. However, equally beneficial was my time interning and working in development as a script reader doing coverage. This experience really helped me understand the business side more, and also what a professional level, ready to shop spec script looked like. I also think it’s a valuable thing for any writer to have their eyes opened to the level of competition out there. When you see it from the other side, and realize how many talented writers and great scripts there are in circulation, it raises the bar of professionalism to reach with every project. It forces you to step up your game.

Screenwriting contests have always been an encouraging avenue of self-assurance in an industry of constant uncertainty and self-doubt. Over the years, I’ve placed as Semi-Finalist and Top Finalist in several prominent competitions such as PAGE International, Screencraft, Cinequest, the CWA’s, Filmmatic, Nashville Film Festival, and several others. And of course Toronto International! These contest wins and placements have certainly helped boost my confidence and provided motivation to keep pushing on when the obstacles to entry seem so overwhelming. With each high placement, it always gives me a little more reassurance that maybe I’m on the right track. Sometimes we writers need that little dose of positivity.

As for breakthroughs, my first script option was a big moment for me. Although most options don’t lead to actual production, just the fact that someone believes in your script enough to want to try and make it is always good feeling. I’ve been lucky enough to have multiple options now on a few different projects. Still waiting on that first big one to hit though.

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 several other feature scripts, a couple pilots, a web series, and a web commercial for a now defunct social app. As for writing habits, I work almost exclusively at night, usually late night. I also need decent isolation. I see all these writers working in coffee shops and public areas, and I just don’t know how they do it. I’d be constantly distracted. I suppose in this current corona environment, writers have no choice but to be isolated. Being quarantined is good for writers!

When I’m having a session, I try to focus on the project in front of me and do my best to tune out all other distractions. The only external stimulation is from the music in my earbuds and a strongly caffeinated drink in my mug. No TV!

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

The name of the script is, Cogged. It’s a dark political comedy about a savvy Hollywood producer, a Canadian entrepreneur, and a charismatic Black activist who become embroiled in a phony American revolution, only to see the fake protest movement go viral and their lives spiral out of control.

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

The 2016 American Presidential election was a big inspiration for Cogged. Particularly, the origin of what we now call fake news. What I found particularly interesting was that in addition to Russia’s involvement, there were also these small, independent fake media outlets out there doing the same thing, but with no political bias or larger agenda. They were literally just creating these fake news stories, circulating them across social media, and manipulating people nationwide with misinformation for the sole purpose of making money. The persons behind this weren’t political, they were simply entrepreneurs taking advantage of an unregulated system. I found this all to be fascinating, so I took that little nugget from real life and combined it with my ongoing interest in revolutionary political movements. Little by little, a story, characters, arcs, and eventually a series started to come together.

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 have never been able to sit down and let it flow. I know there are a lot of extremely successful and talented writers who write that way, (Tarentino, Kaufman, etc.) but my mind just doesn’t work in that capacity. For me, I need to have the main beats mapped out before I ever sit down to start penning the actual script. I utilize the outline method, but my outline is really more like a hybrid treatment. The document ends up being a cross between the two. It contains major and minor character descriptions, summaries for all major scenes, and sprinkled dialogue here and there for important lines or lines to be considered for later. I also have a separate sheet for random notes/thoughts, which will eventually transfer over to the outline. (If worthy enough of being in the script.) I also estimate total page count broken up by each act. I’ve improved over the years in my ability to more accurately predict page count, but when I was younger and didn’t have a system, I would often start writing a script and quickly realize that I’m going to be a good 20+ pages over by the end. That’s never fun.

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 great experience with the Toronto Metropolitan International Screenwriting Competition. I was very pleased with the overall communication and involvement. The competition itself was well run, thoughtful, and organized. And of course my favorite part was winning! J/k As for improvement, I guess the only thing I could say is that it’s always nice to have a larger list of industry professionals who sign on to win the reading screenplays at the end. The more names on the list, the more potential opportunity for everyone involved.

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

I have several projects I’m working on currently. Believe it or not, one of them is a re-write of Cogged. I was able to get some decent industry looks with Cogged after Toronto and some solid attention for the script. However, one consistent bit of feedback I received was that it was a little too relevant actually, and maybe a bit too on the nose. From a marketing standpoint, it was a recommended that it not be so involved/intertwined with what’s currently happening politically in our country, b/c that could change in the near future. So I’m currently rewriting the script for a setting of ten years in the future and dealing very little with actual political characters/events happening in present day.

I’m also working on several features including one post-apocalyptic action script called, Black Dust. The premise is that the world ends in the near future when governments across the globe are forced to circulate an experimental treatment in a desperate effort to combat a lethal virus decimating the world’s population. The cure involves untested nanotechnology and it works…until two months later when the virus killing nanobots malfunction and start attacking all organic cells…

Sound a bit too familiar!?

I have been working on Black Dust for almost two years now, but with the arrival of COVID19, I can’t help but feel a little freaked out now by the similarities in the script to what’s actually happening in the world right now. Let’s hope we don’t rush into nanotechnology to solve our vaccine problems anytime soon! 

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

For any first time writer I’d say good for you for taking on that first important step. It’s a huge accomplishment to complete any feature screenplay in any genre. Any writer, new or old, should be proud of this achievement. However, for first time writers, I think it’s also helpful to be realistic. Most likely, your first script won’t be your best script. It’s hardly ever the case. Because regardless of the concept/premise, most likely the execution and craft won’t be on the level of shopping to industry professionals. That being said, you’ll never learn more about screenwriting than writing an actual script. Similar to the ole’ saying that making your own film is the best film school any aspiring filmmaker can ever have. The same is true with writers when it comes to writing their first script. It’s the foundational grindstone that will begin their journey and hopefully spark a calling to write for the rest of their careers.

One quick piece of advice for first time writers…If you’re lucky enough to have some quality industry contacts in your circle, and you’re planning to send your first screenplay to them, try to be patient. I’ve personally made this mistake along with so many other first time writers. Most likely, you’ll never get another chance with your industry contact, so before you send the script to them, first send the script to your peer group. Get some feedback and notes from trusted friends. Send it off for private coverage. See how it’s scoring. Make revisions. Improvements. Hone in on notes that multiple people have mentioned. Send the script off to a few screenplay competitions, see if it’s placing in the later rounds. Maybe let the script bake for a month or two then come back to it for fresh revisions/polishing. Just make sure that script is as good as it can possibly be before you give it to a major industry professional to read. And whatever you do…don’t give them a first draft! (I wish someone would have told me this after my first screenplay.)

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?

I currently have an option for my action/sci-fi feature, The Drome with producer Lucas Foster (Ford v. Ferrari, Man on Fire, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) and Warp Films/Chrome Entertainment. I’m also a producer on a TV series called The Monarch Guild and we just signed a development deal with Red Entertainment (Balls Out, Searching for Sonny) along with the series creator, Jason Anacona.

I still live in Los Angeles and I’m currently under lockdown along with my fellow Angelinos practicing responsible social distancing. #FlattenTheCurve. If there was ever a time to hunker down and get writing, now is the time!

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Loved it! Good people and very supportive!
Great Festival. They not only distributed my script, they personally got it to a producer i've been dying to get it to. So happy I submitted!
Great Festival.  Two thumbs up!
 I just signed with a manager in Beverly Hills!

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Spring 2017 Grand Prize Winner!

It's Not What Happens by John Harris 

Spring 2017 Finalists

Fifth Down by Brian Allen 
Napoleon by Kevin Karp

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In 2017, finalist Brian Allen signed with Management 360, one of the top literary managers in Beverly Hills! 
Brian also met with Justin Ross of the Bohemia Group, Andrew Kersey at Kersey Managment, Devon Byers from First Friday Entertainment, and Chris Deckard, the top talent manager at Fictional Entity. 

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An interview with the talented and brilliant Brian Allen author of Fifth Down 

What’s your background? How long have you been writing? And what made you choose and/or transition into screenwriting?
I didn’t choose writing, writing chose me. I’m just kidding — and if you don’t include that clarification it’s libel.

What screenwriting training have you received? And what were some of your biggest breakthroughs?
I was a screenwriting fellow at AFI.

It’s expensive AF but I look at it like this: If I owe somebody a hundred bucks, that’s my problem. If I owe them a million, that’s their problem because I’m never paying that back. Money becomes a silly abstraction. When I get calls from places, I genuinely agree with them, “I agree with you, genuinely — just like you, I also would love to be able to pay you... but here we are.”

That was one breakthrough.

What else have you written?

I’ve written a lot of stuff. I mean like volume, and that’s not necessarily ideal. Much of it was so scattered between computer files and bins of paper that it was virtually useless. So I organized and catalogued everything. It was cool to see all this work I’d done beyond just my features: treatments, outlines, story sketches, even drafts that were further along than I remembered.

But again this probably isn’t good. It means I’m not focusing — or it could mean I just suck at writing and keep pushing out trash. Either way, my New Year’s resolution was to not begin any new projects and to pitch and sell what I already have.

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

5TH DOWN — (HALF-HOUR) COMEDY PILOT

Vince is a former high school football star and current fuck-up. After his 5th DUI, he’s forced by the court to go back to his small Vermont hometown where he must be the JV football coach.

This football obsessed town isn’t just hell for him, the whole place is LITERALLY a parody of sports movies. So he’s got to navigate all our favorite sports tropes: crooked boosters and angry townies; a sensitive kid with a cute single mom; a scrappy kid who works in a steel mill somehow; old man characters who do things like sharpen skates a lot; kids who learn they can escape the ghetto and cycles of violence with discipline and cone drills...

So maybe like: Vince wants to get baked and drink those 2-pack tallboys of Icehouse that are on sale again — but he gets Friday Night Light-ed when his star QB is paralyzed again. Can he tame the bad boy backup QB in time? He better because only winning will keep him out of jail.

Where do you look for inspiration and what inspired you to write this script?
Growing up I always thought doing sports in Vermont was like being trapped in a movie parody.

So one night I was home from AFI for Christmas and ended up at a bar in Winooski, the type of small town no one goes to on purpose. Suddenly, this big drunk guy came at me, super pissed about some blindside hit from JV football in the early 2000’s, all like, “You might have been big then, but” (pointed to self) “Who’s full of Jaeger and Coors, now?” Then he attacked.

I was on the bar floor when I got the idea for the show. See, this man was a townie. Dictionary definition? “Someone who gets angry at JV football games but doesn’t have a kid on the team.”

I guess I write about fuck-ups a lot. I’m not one. But I have spent enough time there to know what I’m saying.

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 outline so that I can prioritize and have room to play.

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 left your competition with a manager from Management 360. I’m sort of tempted to use a lot of extra space here explaining why that’s so amazing, otherwise my townie talk could dwarf a more important point.

But it’s simple: This result is about the best any contest could possibly offer.

Even though you guys reached out personally and we talked after the contest, I was so busy with new work that I never really got the details of how it all went down. I found out later on that you had actively shopped my pilot around to agents and managers open to signing new talent until you found interest. That is not common or expected from a festival.

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

THE 12 STEPS OF CHRISTMAS — (R-RATED) COMEDY FEATURE

When a rebellious kid is denied his dream Christmas present by his mom he goes to his estranged alcoholic father (who lies about being sober) with an idea: adapt the 12 Step program to teach me how to not be you.

The father and son are both me. Jake is the angry 11-year-old I was and Carl is the drunk fuck- up I almost became. Jake is consumed by this principled indignation based on what he thinks is fair. Carl needs to arrive somewhere better himself before he can teach Jake. And his only chance of that is with Jake’s help.

You have two of the most oblivious guys trying to figure out compassion. Carl’s a total mess of a person, and each of his adapted Steps results in more and more chaos and the destruction of property, trust, and reputations: all in the name of Christmas.

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

Finish the thing.

(Other small tip: If at the end of a long writing session you’re blackout drunk on discount gin again, draw little smiley faces on your knees with a permanent marker. The next morning you’ll be so hungover you can barely make it to the bathroom, and you will want to quit life and quit writing altogether. That’s when you sit on the toilet and see the little faces. You don’t remember drawing them at all. Maybe you gave one a hat or even a saucy mustache. You’ll smile and remember why it’s all worthwhile.)

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?

I hope one of my biggest victories is a developing one. I’ve been getting super exciting responses to this 12 Steps of Christmas feature. It’s so close! I’ll be able to get it out there in just a few weeks.

...although who knows what that even looks like anymore with the apocalypse on. Maybe I’ll just head to Toronto. I hear they like me there.

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