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Notification: August 15, 2014
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Script: THE CONSPIRACY
How did you come up with your story idea?
Real life. The Conspiracy is a political drama, and I’ve had the self-made opportunities to live for extended periods of time in places where politics is part of the everyday human drama: Eastern Europe just before and after the end of the Cold War, the Middle East, parts of Asia. I was in a room once where, within two years, half the people arrested the other half – and four years later half the arrestees were in power – and fighting each other.
Then the beauty of American politics circa 1998-2002 came along and I began to feel that something was rotten in the state of Denmark, D.C. – so I wrote The Conspiracy to see how things would develop if a couple of decent people were plopped in the middle of realpolitik as I knew it played out in real life.
How long did it take you to write it?
The Conspiracy was pretty easy to write – about a month in all from story outline to finished first draft. I’d just come off a script that took two years to work out, a fact-based historical story with no relation to the themes in The Conspiracy, and I think that probably the new story was germinating in my mind for a while. I like that kind of writing – its fun, like having a 6-8 hour “virtual reality” adventure for weeks in a row. Of course the revisions and proofing are a drag, but that’s life.
Is this your first script that you have written?
No. I’ve adapted my two published novels into screenplays that were produced (one with a partner, Last Mountain, because I was also directing and needed an “outside eye”). I wrote a dramatic short recently, a 1940s crime noir called The First Person that was just shot starring Ed Begley, Jr. I’ve also done a lot of theater as both playwright and as dramaturg helping to shape other’s plays, plus a lot of uncredited screenplay revisions on indie productions (some good, some embarrassing, with the latter usually the paying gigs, of course). To make ends meet, I’ve written a lot of industrials on exciting topics like fish farming. My artistic “breakthrough” was for a hospital’s patient-orientation video in the Middle East where the head nurse, an Irish lass, said “Give me something like that Frenchy movie Last Year in Marienbad.” Well, since fate had cast one of Jean-Luc Godard’s editors in the same piece of desert with me, we just went for it and created perhaps the most abstract, beautiful and (oddly enough) effective little media pieces ever seen in that part of the world.
Have you entered other screenwriting competitions?
Why did you enter Scriptapalooza?
A very good writer I know, Rebecca Smith, had just made the semi-finals on the Nichols Scholarship with one of her scripts last year, and she felt that the feedback she received from a professional competition was very helpful. Rebecca advised me that Scriptapalooza had one of the best reputations for integrity, so… here I am. ‘Can’t complain.
Advice to other screenwriters?
Like what you’re writing.
I’ve wasted a lot of time writing other people’s ideas that maybe paid, but went nowhere and sometimes embarrassed me in the process. That’s why I always go back to theater and started writing books: to keep my craft focused. Now, with this push from Scriptapalooza, I’m hoping to have others pick up on my ideas from the get-go, then build from there. (By the way, some of the other people’s ideas I worked on were pretty good, too – and they turned out well – just be a little more picky than I was about some of the less pleasant ideas, since you will be stuck working on them for a while.)
Also: Work out ideas on your feet.
Every script I write is given a reading by actors whose work I trust, so I know that the dialogue plays, and that the dramatic situation can be resolved by the characters, not imposed by the plot.
How did you feel when you saw your name as one of the winners?
About a week before the Finalists were announced, I saw a one-man performance by Andre Seweryn, a well-respected Polish actor who’s worked with Peter Brook, Oscar-winner Andre Wajda and the Comedie Francaise. In a Q&A session afterwards, Andre was asked what he looked forward to next. He answered: “I like awards these days. I like receiving awards. It’s a very good feeling. Very.” I think I agree with Andre. Very.
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An interview with screenwriter Sean McElhiney regarding the Scriptapalooza Writing Competition.