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Notification: August 15
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Scriptapalooza interviews writer Steve Oppenheimer, whose script The Patriot Act finished 2nd in the 2006 Scriptapalooza competition.
Scriptapalooza: How did you come up with your story idea?
One aspect of it was simply that I've written a number of screenplays before, mostly smaller, "artsie" things, and while I still feel the scripts and the stories had real merit, the fact is that such screenplays are harder to sell, especially for people trying to break into the business. This time I was determined to come up with something more commercial, to see if I could finally make a sale -- or for starters, at least do well in some of the screenplay competitions. So, just coming up with something that was high concept was important to me, and certainly something that involves life-and-death issues at the level of the Presidency Of The United States is pretty big.
Scriptapalooza: How long did it take you to write it?
That's actually kind of an interesting question. I started writing the script back in December of 2004 and I had a first draft finished around February of 2006. So, you might think it took over a year to write. But in December of 2004 I wrote an opening which took about one weekend to write. But that was just ten pages or so, and then I was just stuck in terms of certain issues of how to further develop the story.
Around December of 2005, for whatever reasons, the solution pops into my head, and I suddenly had a strategy for how to pursue the story that I wanted to tell. So the real writing time was probably about three months for the first draft, from December of 2005 through February of 2006. I remember that during that year when I was not working on The Patriot Act, I actually wrote an entirely separate project, a stage play for which I'm also seeking production. Anyway, once I had that first draft of The Patriot Act in place, pretty much all the major story elements were there. Of course there was significant polishing to be done, so the version that I sent to Scriptapalooza was probably polished by early April of 2006.
Scriptapalooza: Is this your first script that you have written?
No, I've done three other screenplays, and two stage plays as well. So including The Patriot Act, that would be a total of six completed scripts. I have a couple of other scripts in the works at the moment.
Scriptapalooza: Have you entered other screenwriting competitions?
Yes, I've entered The Patriot Act into other screenwriting competitions, and I'm still waiting to hear from some of them. I've also entered other scripts in the past into a variety of screenplay competitions.
Scriptapalooza: Have you been successful?
One script, The Diamond Drug, is a quasi-sci-fi/fantasy script, which involves some intrigue within a pharmaceutical company. For two years in a row, 2003 and 2004, the script made it to the second round of the Heart Of Film Screenplay Competition sponsored by the Austin Film Festival.
Scriptapalooza: Why did you enter Scriptapalooza?
As you know, there's a ton of screenplay competitions out there, at least several dozen as far as I can tell. Basically I hunted around on the Web, asking for advice in newsgroups, and checking some of the screenplay magazines to see which of the competitions came as being reasonably well recommended. Scriptapalooza was one of maybe eight or ten screenplay competitions where people suggested that doing well in the competition would actually draw attention in Hollywood. So, it was one of the competitions I applied to.
Scriptapalooza: Advice to other screenwriters?
Well, the practical side is, don't quit the day job. You have to be in this for the long haul, and it can take time. Maybe it's easier to break in if you live in Hollywood, but being on the East Coast, it seems to me the major way to break in is precisely through these competitions, and clearly the odds are not great. On the other hand, if you persist and improve your craft, you can get a break, so it's worth sticking with it. And, if you love doing it, then you might as well keep writing just for the pleasure of it, and as long as you get the scripts written, you might as well send them to competitions like Scriptapalooza. Other than paying a few dollars for the entry fees, there is really no down side, and of course if you win that's great.
I guess I would have to add, based on personal experience, that other screenwriters trying to break in should think in commercial terms. I mean, some of those other scripts I mentioned before -- those small, "artsie" things -- some of them I am really quite proud of, I believe strongly in the stories, the characters, the themes, they have dialog that I'm in love with, and I hope to see them produced someday. But the fact is, my artsie scripts mostly open kind of slow, and while the stakes involved are very important to the characters involved in the stories, they are still rather small in the grand scheme of things -- and those scripts generally did not do well in the competitions in the past.
Scriptapalooza: How did you feel when you saw your name as one of the winners?
I have to admit I was pretty shocked. On the one hand, I had a lot of confidence in The Patriot Act as a story with great characters and plot twists, some imaginative visuals, strong dialog, a compelling message, all that. I'm just very passionate about what I've done.
On the other hand, going into this, you have to be realistic. There are thousands of submissions, and I'm sure there were many outstanding scripts there, and I have no doubt the judges had a difficult time deciding which ones to really place where, especially in the final rounds. So, when you finally look at the web site and you see your name out there in second place, it's a real thrill because obviously the script stood out from among some other scripts that must've been pretty darn good as well. I just stared at the web site for a few minutes, I really was slightly shaken, in a good way, of course.
Now the next thing I hope you will be asking me, within a year or so, is how it feels when you actually sell your first movie script. I will be so pleased to get back to you on that one!
An interview with Mark Andrushko regarding the Scriptapalooza Writing Competition.
An interview with screenwriter Teddy Adams regarding the Scriptapalooza Writing Competition.
An interview with screenwriter Mike B Jones regarding the Scriptapalooza Writing Competition.
An interview with screenwriter Brien Kelly regarding the Scriptapalooza Writing Competition.
An interview with screenwriter Heather Regnier regarding the Scriptapalooza Writing Competition.
An interview with screenwriter Matt Billingsly regarding the Scriptapalooza Writing Competition.
An interview with screenwriter Paul Chepikian regarding the Scriptapalooza Writing Competition.
An interview with screenwriter Brian Price regarding the Scriptapalooza Writing Competition.
An interview with screenwriter Patrick Andrew O'Connor regarding the Scriptapalooza Writing Competition.
An interview with screenwriter Sean McElhiney regarding the Scriptapalooza Writing Competition.