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Rodney Johnson, a past Scriptapalooza semifinalist, speaks about his experience...
What have you been up to since Scriptapalooza?
It's been almost four years since my script The Understudies made the Semifinals. Since then, I've completed an additional four screenplays and a couple TV pilots. One of the features, a supernatural thriller, has been optioned and has garnered the serious interest of a couple well-known producers in that genre.
I've also taken a lot of meetings with some of the biggest production companies, producers and studios in Hollywood. Which is dazzling. And humbling. I learned quickly that the best thing you can do as a newbie screenwriter is to cultivate those relationships, even if they start out as just a 10-minute meet-and-greet.
And, I've started my own production company, Guest House Films, with my partner, writer/director Rob Williams. As I give this interview, we leave tomorrow to shoot our third feature film. The first two have received distribution – and a few awards – so that's pretty cool. But, my top priority is (and always will be) screenwriting.
How did Scriptapalooza help you?
Scriptapalooza was the first competition I ever entered – I figured, why not just go for it and submit to the biggest and best right off the bat? And it worked. One of the readers/judges was Creative Convergence. When they read my script, they contacted me – and signed me on our first meeting. I was amazed. Phillipa Burgess knows her stuff when it comes to the business of Hollywood, so I knew I would be in good hands.
Since then, I've been working closely with Brad Kushner, my lit manager. He's become family to me – like that big brother who watches your back, but still pushes you to get the job done.
If it hadn't been for Scriptapalooza, I don't think I would have had such immediate access to quality representation – and therefore, access to buyers. In fact, submitting to Scriptapalooza set in motion the chain of events that led my first script sale, the project Queen Sized.
Tell us a little about the movie?
Queen Sized is the true story of an overweight high-school girl who gets put on the Homecoming Queen ballot as a cruel joke by the mean girls in school. She decides to take it seriously and ends up becoming something of a national hero.
The script went out to buyers and garnered a lot of interest, but it was Lifetime who got serious with the checkbook. They picked it up put it into development. When I found out that they cast Nikki Blonsky – the star of the hit movie Hairspray – I knew that this was so gonna rock.
When is it airing?
Queen Sized airs on the Lifetime Television network January 5, 2008.
Advice to other writers?
I know that a lot of successful writers live by the credo of "just keep writing." I would like to add to that and tell other screenwriters to do something they often forget: watch a movie once in a while. I think a lot of people might be surprised at how many newbie screenwriters really don't take the time to watch many movies. They get so caught up in the act of writing that they forget to actually check out some finished product. If you're writing a romantic comedy, go to the movies and see the latest one. This goes for all genres; horror, thriller, female-driven TV dramas set in hospitals… if you're not watching, how will you know the rules? Or know what's selling?
You can also find out quickly who the hottest actors are, like who had the best opening weekend or won the night's time slot. Writing with a specific actor in mind really helped me find a certain character's voice, for instance. I know it helped me on that supernatural thriller when I chose an A-list actress to keep in mind when I wrote the lead character.
One final bit of advice is to do what you can to find good representation, so you can get those meetings and, better yet, get your scripts read by the people who buy them. Submitting a script to an outfit like Scriptapalooza is by far the best way to get read by some impressive industry folks when you wouldn't otherwise have that opportunity.
Other than that, just, er, keep writing.
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