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Notification: August 15
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Scriptapalooza: How did you come up with your story idea?
It was over Thanksgiving dinner, 1994. Aside from the usual family discussions, we got talking about politics. That wasn't unusual since my Dad is a former history teacher. He and I have always enjoyed debating issues, etc. For some reason we got talking about close elections and I posed the question, "Could there ever be a tie?" As far as the electoral college was concerned, "yes" he said. As far as some sort of popular vote tie, he said the odds were incalculable. Then I asked, "well what if there were an electoral tie that was to be decided by one state that had a popular vote tie?" My Dad thought about it and then laughed saying the odds were just as great, even in one state. But the idea stayed with me. About a month later, I called the Monroe County, N.Y. election board and asked them if there were any way a vote might not be counted. After some time discussing implausible scenarios, the election clerk said, "well we have had damaged absentee ballots that haven't been able to go through the machines." She explained that our local absentee ballot procedure required a person to punch-hole a ballot and stick it in an envelope which would then be time-stamped and marked with that person's name. In the process of counting, the names would be checked against a list of ballots received and then the envelopes would be put into a machine that would separate the envelope from the ballot which would then be mechanically tabulated. In a lopsided election, one damaged vote probably wouldn't matter much she said. But in the scenario I suggested, where it would decide the fate of the nation, they would make every effort to find out who the voter was so that they could recast their ballot. In my scenario, the only discernible information after the ballot was damaged was the name and address of the absentee voter...the swing voter. SWING VOTE was born. Imagine my shock when election 2000 nearly turned out as I had suggested five years earlier!
Scriptapalooza: How long did it take you to write it?
Six months. I was laid off from my job as an advertising copywriter in December of 1994, just before Christmas. I was pretty bummed and made a knee-jerk call to Cary Schuman, an American I met in England who just happened to have been an extra on the TV series Happy Days for its entire run. I had been working with him on behalf of one of our clients, Citibank, who asked us to do a story on him for one of their financial magazines. He had developed a golf club made out of the metals from destroyed US and Soviet nuclear missile casings (strange, but true!). Since he had first-hand experience with Hollywood, I thought he might be able to help me out with some advice and perhaps give me a little inspiration. I bounced my idea off him and he thought it could work. I didn't start writing until February and finished in July. I still remember calling my then-girlfriend (now wife) Jan and telling her I had finished. I soon realized, however, I really hadn't. I went through several rewrites at the suggestion of my father, brother and cousin. They all told me it was way too long and too slow at the beginning. Being my first (and still only) screenplay, I fought the idea of having to do it all over again. But I'm glad I did. I quickly learned a few lessons in editing, discipline and perseverance. To this day I believe I lost my job only to find what I believe will someday be my new career.
Scriptapalooza: Is this your first script that you have written?
Yes. As I said earlier, my job is as an advertising copywriter. Normally, I write all day and have nothing left at night. And now, with the addition of my son, there is little if any time to do much else but chase the little guy around! Thank God I took advantage of the time I had when I was let go from my job. When it happened, I didn't really begin looking for a new one. Something kept bugging me to write the screenplay. I got a lot of heat from a lot of people who felt I wasn't being very responsible spending my time writing a screenplay. I'm glad I didn't listen to them. At least in that instance!
Scriptapalooza: Have you entered other screenwriting competitions? If so, have you been successful?
Yes. Austin Heart of Film twice... no luck. Nicholls Fellowship twice...one glimmer of hope-- a handwritten note from the director stating that though I didn't make the quarterfinals (280 screenplays), I did land in the top 10% of all scripts which meant I was in the top 400 or so out of about 4500 scripts.
Scriptapalooza: Why did you enter Scriptapalooza?
It was really on a whim. A woman with whom my wife worked cut out a snippet of an article from the USA TODAY Weekend magazine which had just a blurb on Scriptapalooza. She left it on my wife's chair with a little post-it note that read, "Jan, for your and Mike's FYI!" I still have the little note and clipping, complete with her hand-drawn smiley face. I e-mailed Amy the other night to thank her for thinking of me and giving Jan the note.
Scriptapalooza: Advice to other screenwriters?
Persevere. It's been almost seven years since I wrote SWING VOTE. And since I don't get much time to write after work, I sort of turned the idea of getting SWING VOTE sold into a hobby. I keep at it. Don't take all criticism too seriously because writing and creativity in general is so subjective.
Do the legwork to find people or organizations that will accept unsolicited material. Don't be afraid to send your ideas out into the world. No one will ever know about them otherwise.
Act on seemingly unimportant contacts or innocent little proddings from friends and family. Check them all out because you never know what might happen. One little clipping from a friend helped me earn second place out of 2300 entries.
Also, make contacts any way you can. My sister works for a big West coast airline and sees a lot of Hollywood types coming through Portland, Oregon. She told me to send her a half-dozen scripts and she would try to get them into the hands of these producers. (I've dubbed her my "guardian agent.") One gentleman, the president of the company that produced Jim Carrey's the Mask, read my script and called me within a month, very interested. However, I've learned this business is not one to act quickly. Other things get hot and priorities change. He still loves my script, but just isn't in a position to do anything at this time.
One very important thing: do NOT send out your script until it's absolutely READY! Put it (and yourself) through the ringer first until it's as good as you can get it. I made the mistake of sending my script out at 160 pages to the production company of the very actor I wanted to star in my film. I sent my synopsis on a Friday and they called me for the script on a Monday. I sent them the very rough draft and was told three months later it was "a pass." Lesson learned.
A great thing to remember is a saying I saw on a bumper sticker: "The 'overnight success' took 15 years."
Scriptapalooza: Are you excited to use your new software from Screenplay Systems?
I'm looking forward to the upgrade. I've been working on Screenplay Systems old Mac software, Scriptor.
Scriptapalooza: How did you feel when you saw your name as one of the winners?
It felt like a prayer had been answered. My wife screamed from upstairs. I thought she was doing the bills but she had been surfing your site and discovered I had placed second. I kinda' started yelling and running around like a kid who had eaten his whole bag of Halloween candy in one sitting! Remember the Mike Myers character on Saturday Night Live who was hypoglycemic and chained to his swing set?!
Scriptapalooza: What are you going to do with your cash prize?
It's hard to say. It's not often you get three-grand for sending in a 121-page stack of paper. Then, when you get the money, so many ideas pop into your head. Most of them selfish. I hope I put it to good use-- for family or career.
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.