Often, films and television shows are praised for their directing style, actor performances, cinematography or special effects. Yet, many individuals often overlook the fundamental foundation that makes a film or TV show possible: screenwriting. Without a script, these other elements would not be possible. From “Good Will Hunting” to “Juno,” screenwriting has been a key aspect that has defined a performance or produced those memorable lines that you can’t help but say at the opportune moment.
In an effort to bring screenwriting to the forefront, UC Irvine is hosting its 17th annual Screenwriting Festival this week. Started in 1992 by Marie Cartier, a film and media studies lecturer specializing in screenwriting, the Screenwriting Festival has given students in the film and media studies screenwriting course series a chance to show their work to an audience.
The inspiration behind the creation of the film festival was Cartier’s desire to give writers in the Film and Media Studies 117 screenwriting series an opportunity to hear actors say their words from their scripts while also preparing them for instances when they have to pitch their scripts, something she did as a teaching assistant at UCLA.
“The first thing that will happen if a writer tries to sell his script is that actors will sit around and do a table reading to see how it sounds with real people saying their words,” Cartier said.
This year’s festival coordinators, Amanda Hamilton and Christina Diep, who are both fourth-year film and media studies majors, have been ardently working to increase the profile of the festival, which features a Pitch Fest and Poster Creativity Challenge.
The Pitch Fest is meant to provide an opportunity for screenwriting students to practice pitching their screenplays by giving them 60 to 90 seconds to pitch their ideas to industry professionals including a judge from the reputable Samuel Goldwyn Foundation, which hosts an annual awards contest for UC students where the first place winner receives $15,000. With regards to the UCI Screenwriting Festival, the screenplays are judged by the audience on five criteria: character, dialogue, story, structure and entertainment. The winner of the festival gets the synopsis of their screenplay sent out to thousands of agents through the major screenwriting publication InkTip.
Meanwhile, the Poster Creativity Challenge is an art competition to create the best movie poster, a new addition to this year’s festival instituted by Hamilton and Diep, who are also working as script doctors to help students with their screenplays, which is a critical and concrete part of the festival.
As a testament to some of the talent that has come out of the festival, with the title pages of winning scripts catalogued on a wall in the film and media studies department office, there have been several UCI students from the screenwriting course series who have gone on to achieve critical acclaim and recognition. This includes Grant Nieporte, who wrote the script for the recently released “Seven Pounds” featuring Will Smith, as well as Fabian Marquez, the writer of MTV Films’ “Better Luck Tomorrow.”
With the switch from a two-day to a three-day festival this year, Diep says they are trying to bring more diversity to the festival. “We are doing eight screenplays total. Two of them are features, so they can be a full two or three hours and then six of them are short selection scripts, which are 30 to 60 minutes,” Diep said.
In addition to this, Hamilton and Diep stress the importance of bringing talented screenwriters and professionals from the film industry to judge student work and offer advice. But the main intent, they say, is to create visibility for the student screenwriters by getting their work out there for others to hear, while allowing them to judge their own work through staged readings of their screenplays by outside actors.
“I think this is a unique experience as well. This is a way to see if your words carry through without the action supporting,” Hamilton said.
This is a major point that Cartier emphasizes as well as she said, “When a writer is showcased, they can’t do anything other than sit in their seats and listen.”
Cartier also noted how “the audience has become a lot more saavy about the questions” over the history of the festival, asking more complex questions that help the writers in critiquing their own work.
“Once you get in the room, it’s exciting to talk to the writers and help them make a better script. That’s a really exciting part of the festival,” Cartier said.
This excitement is an aspect of the festival that Hamilton and Diep hope will encourage student screenwriters to continue with their work and remain steadfast with their writing once they get feedback and have their worked presented before a panel of judges from the film industry.
“We worked really hard this year to try and make it as good as possible by inviting guest speakers and trying to get more from donations while including prizes. The more people who hear the work from the screenwriters, the better. The only ones who have heard their screenplays thus far are the people in their class and their friends. It’s good to get strangers to have an opinion of [their work] too,” Hamilton said.
The festival runs from this Thursday to Saturday in Humanities Hall 178 and is free for everyone. Visit www.uciswf.com for more information.