I’d like to express my thanks to Breanne Mattson, Glenn Forbes, and Shawn Davis for sharing their script competition experiences. Now, without further ado…

Q: When did you start writing screenplays?

BREANNE: I wrote my first one almost ten years ago. It was terrible and I didn’t write another one for years. Six or seven years ago was really the beginning for me.

GLENN: I got serious about it in 2000.

SHAWN: Two years ago [in 2010].

Q: Approximately how many screenplays have you written?

BREANNE: I’m a very prolific writer. I’ve written around twenty features and probably more than twenty shorts. I guess some people would take that as a sign I should have succeeded by now, but seriously, I’m just prolific. I have a lot to say.

GLENN: I’ve written nine features. Not enough. I should have written at least twenty in that time. I run a small production company, and also had three kids in the last decade. I don’t get as much time for writing as I used to.

SHAWN: Fifteen.

Q: Which screenwriting competitions(s) have you entered?

BREANNE: The Nicholl Fellowships, TrackingB, Bluecat, Final Draft, Big Break. I really only recently started entering contests. I entered a few others early on, but quit bothering for years. Ordinarily, I just do my own thing.

GLENN: Between 2002 (my first year of actively pursuing a career) and 2011 I’ve entered various screenplays in almost all the major screenwriting contests. This includes: Austin, PAGE, The Nicholl Fellowships, Bluecat, Scriptapalooza, TrackingB, Final Draft, and a whole bunch of the smaller competitions as well. In the early days I used to enter between five and ten contests per year. So I guess I’ve probably entered nearly one hundred competitions.

SHAWN: I’ve entered my scripts in the PAGE Awards and the KAIROS Prize competition.

Q: How many screenplays had you written prior to entering your first competition?

BREANNE: I’m not sure. I can’t remember the first competition I entered. I quickly realized it was too early and stopped. If I had to guess, I’d say two or three.

GLENN: I began entering feature screenplay competitions after finishing my third screenplay in 2002. But I entered a short script in several short script competitions the previous year and had won a few awards for it. So, it was then I though I'd up my game and see how well I would compete at the feature level.

SHAWN: Just one. It was a terrible script, but I did learn a lot from it.

Q: If you sent one of your first script attempts to a competition, is it something you regret?

BREANNE: Yes. It was a waste of everyone’s time. Not just mine, but the readers. I wasn’t ready and I was too na├»ve to know it.

GLENN: I never sent my first script out to competitions. And I'm very glad I didn't.

SHAWN: I think there is always something you regret after hitting the “send” button. My first competition, I sent the wrong draft but they were kind enough to allow me to resend the copy I intended on sending.

Q: Did you receive any type of feedback on the script(s) you entered?

GLENN: Some contests came with feedback. For the most part, the feedback was simple and not very helpful.

SHAWN: No, but the contest I entered only offered feedback if I paid an additional fee.

Q: Did the competition(s) try to hit you up for any pay-based services, such as script consulting, proofing, representation, etc.?

BREANNE: I only remember one that offered feedback with a special rate. Other than that one instance, I’ve never paid for anything other than the entry fee. And I wouldn’t say they hit me up. It was just something they offered at a time I wanted some feedback.

GLENN: Some of them charge extra money to provide feedback. It’s an option when you enter. But I wouldn’t say I was ever “hit up” to purchase a service.

SHAWN: PAGE Awards does, but The KAIROS Prize did not.

Q: If yes to my previous question, did you take advantage of any of these services? Or do you feel like you were the one being taken advantage of?

BREANNE: I paid extra for feedback that one time. It was cheap and I thought it was pretty good, actually.

GLENN: One time I requested feedback from a screenplay competition that was held concurrently with a major film festival. The reader hated the script. He vilified it and me. That same script, with not one word changed, won the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition. From that point on, I was pretty well soured to getting any decent feedback through a festival. Not that they’re all bad…but some of them have readers who are not qualified to give insightful feedback. I’d rather pay a little money to a professional with credentials, to get proper feedback.

Q: If you won, or even placed high in a competition, did it have any positive effect on your budding career?

BREANNE: Well, I’ve never landed a rep or sold a script. If that’s the bar, then no. It led to people contacting me about my work. Mostly, it was validating.

GLENN: Winning at Austin nudged me in the right direction and opened many doors. It got me lots of meetings and an open door policy with a few of the majors.

SHAWN: I placed in the top 10% in the KAIROS Prize, which was a great shot to my writing arm. I wrote that script specifically for that competition. I’ve quarter-finaled in The PAGE Awards both times I entered. So far as getting a bump in my career, I can’t say I have, but it gives me a feeling that if I continue to improve and work hard, I should see myself work further up the winnings ladder and possibly into a top slot where your script is truly at a level for producers to want to look at.

Q: Whether or not you won, what are some of the positive aspects of the competition(s) you entered?

BREANNE: If you don’t place in some way, I’m not sure there are any. I mean, it’s exciting to anticipate the possibilities. You enter because you think you’ve got something. You can imagine winning, getting attention, selling a script, getting a movie made. Success! But that’s all really just in the writer’s mind. It’s fun to think of where it could all lead. I’ve been fortunate enough to place in some big ones. If you place, it’s validating. It gives you something else to promote yourself with. And it may help make some new contacts. If you don’t place, the only positive thing I can see about it is whatever you may have learned from the experience.

GLENN: The prizes are always great…but the real value is having your work validated against your peers. If you know how well you fare against other budding screenwriters you get a better feel for how much harder you have to work, to break in as a working screenwriter.

SHAWN: It first of all, gives you something to look forward to. You know, the first round cuts? It’s exciting to see your name on the list of writers moving to the next tier. It also gives you a deadline for the completion of a script. When I write a script for a contest, I know in the back of my mind there is a time limit. Being able to write a script based on the parameters of the contest, along with the challenge of pushing yourself to write something from scratch, for a specific genre. It’s very satisfying.

Q: What do you feel are the negative aspects, if any, of entering a competition?

BREANNE: They cost money. That’s probably the worst thing. That’s why I stick to major competitions like Nicholl. They charge less and offer more. You could say competitions give false hope or whatever, but I really think that’s up to the individual. I don’t have any illusions. For me, it’s a matter of seeing if my writing stands out. If there’s some way I can use the distinction to further my career, I will. I look for competitions I think may help me make contacts. I don’t need new software. Those kinds of prizes don’t attract me. If you don’t place, then it was really just a game. It might have been fun, but it didn’t really serve your aspirations.

GLENN: The unreliability of them to judge your script on an equal playing field. You can win one major competition and not even advance at all in another major competition. The script doesn’t change, just the readers. So, not all readers respond to the same material. The crapshoot aspect is the worst part of entering contests.

SHAWN: Separating a good one from a bad one. There are hundreds of competitions out there now and many are not worth a dime, much less an entry fee. I think that’s why the really good ones are separating from the pack and bringing in record numbers of entrants.

Q: Based on your experiences, would you recommend screenwriting competitions as a way for budding screenwriters to further their career?

BREANNE: I don’t know how much they improve your chances of scoring a sale, but I think they could help. For me, placing in a respectable competition is just a way to show that someone read my work and thought it was good. If you’re looking at two writers and the only difference you see is that one has placed in the Nicholl Fellowships, I’m inclined to think that one will be taken more seriously. But then, I think it depends on more factors than that. A great writer doesn’t always write a great script. Or a commercial one. A novice may lack execution, but may have an amazing idea. Generally, I think it helps to stand out in any way you can.

GLENN: They are one avenue to building a career. For a very select few, a win might jumpstart a career. For most people, winning or placing highly is simply something you can mention in your query letter that elevates you from the next writer. Competitions, networking, querying, working in the business, etc….most people need to do all of them simultaneously, to nudge their career forward. And I do mean nudge. Very few people skyrocket to success on one script, or one contest win. It’s the cumulative effect of working every possible angle to get your name out there, while constantly writing better and better material.

SHAWN: Yes! But you need to be a bit thick-skinned about rejection and realize there are many really good writers out there intent on winning that money.

Q: What is the largest prize—monetary or otherwise—you've ever won from one of these competitions?

BREANNE: I’ve never won any prize.

GLENN: At Austin, I won $5000 and a killer bronze typewriter trophy. The CFC gave me about $14,000 in donated services, to get the movie made. Which we did.

SHAWN: None, to date.

Q: What other types of prizes (non-monetary) have you won from these competitions?

BREANNE: Nothing other than the distinction of placing, which I like. I find it somewhat valuable. It does attract some people to my work who might otherwise have overlooked me.

GLENN: Things like free listings on Inktip, or Sell-a-Script. Free Final Draft Software. Magazine subscriptions.

SHAWN: None, to date

Q: Other than any material rewards, what have been the most satisfying aspects of winning a screenwriting competition?

BREANNE: The best thing I’ve ever gotten through a contest is contacts, which I actually consider more valuable than any prize. And I learned a lot, as a result. Maybe I’m crazy, but I really do just want to be a great writer.

GLENN: Walking around Austin carrying a twenty-pound Bronze Typewriter trophy and having execs from places like CAA, Gersh, and Ivan Reitman’s company run over to talk to me was pretty cool. Really, getting calls after the festival is awesome. When someone recognizes that you won and they want to talk to you, they want you to come out to LA and meet you to talk about what’s next…that’s the best feeling.

Q: Overall, do you feel it’s worth the time, effort and money to enter a screenwriting competition?

BREANNE: I think it can really help if you win or place highly in a major one like Nicholl. It certainly isn’t something you should depend on. The statistics make it clear that most writers will fail, whether they enter a competition, or not. I really can’t say it was worth it, unless it leads to a movie.

GLENN: Yes. But really only the top few…which I consider to be The Nicholl Fellowships, Austin, PAGE, and TrackingB. The career goal should be to become a working screenwriter that sees their movie made…not a contest junkie who is just out to pad their resume, or their query letter. Usually only the top contests help to nudge your career forward in any meaningful way. There are always exceptions…but you should always strive to measure yourself against the best. And those competitions are the best, attracting the best writers.

SHAWN: I do feel it is worth the time, effort and money. Contests offer a unique opportunity for a writer to be thrown in with other writers and (in most cases) during the process, the cream rises to the top. If you do final, or even win, then you know that your work blindly beat out other writers, due to the anonymity of the judging and with the removal of the writers name from the script. For the most part, the best script wins based on its merits. And if you don't place, it's not so much a letdown, because you know many others went down with you.

Q: OK, let’s say you’ve just won one of the big screenwriting competitions. What can a writer expect to happen?

BREANNE: Well, I haven’t won a big one so I don’t know. I can tell you what I would do, though. I would focus on the contacts. I would take advantage of any open doors while they were open.

GLENN: I can only speak about what happened to me. When I won Austin I had a few big name producers, [Directors of Development] and agencies approach me at the awards ceremony. They all wanted to know about my script and requested a copy. I had an extra copy or two with me and was able to hand them over immediately. The others were sent copies as soon as I got back from the festival. I had a few more inquiries by email and phone within the next few weeks as well. I also sent out a ton of queries which generated a lot more reads. About six weeks after the festival, I went to LA and had follow-up meetings with the companies that read the script. And beyond that initial six week blitz….I really felt like I could milk that win for the next six months or so. People were far more willing to talk to me than they ever were before that win.

SHAWN: It depends on the competition. Some only offer cash prizes; others combine money and product such as writing software, while yet other contests will guarantee your script will make its way into a certain group’s hands.

Q: Of the competitions you’ve entered, which do you feel was the most worthwhile?

BREANNE: The Nicholl Fellowships. TrackingB was a good experience, but the Nicholl carries with it the prestige of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Inside and out of the industry, everyone knows about the Academy.

GLENN: Austin…obviously. It opened doors to high level companies and agencies. But by placing highly at both PAGE and Nicholl, I can also say that they generate a lot of script read requests as well.

SHAWN: The KAIRO PRIZE for sure. It’s a contest for spiritually uplifting scripts. It’s also a very difficult genre to write. In an age where the “F” bomb is almost a foregone conclusion in a script, the KAIROS Prize has to be clean, wholesome and uplifting. That type of writing is harder than you think. You place there and you feel like you’ve done something.

Q: True or false (and please explain why): “Entering a no-name competition is a waste of time.”

BREANNE: I hate to call something a waste of time, especially if there’s something valuable to be learned from it, but yeah, I would have to say that’s essentially true. I mean, is placing in a no-name competition going to impress anyone? Probably not. But I also think it’s important to try and stay on the cutting edge. If a no-name contest looks like it might go somewhere in the future, that may be something to consider. I wish I could have entered the Nicholl when there were around two thousand entries, you know.

GLENN: True. Nobody cares about them except you, the writer. But if you can place highly, or win at one of the top competitions…that’s a feather in your cap. It means you are among the best in the minor leagues.

SHAWN: False, they are all no-name contests at first. The cream does rise (or fall) fast though. Word gets around quick, if all you’re doing is working the numbers for profit alone. It’s the contest that posts results on the deadline stated, that responds to emails from entrants, that keeps their website updated, that rises. Many of them don’t and fall by the side quickly.

Q: If you had to enter just one or two screenwriting competitions, which would you enter?

BREANNE: The Nicholl Fellowships and TrackingB.

GLENN: Always enter the Nicholl Fellowships. It’s the most prestigious. I’d follow it up with Austin…especially because the screenwriter’s conference at Austin is amazing. What a great learning and networking experience.

SHAWN: Right now, these are the only two I enterPAGE and KAIROS.

Q: While you were actively submitting screenplays to competitions, were you also querying agents, managers and/or production companies?

BREANNE: I’m not big into querying. I seldom do it. I’m sure it’s hurt me. They say you have to be “good in a room.” I’ve always been a misfit. That’s probably the main reason I haven’t succeeded. I’m reclusive and socially awkward. I used to query more often. I had a script optioned in Hollywood for a year and a half, as a direct result of querying. The script languished in development until the rights reverted back to me. Since that time, I’ve gotten into producing and directing independently. Since I started making my own films, I almost never query. In the last few years, almost all of my correspondences with people in Hollywood have been initiated by them. And that has been the direct result of doing well in the Nicholl Fellowships and TrackingB. I’m a pretty good writer and filmmaker, but terrible “in the room.” If I’m in a crew meeting or a rehearsal, as long as I’m working on how we’re going to make a film, I’m into that. I’m focused. I’m right there. If I have to schmooze, or whatever, I’m out of my element. Besides, the great thing about writing is that you don’t just have your whole life to succeed at it, you’ve got the whole time you’re dead, too.

GLENN: Yes. But as I realized that my script was moving up in the competition, I stopped querying. I was waiting to see how far I would get and then would use that in my query letter, to hopefully generate more reads. And it worked.

SHAWN: No, but that is something I intend to get more involved with this year. The last two years have been more devoted to working on my writing so that someday, I might have something to offer. I have a script or two right now nicely polished and (I think) ready to be seen.

Q: If so, what type of responses were you getting, if any?

GLENN: I find I’m lucky if I get a one in ten response for any script I’ve written, via a cold query. I figure 50% of my queries were probably never opened. Another 25% were probably opened by some intern who was instructed to delete 95% of those. So, when you think about it….One in ten is a fair response rate. But when I began mentioning the Austin win in my query letter, my request rate was much higher. Probably close to 40%.

Q: Do you feel that adding "I won the [whichever script comp you won or placed high in]" to your query letters and/or telephone pitches engendered any additional interest from the agents, managers and/or production companies you queried?

BREANNE: Yes. If the logline had been crap, I guess it wouldn’t have mattered. If you’ve got a compelling logline, I think a contest placement or win will excite people a little more. I think people naturally want to check out a script that’s won a competition. I also think it depends on what people are looking for. If someone wants a contained thriller and your script has an earthquake causing a metropolitan city to crumble into the sea, it probably won’t matter if you won a competition.

GLENN: Absolutely. As long as it’s one of the few competitions that the industry is aware of, and respects.

SHAWN: I don’t think it would hurt. Winning or even placing does show that you may have some talent and that the script which you are pitching has been rated (at least in a competition) as one of the better scripts around.

Q: What is your current status as a screenwriter?

BREANNE: Unsold. Well, I’ve sold some stuff independently, but I haven’t earned enough to disqualify me from the Nicholl Fellowships. I also direct now. Just shorts so far, but I’m planning my first feature.

GLENN: I’ve written nine features. Three of them are under option, currently. I’ve had a couple of assignments…page one rewrites, polishes, etc. All in all, I’ve optioned my Austin winner four times, to different producers who were not able to get it set up. I’m still writing, primarily low-budget thrillers and the occasional comedy. Next up, a low-budget thriller, that I’ll direct myself.

SHAWN: Active! I write seven days a week. Even if I sit at my computer for two hours and punch out one sentence, I force myself to set there until I do.

Q: Any parting comments, thoughts, or words of advice?

BREANNE: I’m hesitant to give advice to other writers, because I don’t want to steer anyone in the wrong direction. Screenwriters have been advised again and again to write regularly and read lots of scripts. I think that’s about the best advice you can get. The best advice I can personally offer is to be yourself. Your uniqueness is the only thing you really have to separate yourself. No matter how much you may hide it in your everyday life, you shouldn’t hold back in your writing. You shouldn’t be afraid to be vulnerable. No one ever achieved greatness by being exactly like everyone else.

GLENN: Contests are a means to an end. Use them to gauge how much harder you have to work to break through to the next level…that of a working screenwriter. The prizes and the glory of winning will always fade over time. Keep your eye on the real prize…working hard, improving your abilities, and writing great material that people will want to turn into a movie.

SHAWN: Although not having won the top prize yet in a competition, placing also has a thrill to it that helps to solidify a script that managed to beat out most in its genre. I do hope someday to take top spot, but what placing tells me is that I’m a good enough writer to be considered, but I also still have a ways to go.

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For more interviews with screenwriters who have entered screenwriting competitions, check out:

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Can a Gay Latino Find Success as a Screenwriter? (Hint: Yes!)

Q & A: Martin Aguilera

Q: When did you start writing screenplays?

A: I've been writing in this format since I was in 8th grade, around 1995 or so. The first script I wrote was a parody of the original Beverly Hills 90210. It was called El Paso 79905—this is where I'm originally from, and my zip code at the time. It amounted to a five minute short, directed by one of my classmates, which was submitted to a competition at a local high school. The short won.

Q: To date, approximately how many screenplays have you written?

A: I've completed nine screenplays to date—four feature scripts and five TV scripts. Two of the features and one of the pilots were co-written.

Q: Do you live in the Los Angeles area?

A: Yes, I've lived in Los Angeles since October 2006, when I began a fellowship through Film Independent's Project: Involve Mentorship Program.

Q: While working to get a screenwriting career off the ground, do you feel it’s important to live in or near the L.A. area? If so, why?

A: I think it's essential to live in Los Angeles. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but those are one in a million. Being out here gives you a sense of how this business moves, and operates; it gives you a sense of who these people are. It also shows commitment. Not to mention—face time. Getting to know, on a personal level, the people who will help you move on up. You may be a brilliant screenwriter in Iowa, or Delaware, or New Jersey—but the truth is that Los Angeles/Hollywood is the center of show business. It's been that for a long, long time and I think it will continue to be so. This is a fast-moving business, and if you're not here, out of sight truly is out of mind.

Q: I understand you’ve just optioned a script; can you give me some details on how this option came to fruition?

A: Getting my first option came about because I met a young media entrepreneur through a mutual friend. I was working as the social media coordinator for my friend Matthew Mishory's film Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean and truly learning as I went along about online marketing and using social media platforms as a means of promotion. So I was introduced, online, as a matter of fact (he is bi-coastal but based in New York) and we developed a friendship, and over time this entrepreneur told me about his interest in producing. He wanted to get a writer to develop an idea he had for a project, and he asked to read some of my things. I sent along a couple of my scripts as samples—including a horror movie I'd co-written with two friends of mine (a writing team). Well, long story short, the producer read it overnight and flipped out for the screenplay. "I couldn't put it down" is music to a writer's ears. He really, truly got the tone and the intention of this story, which had been making the rounds here and there unsuccessfully. It helps when you find that one individual who sees it and believes in it. Sometimes that's really all it takes. So he partnered up with another friend of his, an actor/producer here in Los Angeles, who also responded quite favorably to the writing. The two of them believe this could have the longevity of something like the Saw franchise. I put them in touch with my manager, and my manager contacted my co-writers' agent, and then the negotiating began. And this is how I got my first option off the ground.

Q: Have you ever entered any of the screenwriting competitions? If so, what was the experience like? Do you think it helped your career at all?

A: In 2009 I won the Slamdance Teleplay Competition, third place. It got my name in The Hollywood Reporter for the first time, the trades, and over the internet, but honestly, aside from some congratulations things didn't happen for me because of it. I think this was because at the time I wasn't as well-positioned with contacts, etc., to be able to maximize the win. So nothing came of it for me. What it did do, however, is to align my name with a well-known, well-respected, legitimate Hollywood organization. It looks good on the resume and opens doors, because it lets someone know—this guy's writing was recognized, his writing is of a certain caliber, he's worth reading. It gave me validation with the industry—and that's priceless.

Q: Have you attended any of the myriad how-to screenwriting seminars or workshops? If so, to what degree have they helped—or hindered—you?

A: I haven't attended any writing seminars, but I've been to a workshop or two. I am not a fan. It's important to learn, to be engaged with people who are doing good work out there, to understand what writing for film and television are, it's important to stay current, to know what's out there, to talk to other people about it—but so many people go to those things thinking they're going to get the Holy Grail. There is no secret formula—every writer has his or her own journey. Every writer arrives at storytelling in their own way. When I was in college I dropped out of the only screenwriting class I ever took because I did not agree with the ideas the instructor was putting out there about writing. He had a very jaded, cynical take on it. There's enough of that out there in the world—why would I want to shower that on one of my life's passions? Life's too short.

Q: When marketing one of your screenplays, have you ever utilized any of the “screenplay marketing” sites, such as InkTip, or a query service, such as ScriptBlaster? If so, what were your results? Would you recommend any of these services to other up-and-coming screenwriters?

A: When I won the Slamdance Teleplay Competition, one of the awards was a year on InkTip. Nothing came of it—for me—but that's not to say there haven't been successful acquisitions from such sites. I'm all about getting your work out there through legitimate channels when you're trying to break in with legitimate industry people, and sites like those can help.

Q: Have you ever attended a PitchFest? If so, what was that experience like?

A: I have never attended a PitchFest, although when I was at the NALIP (National Association of Latino Independent Producers) Writer's Lab in Manhattan in 2004, we had to do a "speed date" with some producers, and pitch them our scripts. That being my first time in a situation like that, I fucked it up royally. I did a similar thing once at a mixer at Film Independent. I'm not a big fan of that, to be honest with you.

Q: Are you currently repped by an agent and/or manager? If so, provide a description of your daily/weekly working relationship with him.

A: I do have representation—The Bauer Company in Beverly Hills. I've been with my manager since September of 2011. My manager and I have a good working relationship, but he's a busy man. I do check in with him, personally, about once a month—to follow up on a meeting he sent me on, or to find out what's going on with a script he may have sent out, etc.—but I try not to bother him unless I have something pertinent to discuss. His time is valuable, as is mine, and I try to be a resourceful client. Just because I have representation does not mean I don't continue to seek out or create my own opportunities. If I meet a producer, or an executive, and they express interest in me or my work—then I will put them in touch, and my manager takes it from there. I know some people need a certain level of interaction with their reps to feel secure or comfortable, but I say this sincerely—I have a manager who does his job, and does it well, and I would much rather have someone in my corner doing their job as opposed to "Joe Slick" calling me up every other day. I don't personally need that. I have more contact with his right-hand man at the company, his assistant, who is as brilliantly adept.

Q: I have often told budding screenwriters that the best way to get a script sold is by getting involved in the film community (i.e., film festivals, conferences, seminars, etc.) and making—as you’ve already mentioned—“face time” with the powers that be. In other words, you have to meet the people who can get your script made. It’s important to get these people to read your script, make them fans of your work. Would you agree this is a good course of action?

A: A good course of action is to write a good screenplay. Whether it's a short, or a feature, or a TV pilot—it has to be good. I think it's possible to get too caught up in the mentality of "having a good idea" as opposed to actually executing that idea, on the page. It all starts with FADE IN, and if you don't have something there no one in the world can help you. Everything else should be secondary. That being said, yes—if this is the business you want to be in, if this is what you want to be a part of—then immerse yourself in all aspects of it. Get to know the process inside and out. Not everybody wants to do what you do, and not everybody can do what you can do, but there is value in knowing all of it. If you're starting out, volunteer on film shoots, show up on your friends' sets and pull cables or set up the crafts table, read lines with actors. That sort of thing. Make yourself valuable and expect nothing in return.

Q: Tell me about your typical writing routine. Do you write every day?

A: I'm actually in the process of becoming a more disciplined writer. I don't have a routine, per se, but I desperately want one because I'm a creature of order and habit, and I feel that if I found something that was "just right" for me, it would help me be more productive. Sometimes "the process" for me involves a lot of not writing, if that makes any sense. I'll think about the script, the characters, the structure, dialogues—but I will be doing so while staring into space, or watching a movie or a TV show, or browsing in a bookstore or at the library.

Q: Do you outline your scripts? If so, how detailed are these outlines?

A: I have recently begun to learn the value of outlines/treatments. I used to just have an idea, sit down, and execute it. Now that I've been doing this for a while, and after stumbling a couple of times with scripts that didn't get very far, I see how laying out the stones beforehand can be a great help. So I'll jot down some notes, come up with a beat sheet, and then flesh that out into a treatment. I don't always stick to it, but it's good to know that it's there if you need it. That being said, no two scripts are written the same way. Each script is unique, each one dictates how it will be written. I don't always write every day, but once I get going—say, once I'm about fifteen pages into a script—I tend to bang them out pretty quickly.

Q: You’ve collaborated with a co-writer on some scripts. What were the positive aspects of having a co-writer? What were the negative aspects?

A: I've collaborated with other writers several times: twice on features, and once on one of the pilots. I can't necessarily say there were negative aspects to the end results, although because I'm very much in my own head a lot of the time—as a writer, I've always been a bit of a lone wolf. I enjoy being by myself, thinking, turning ideas around, finding by way out of the labyrinth when I get lost. And I get lost often. However, with the right people, and under the "perfect storm" of creativity, I'm not opposed to it. It's good to break routines, to try something different. This is, after all, a collaborative medium. What happened with the feature was that my buddies had sold and optioned a couple of projects, but they are comedy writers—that's where their strengths lie—and their agency asked them to diversify. So they wrote a horror movie, but it was very much in their own unique style; so although there were frightening elements in it, much of it was quite humorous and wasn't working. They knew that I was a fan of the genre, and knew it well, so they told me to take what they had written and, essentially, make it my own. Carte blanche. So I went off and re-wrote them, restructured the script a bit, fleshed out the characters and the situations, and overall brought a different tone to it—more in line with a slasher film, and I changed the title. Over the phone, the three of us discussed a new ending and agreed on it, and then I went off and wrote that. So this is how my first collaboration came about. Ultimately, it was this script that became my first sale. The second feature collaboration could not have been more different. It was a script that I co-wrote with Matthew Mishory while he was in post-production on his debut feature film, Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean. I'd gotten to know Matthew during the production of that movie, and we became good friends, with many tastes and sensibilities in common. Prior to the James Dean film, he'd made an award-winning short called Delphinium, about the British avant-garde Renaissance man Derek Jarman. Jarman was a filmmaker who meant a lot to Matthew, and he had always wanted to do something more grand with the subject—an examination of the artist and the artist's life. I knew about Jarman, and had seen a couple of the films, but was certainly no expert. I was over at Matthew's apartment one day, and he asked me to write the feature film with him, which we simple called Jarman. I went off and read biographies, and Jarman's journals, and saw the films, and watched interviews with him on YouTube, and simply tried to capture the essence of the man. It was difficult for me because I did not immediately connect. But I love a good challenge. What Matthew had in mind to do, initially, was so take ideas Jarman had not been able to execute in his lifetime (Jarman died of complications from AIDS in 1994) and execute those ideas in six different sequences, which would be peppered with biographical elements from the man's life. This was a wild, avant-garde idea—but Matthew is definitely a wild artist. Through long discussions we finally came to the conclusion that something more formal would work better. The problem with writing a film about someone like Jarman is that he lived many lives. A person could make several films about different periods of his life, and also about his ideas and imagination. Matthew was very clear about what he wanted. I was still trying to find a way into Jarman's life. Finally, it dawned on me that the thing to do was to focus the film on the last decade of his life: this was the period in which Jarman went from wanting to be recognized as a grand artist and simply fighting for his rights amid the AIDS crisis and wanting to be recognized as a human being. What an arc! It excited me. There was our movie! In this period of his life Jarman also made some of his best films, discovered Tilda Swinton in the process, became an activist, and found true love. Matthew got excited about my take—and we began to write. While he was editing his previous film, I would write ten or twelve pages, sometimes fifteen, send them to him; he would re-write me entirely, and send them back to me along with his batch of ten to twelve pages or more, I would re-write him entirely, and so the process went on until we finished a draft. This is still a work in progress—we're still returning to the project and it will probably be quite different than what we've got at the moment, or maybe not, who knows—but this is how that particular script came to be. Matthew is currently traveling the world with the James Dean film, as it goes from festival to festival, so when things settle we'll jump right in. The TV pilot I co-wrote with another friend. She and I were having dinner one evening and we were tossing ideas around, and one in particular really stuck out, so I said, "This would make a really interesting TV show." She had been thinking the same thing, so we agreed to put our heads together and see if we could crack it. We drove down to her parents' beach house, not too far from San Diego, and spent the weekend in coffee shops. The first morning we sat next to each other and mapped out the first episode in about fifteen beats. I took the first half of those, about seven, because it's what felt natural for me to write, and she took the remaining beats, and then we wrote across from each other, commenting when we needed to as we wrote along, e-mailing versions back and forth, until by the end of the weekend we had a very rough but completed draft. Over the next week after we returned to L.A. we threw it around back and forth a bit and then it was done.

Q: What’s your view on Writer’s Block?

A: I think sometimes writer's block is part of the process, if that makes any sense. Some deal with it less than others, but it's always there. A writer has to work their way through it. Many times I don't know where to begin, what story I'm going to tell next, what I'm going to name the characters, how things will be resolved. But I push through it. And the way I do that, is by immersing myself—in TV shows, in films, in books. I love bookstores, and I love libraries. I spend hours there—literally hours, simply reading, or wandering the aisles, seeing what leaps out at me, captures my attention. It's always something different. But when I do this, I understand that subconsciously, I am engaged with my creativity. In the back of my head I'm thinking about the story. Ultimately, though, you have to be honest with yourself and know when you've spent too much time with the block—and simply fire up Final Draft, or take out the notebook and the pen—and just sit down to write. Don't expect a masterpiece the first time out. Or, ever, as a matter of fact. The writers I admire—Sorkin, for instance, or Tony Kushner—agonize over the process too. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks what they write is pretty great. It's not easy. You must simply do it. To quote the late Ray Bradbury, “You've got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.”

Q: How do you beat procrastination?

A: I give in to it. It's part of the "writer's block"—you have to allow yourself to go there sometimes. What you cannot do, is stay in it forever, because if you do, your ship will sail. You have to have the discipline to give yourself permission to procrastinate, and then snap the hell out of it.

Q: “Know the rules of screenwriting before you break them”: Agree or disagree?

A: Absolutely. I've encountered many eager aspiring hopefuls who think they are going to be the ones to reinvent the wheel. It's just not going to happen, and I don't mean this in a disparaging way, but if you don't know the rules, if you don't know what came before you—but most importantly, if you don't know why it came before you—you won't be able to bring your own unique brushstrokes to the canvas you are painting. I'll hear, "Well, Tarantino did it. Charlie Kaufmann did it." And I'll shrug politely and say, "Okay," but what comes to mind is—"You're no Tarantino; you're no Kaufmann." And if you go back and study how they arrived at what they ultimately ended up doing, you'll notice that they grasped and mastered the basics first. Those basics are there for a reason—and I don't just mean format here, how it looks or is laid out on the page; the basics are the foundation of screenwriting, of storytelling itself.

Q: Who critiques your writing before you send it off to agents, producers, etc.?

A: When I finish a script, I usually send it to a few key people for their thoughts and feedback. They are writers and filmmakers themselves, people who know stories, and who will tell me why something does or does not work. I take the notes that they give me, and mull them over, and if there's a common problem in the notes, then I focus on that issue in the re-write. I take the best of their suggestions, and leave the ones I'm not feeling, and just go with it. From this I get a final writer's draft, and I send that out.

Q: So how many drafts will you do before you finally get to your “final writer’s draft”?

A: For me, personally, I write the rough draft, revise it for grammar, spelling, and syntax, send it out to my trusted few, revise it based on notes, give it a once-over, and then it's done. The most drafts I think I've ever done is three, and by this I mean versions in which the story has changed enough to be considered a new draft. For the most part, what is my rough draft does not change considerably from the final version—after it's on the page, it tends to be simply a nip/tuck job.

Q: As a “minority” screenwriter, have you ever come up against any discrimination or prejudice from any of the production companies, producers, or agents you’ve dealt with?

A: I've only dealt with one instance that made me uncomfortable and angry. I recently met with a director/producer who made a comment about the relationship between two boys in a pilot I wrote. Their connection is a central, driving force of the narrative, and he said something along the lines of, "Their kiss would be off-putting to some people." I got quiet real fast, and the meeting ended shortly after that. I wanted to say to him, "Are you kidding me? I don't give a flying fuck if this is off-putting to anyone—it's 2012 and if somebody has a problem with this they can follow you down to Hell." But dignity and professionalism prevailed. I took his remark for what it was—ignorance. This person was from Argentina, and had a very macho demeanor—and I grew up around those misguided attitudes and behaviors so tragically prevalent in my Latino community. I sensed his homophobia stemmed from his own discomfort with unabashed sexuality, but that's his problem and not mine.

Q: Last summer I interviewed Justin Samuels, an African-American screenwriter who sued William Morris Endeavor and Creative Artists Agency for racial discrimination. I know you’ve read this interview—would you care to comment on Mr. Samuels’ complaint?

A: His journey has been his, and my journey has been mine. Personally, I think his argument is valid—to a point; but I also think his attitude is very negative, and how you feel affects who you are and how people respond to you. There's a sense of unearned entitlement to [Justin’s] claims. I'm of the opinion that he doesn't fully grasp how this business works and has very backward ideas on WHY it should be HIS WAY. That's my two cents on the matter. I'm Latino, I'm gay, and I'm overweight. None of this has stopped my material from getting read, it hasn't stopped me getting representation. I do the work. I show up. But I have had many rejections; I have had many unanswered queries. I don't focus my energies on negativity. That's no way to live, and certainly no way to build a career. I'd rather channel that into the writing.

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APRIL 2015 ANNOUNCEMENT: My debut novel, Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen, is now available in paperback from and Kindle e-book! (You're gonna love it cuz it's all about Hollywood and screenwriting!)