SCREENWRITER: Eric Stalnaker (Orlando, Florida) 

Q: Eric…when did you write your first screenplay?

A: The first screenplay I wrote was in 1995, after the World Trade Center bombing. I had thought, “what if terrorists were actually in the USA? What would we do to stop them?” So I formulated my own Department of Homeland Security. Whodathunk it would actually be formed after 9/11. At that time, I decided to do some self-teach things, mainly purchasing books and screenplays of others. I stopped after writing that one, but picked it up again in 2011, rebooting Crossbow.

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

A: Nine completed, which includes three features, four series sitcoms, two shorts, with three more features in progress (one at page 105, another at page 48, one in my own development hell).

Q: Which screenwriting competitions have you entered and seen through to a final result?

A: I entered Crossbow into Scriptapalooza only. With Dating Jennifer, I entered it into Scriptapalooza, Script Pipeline, Nashville Film Festival, and Austin Film Festival.

Q: Approximately how many screenplays did you write prior to entering your first competition?

A: None prior. At the time I entered, those were the first two screenplays I had ever written.

Q: Did the competition(s) offer feedback—notes, critique, etc.—on the script(s) you entered? If so, what was the quality of the feedback?

A: All of these competitions offered feedback, but I only received it from one—Austin FF. I seriously questioned some of what the feedback writer wrote. He appropriately evaluated my characters and story, finding many of my supporting characters were very solid, but that the main character lacked some depth (which I agree with). He loved the dialogue and the overall story. However, the feedback writer went on to question certain events from the story and it made me think he was confusing my script with someone else’s. The comments he stated literally made no sense and didn’t fit, once suggesting that one character (a name I didn’t even have in the script) create more conflict.

Q: Did any of the competitions you entered try to hit you up for pay-based services, such as script consulting, proofing, etc.?

A: No.

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

A: I placed as a semifinalist in the Nashville Film Festival (top 16 in the comedy category). It has not opened any doors for me as of yet.

Q: What types of prizes (monetary and non-monetary) have you won from the screenplay competitions you’ve entered?

A: Silver Pass for the Nashville Film Festival, which I was unable to attend.

Q: Other than any material rewards and/or valuable feedback, what have been the most satisfying aspects of winning a competition?

A: Becoming a semifinalist at the Nashville FF definitely boosted my confidence in writing. It was the first award of the season, and it pushed me to enter other competitions. It also inspired me to write more. I had always looked at it as a hobby up to that point. Since achieving that, I have been writing relentlessly; two shorts, four episodes of a web series, Faith Springs, that begins production later this week (look for it on YouTube and Vimeo Sept. 15th—shameless plug, but I don’t care), and I also have 4/5 of my “baby,” that one screenplay you truly believe in.

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

A: I look at it as a selling point. In this business, I’m quickly realizing that marketing is key. You need to find creative ways to sell the words on that paper. Having one or two “Finalist” or “First Place” tags to put with that screenplay only gets the door opened a little further. In the end, it’s the story that sells the screenplay.

Q: Have you ever submitted one of your early screenplays into a competition? If so, is it something you now regret—and why?

A: I have never regretted entering a competition. I do look back and say, “There was no way I was going to place with this screenplay (Crossbow). It has a great story, but the main character was so shallow. Eventually, I’ll go back and refresh it again, and try to breathe new life into that character, but I’m too busy now.

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

A: Again, I always viewed my writing as a hobby and never really pursued it to a level of trying to sell it. The script that placed, Dating Jennifer, breaks the rule of open roles for characters (a guy wins a date with Jennifer Aniston), so unless she or a close associate of hers is interested, it won’t do much I assume. Honestly, I’ve just never taken the time to try to get interest with it.

Q: Overall, what do you feel were the positive aspects of entering a screenplay competition?

A: Overall, I’m glad I placed in a competition, albeit only one. It definitely gave me the motivation to write more and do more with it.

Q: Overall, what do you feel were the negative aspects of entering a screenplay competition?

A: I would probably say the money. Each competition is $40-$50, and after entering a few, that’s a good chunk of money I’m out. Being a school teacher, it’s not like it grows on trees.

Q: What is your current status as a screenwriter?

A: Well, now that my web series is being developed and produced, I guess I’m an official screenwriter. But I’m not quitting my day job. I’m going to continue working on my “baby," plus the other that’s more of an independent, low-budget character driven piece. Also, the production company that is shooting the web series sitcom likes Crossbow, and we may shoot parts of it and release it as shorts. Plus, I’ll continue my craft, learn, and get stronger as a writer.

Q: Any parting comments, thoughts, or words of advice for screenwriters considering entering a competition?

A: Just write it.


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