With sightings all over town of the stars of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln movie, my thoughts turned to the Virginia Screenwriting Competition, which enters its 10th year this spring.
Sponsored by the Virginia Film Office, the contest is open to state residents; this year, entries will be accepted March 5 to May 25. (More information is available at film.virginia.org; just click on "For Virginians.")
Perhaps the best-known winner of the competition is Richmonder Megan Holley, who won in 2003 for her Sunshine Cleaning screenplay, which was made into a movie in 2008 starring Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as sisters who clean crime scenes. Although it wasn't a blockbuster, it grossed twice its $8 million budget.
Everyone knows how hard it is to break into the movies, even with a good script, an agent and a star attached to the film. But one of the 2011 competition winners, David L. Robbins, is farther along the path than many.
His script, The Rock in the Sun , is about two men raised by a Haitian nanny — one her son, the other her employer's son — and their trip to Port-au-Prince after the earthquake to find her.
The two other winning scripts for 2011 are by siblings Neil and Heather Harvey (she's a Richmond attorney, and he is a Roanoke Times reporter), who wrote about a true missing-person case in their hometown of Radford, and Chesapeake's Donald Driscoll, who wrote a screenplay about an alien invasion of a high school, with the class nerd saving the day.
Although Robbins' screenplay is fictional, it's based on the real life of director Lucas Krost, another Richmonder who is considered an up-and-comer in film. Robbins, best known as a novelist, says he took the ideas of Krost and collaborator Kirk Kjeldsen and wrote the screenplay in four or five weeks, using the computer program Final Draft to keep it within the accepted format.
"I'd never written a screenplay in my life," Robbins says, and he'd read only one before embarking on the project. "I capitalized words to look like I knew what I was doing."
The script, which was entered in the contest with only an hour to go before the deadline, has received interest from International Creative Management, a Hollywood talent agency, and Robbins says S. Epatha Merkerson (famous as Lt. Anita Van Buren from Law and Order ) is attached to play the nanny. Krost made a preliminary trailer to show to potential backers in Hollywood, traveling there in December.
Based on the trailer, the film would be dramatic, with conflict between the two men and chaos and sorrow in Haiti, which Krost has visited since the earthquake. If the film is made, some proceeds would go toward earthquake relief.
Robbins says he's comfortable writing dialogue and developing characters, but expressing broader ideas purely through dialogue was a skill he learned while writing the script. Redemption and destruction are the story's major themes.
"Being a Virginian — and a proud Virginian — it's personally very gratifying" to win the competition, Robbins says, especially in a genre that's new to him.
Ah, some people get all the breaks!