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5 Q&A’s with Scott Nelson, 24-Hour Screenwriting Challenge winner

Scott Nelson came to screenwriting a bit later than most. Educated at the University of Wisconsin, and University of Chicago, Scott pursued a long career as a technology analyst. Day after day, he looked at the affect of technology on Society, and how the two were striving to coexist. Soon his attention turned to looking to the future, creating stories of how that relationship might play out.

While he has written two features, and an equal number of TV pilots, he discovered that his real love were short screenplays. He began to concentrate on creating a rich universe built around the interactions of people with technology. Key to all of this is that technology is a character in his stories, not the end all of the film. He quickly discovered both success on the screenplay festival circuit, and with producers. Dozens of his stories have been, or are in the process, of being brought to the screen. 

In December 2019, Scott won FilmCon Awards' 24-Hour Screenwriting Challenge.

The rules were simple: 24 hours, up to 5 pages, theme: realizing what's really important in life; protagonist: a 16-year-old girl. In less than 24 hours, Scott wrote "I Am The Dreamer of Dreams", a short script about Angela, an unsuccessful writer who reaches the end of the line, and comes to grips which what to do when the dream has died.

Ironically, this short screenplay is not in the science fiction genre that Scott enjoys. Some times real life provides all the drama he needs for his stories.

We invited Scott to join us for an interview. Here's his story.

Scott, congratulations on winning 24-Hour Screenwriting Challenge at FilmCon Awards. We enjoyed reading “I Am The Dreamer of Dreams"! In less than 24 hours, you wrote a dramatic story with a beautiful (yet sad) closure. Let's talk about how you started out. Tell us about your background, what sparked your interest in screenwriting?

I was a technology analyst, and wrote for a living, but never anything creative. I had enjoyed fiction writing, but always for only myself, and never in the format of screenplays. But one day a friend gave me a copy of the screenplay for Tombstone. I was hooked. I read it over and over, and studying the format and the technique. Before I knew it, I had to give it a try myself. My first short sold immediately, and I was hooked. Plus I had a tendency to critique movies I would watch, explaining to my long-suffering wife how I would have done it. She challenged me to actually do it.

Your winning entry, “I Am The Dreamer of Dreams”, tells the story of Angela, a 16-year-old unsuccessful writer, who has been rejected over and over. While every writer has to deal with rejection, Angela decides to give up on her dream. What is your message to other writers who consider giving up on their dreams? 

There are two messages, one to writers and one to everyone else. For everyone else, it is a message about suicide, plain and simple. I’ve known people who have suffered from depression, and you want to help them, but it can be so difficult. So I wanted to use Angela to reach out to those who are in the throes of those feelings, trying to tell them that there is an alternative; keep going.

For the writers out there, the message is hang in there. Often we have the wrong goals. We aim for acceptance, or monetary gain, or awards.  I think the reality is that we have to write for ourselves. Sure, aim for those things if you want. And sure, get feedback and make your work better. But at the core, write for yourself, and let the results happen. Often the path we are on is a long and winding one and similar to our screenplays, with unexpected plot twists along the way. Like a good story, you go with the plot twists and see where they lead you.

Tell us about your writing process. How do you approach a new story? What kind of stories attract you?

I love stories about people understanding themselves better, and the world around them. I mainly use science fiction as the genre for doing that, but I am open to a good story no matter the setting. When I approach a new story, I start with the main character, where they are when we meet them, and where I want them to get to. And most importantly, what do I want the reader/viewer to realize by interacting with this story? Also, I have to actually be a bit curious about my own story. I do a lot of “what would happen next?”, “and then what?”, and “what would be a surprise here?”. I can’t expect my readers to be hooked if I don’t surprise myself along the way.

What are some of the challenges in writing a short screenplay in 24 hours?

I think the biggest challenge is locking down what you want to do and then do it. 5 pages and 24 hours is not a lot to work with. You can’t do a lot of rewriting. You can’t try one path then change to another. You have to execute a well laid out plan if you are going to make it work.

In your opinion, what are the ingredients for creating a good screenplay? Do you have any tips for other first-time screenwriters?

I think the key is a message, even if it is hidden. I read a lot of screenplays that make me think “so what?”. I should feel something other than I wasted my time. For first time writers, it’s been often said, finding your voice is critical. What genre do you like? What type of characters? What is unique about your writing that differentiates you from other writers? Don’t try to be the next Tarantino, or the next Sorkin. Be the first you. Then be the best you that you can be.

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