Screenwriting Success

SJSU Dominates State and National Screenwriting Competitions
by Cathleen Miller

While hundreds of people in the audience bit their nails in Los Angeles last fall—waiting to learn the result of the judging by Hollywood industry professionals—everyone knew that a San José State student would win the CSU Media Arts Festival Award for best feature-length screenplay. How did they know? Was the fix in?

San José State’s RTVF faculty didn’t need to fly to LA for the ceremony to know we would win the honors again, because the top three finalists were all our students. “And the winner is…first place White Rabbit, Michael Quintana, San José State University…second place, Porcelain, Chau Nguyen, San José State University… third place, EM, Cassia Homann, San José State University.”

Lauren Serpa

In February of this year, more good news for our screenwriting students followed: Lauren Serpa, who received her BA in RTVF from San José State and is currently an SJSU MFA creative writing student, won second place at the Broadcast Education Association Festival of Media Arts in the Feature-Length Screenplay Category for Where We Start. In the same category, recent RTVF grad Risha Rose received an Honorable Mention for her screenplay Dance With Me. In the Short Screenplay Category, two SJSU students received Honorable Mentions: Rachel Compton for Prosopagnosia, and Kevin Briot for When a Giant Falls.

Department of Television, Radio, Film and Theatre chair Dr. David Kahn notes: “Every year SJSU students win state and national-level screenwriting awards, competing against the top film schools in the country. Our students’ success is a terrific acknowledgment of our departmental emphasis on tangible production and creative leadership.”

Scott Sublett

According to screenwriting professor Scott Sublett, this spate of success is not a random accident. Our sometimes budget-strapped state university has the best screenwriting program in the U.S., judging by our record of wins in major student competitions.

“Proof?” asks Sublett. For seven years running we’ve won first place in feature screenwriting at the CSU Festival Of Media Arts, which is open to all CSU campuses. For the last two years, we have taken first, second and third! More? In the Broadcast Education Association Festival of Media Arts, the biggest nationwide student screenwriting competition held by the largest professional organization of RTVF programs, we’ve won first in Feature Screenwriting in three of the last seven years, and Best in Show in a fourth year.”

BEA winner Lauren Serpa feels the root of her success can definitely be traced back to the classroom. “Professor Sublett can pinpoint areas of my scripts that need lots of work and convey those issues to me honestly and clearly. I’ve found that he’s always right and that my scripts improve when I listen to his critiques. If you want to learn more about screenwriting and become a better writer, please buy his excellent book, Screenwriting for Neurotics.”

Serpa is referencing her professor’s course reader, which he refined during his two decades of teaching. The University of Iowa Press published Sublett’s text last fall, keeping his tongue-in-cheek title.

Influential filmmaker Federico Fellini said the movie begins with the story, which places great emphasis on the quality of screenplays. In that case, some important films should be coming out of the scripts of our talented screenwriters, who will continue to bring glory to the university.

Stay tuned, because joining the screenwriting side of the credits is the program’s hot production talent. The next issue of Expressions will feature a video from Kourosh Ahari, an RTVF student whose short film Malaise was just accepted to the Cannes Film Festival!