December 22, 2010

SIUC graduate wins screenwriting award

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- John Scott III, a 2006 graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Department of Cinema and Photography, recently received top honors in the 2010 PAGE International Screenwriting Awards in the “Thriller/Horror” category.

Established in 2003 by “an alliance of Hollywood producers, agents and development executives,” the goal of the PAGE Awards is to find “the most exciting new scripts by up-and-coming writers from across the country and around the world,” according to the organization’s website.

Dru Vratil, an associate professor in cinema and photography with a cross-appointment in women’s studies, said success in the competition can lead to requests from producers, and requests from production companies to read the script.

“We’re very proud of John and his recent success in the PAGE International contest,” said Gary P. Kolb, dean of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. “It is one of the most prestigious screenwriting competitions and winners often are courted by development companies and agents. This award often leads to future scripts being seriously considered for production.

“John was a great student by all accounts and is very deserving of the recognition,” Kolb said. “We wish him the best as he continues in his career.”

Prior to attending SIUC, Scott maintained the orbits of secret satellites while in the U.S. Air Force. He began working four years ago for Northrop Grumman, and currently works in Boston. Scott was in the Air Force for five years before attending SIUC, and attended high school in both nearby Harrisburg and Carrier Mills.

Scott said he opted to attend SIUC because it was near his home, and that the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts “offered a fantastic film experience and degree.”

“The instructors at SIUC I encountered were some of the most patient and personable instructors I’ve had, including my military experience,” he said.

Scott said Vratil, along with current and former cinema and photography faculty Lilly Boruszkowski, Cade Bursell, Mike Covell, Susan Felleman, and radio-television faculty member Jay Needham “were pivotal in my education and shaping the career that followed.”

It was Vratil’s class that gave Scott the idea he had potential talent in screenwriting, Scott said.

“It may have been an entry-level screenwriting course, but it spurred me to buy and scour through numerous screenwriting books to aid in the development of what would be my award-winning feature screenplay,” he said.

Scott’s winning entry, “Maggie,” is the story of a teenage girl who contracts a horrific new virus that is infecting the world, and how she and her distraught father bond during her last month alive “as they are forced to cope with the inescapable fact that she is slowly becoming one of the walking dead,” he said.

Two of Scott’s other scripts also fared well. “Wheel,” a psychological thriller, made it to the quarterfinals, and “Annexus” advanced to the finals and finished in the top 10 in the science fiction category.

After accepting his job in Boston, Scott put together a few commercials after buying a camera, some editing software, and computer. He discovered his love of writing after obtaining some screenwriting software.

“It provided that outlet to film, only without having to gather a crew, obtain the equipment and schedule a shoot around myself and others’ schedules,” he said.

Based on the visibility of the PAGE contest, Scott said he’s received about 25 requests to read “Maggie,” and has been contacted by “some heavy hitters with some A-list talent.”

“In the end, I will have to sit back and wait to see what they all think,” he said.

Scott said he always had “a knack” for writing, but hated doing it, and that essays were not something he looked forward to. He said it took seven months to finish his first screenplay, trying to create something “both the Academy and mainstream audiences would love.” But what Scott said he considered at the time to be a masterpiece, however, “turned out to be a train wreck.”

Scott said he then sat down “to write something I wanted to write, not something I thought critics would love; my heart simply wasn’t in it the first go-around.”

When he opened his laptop computer while watching a “B-rated zombie movie,” Scott said he realized he wanted to bring the zombie niche back to life.

“I wanted to flip the genre on its ear and write a dramatic zombie script, one that would focus more on the emotional effects of a virus and not the frights, jumps and gore. That’s when ‘Maggie’ was born,” he said.

It was after writing both “Maggie” and “Annexus” that Scott said he realized he had a style, “putting realistic spins on unrealistic situations.”

Scott said he loves the horror/thriller genres.

“I think that most of today’s mainstream horror tends to focus a little too much on gore, with a lack of substantial story,” he said.

Scott said he wants to make movies along the lines of “Let the Right One In,” or “Jaws.”

“I write what I like to watch -- stories that scare you because of their story as well as their frights,” he said. “The more you make something personal to someone, the more it scares them. And the only way to do that is to create a dramatic story for your script and write from what you know, regardless of the genre.”