STUDENTFILMMAKERS: Tell us about the 5th Annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship.
Cameron Cubbison: The ScreenCraft Fellowship is an ongoing career development program designed to help talented emerging writers sharpen and hone their portfolios, and then strategically introduce them to a custom-matched network of literary agents, managers, studio executives, producers and content creators. The ultimate goal of the program is to get writers signed, meaningfully expand their network, and to garner increased interest in and traction for their projects.
This cycle, ScreenCraft Fellows are already guaranteed meetings at 5 studios—Warner Bros., Fox, Universal, Sony, and Lionsgate—and with producer Lawrence Grey. They’ll stay at the historic Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles for a week-long blitz of meetings.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: What can the winners expect to receive?
Cameron Cubbison:First and foremost, the winners can expect to receive intensive development notes and a thorough championing of their talent and their projects. They’ll receive all-expenses paid LA airfare, lodging and local transportation. They’ll partake in an intense (but fun!) week-long blitz of manager, producer, creative executive and mentor meetings. They’ll become permanent members of the ScreenCraft family and will have a chance to meet with previous ScreenCraft fellows. They’ll receive warm and targeted introductions to industry mentors who can be invaluable in launching careers and opening doors.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: Can you tell us a little bit about last year’s winners?
Cameron Cubbison: We had an exceptionally talented group of writers last year: Anna Klassen, Ryan W. Smith, and Anya Meksin.
Anna is the entertainment editor for Bustle and writes both pilots and features. She’s adept at writing dramatic thrillers with timely and personal backdrops, and biopics with unusual slants and tones.
Ryan spent his formative years in South Africa before moving to Canada. He writes geopolitical, character-driven thrillers but also has experience working in children’s television. He and his brother are also filmmakers and recently wrote and directed a scrappy, grounded sci-fi feature. Ryan excels at authentically getting into the mindsets of vastly different characters who have vastly different world perspectives.
Anya is an award-winning filmmaker who received her B.A., cum laude, in Literature and Film, with Distinction, from Yale University, and an M.F.A. in Film Directing from Columbia University. She has received myriad prestigious production grants, and her short films have been broadcast on television and played at festivals around the world.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: Last year’s winners signed with managers. How has that helped their screenwriting careers?
Cameron Cubbison: At this stage in their careers, both Ryan and Anna not only have managers but have also landed agents at two of the biggest agencies in Hollywood—CAA and WME, respectively. Anya is represented by the principals of Circle of Confusion, one of the most vibrant management and production companies in the industry. They have great support networks who are invested in their success.
Speaking generally, first and foremost, having managers who are invested in your writing success long-term is essential for morale, and for guidance. Managers help creatively shape and hone their clients’ projects and take them out to the industry. They often work with agents to set up general meetings for writers and work to get them staffed on shows and in consideration for open writing assignments.
Managers and agents focus on generating opportunities and closing deals, so that writers can focus as much as possible on their creativity and writing.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: What are some of their projects (or scripts that got made into films)?
Cameron Cubbison: Jacaranda, by Ryan W. Smith, is a searing dramatic thriller set in 1986 Apartheid South Africa, centers on a young black freedom fighter who sets out to rescue her father, who has been wrongfully arrested for a bombing she caused. Through her pursuit, she comes face-to-face with the grotesque underbelly of the Apartheid regime, and forms an unlikely friendship with a member of her perceived enemy.
In Anna Klassen’s 14 Words, intrepid Sophia attempts to infiltrate a white supremacy group called Aryan Resurgence to further research for her exposé. Meanwhile, the cult’s leader is stepping down and his son — who has radical new plans for the group — is taking over. Sophia inches closer to uncovering the hate group’s darkest secrets, but little does she know, she’s the key to their biggest plot yet.
Taminex, by Anya Meksin, is an emotional and suspenseful sci-fi thriller set over the course of one night about a sheltered young woman in the midst of an urban pandemic. When her boyfriend Gene falls ill with a deadly virus, Leigh must venture outside her cocoon of safety to procure the only drug that can save Gene’s life and her own–Taminex. Amid a citywide shortage, Leigh must rely on a mercurial black-market drug dealer she met online, who promises to sell her Taminex but only if she travels to the city’s most dangerous district and the outbreak’s epicenter.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: What are the ScreenCraft benefits for students and new screenwriters?
Cameron Cubbison: ScreenCraft is a talent discovery platform and a development consultancy that offers students and aspiring writers a chance to have their work read and constructively assessed by highly trained and experienced industry readers. The benefit of getting an honest assessment of the current level of your craft and viability of your projects can’t be underestimated. ScreenCraft also works tirelessly to support and create opportunities for the top writers who come through the platform, whether that be through private consulting, the suite of genre-specific screenwriting competitions or development programs.
ScreenCraft also operates a film fund that provides production and postproduction grants up to $30,000 so that filmmakers can make their projects. Students can apply to this program at a discounted rate.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: Are there face-to-face workshops?
Cameron Cubbison: Yes. ScreenCraft operates screenwriting residency programs multiple times a year, and will be producing a three-day screenwriting conference at the Atlanta Film Festival in 2018 that will feature customized panels and workshop events.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: How do you help members of your community with selling their scripts or making their films?
Cameron Cubbison: Our team maintains warm and engaged relationships with leading literary managers, producers—both US and international—and creative executives that we recommend writers and projects to. We have earned a position of trust and a reputation for finding viable projects and talented writers.
For aspiring writers without industry connections or representation, it’s of vital importance to have a reputable third party vouch for their talent and voice. That’s where we can come in.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: What would you suggest to someone just starting their first screenplay?
Cameron Cubbison: Have a clear understanding of what story you’re trying to tell—not just a premise and a structured plot line, but also a clear sense of what the emotional core of the story is. Know what you want to say, know why this story matters to you, know what you want to leave an audience with. Always be looking to create the most meaningful emotional connection with readers and viewers that you can.
Also, don’t send your script out before it’s ready. Take your time, hone your drafts, and condition yourself to let go and be open to receiving feedback and notes—ideally from unbiased industry professionals.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: What advice would you say to someone who is a perfectionist?
Cameron Cubbison: At a certain point, you have to let go and move on to a new piece of material. As a writer, you have to constantly be creating content and generating new ideas. To be a career screenwriter, you have to be prolific, you have to be professional, and you can’t become too hung up on one project in particular, because you never know what script is going to be the one that gets produced. Putting all of your eggs in one basket is the worst approach you can take as an aspiring screenwriter.
There is never perfection…only progress, and productivity.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: What inspired you to start ScreenCraft?
Cameron Cubbison: ScreenCraft was born as a collaboration between myself and my partner John Rhodes. We met at Open Road Films and stayed in touch over the years as we both moved on to other jobs and pursuits. I was coming off five years of working full-time as a reader and story analyst for a litany of literary agencies, production companies and screenwriting competitions.
Being a freelance reader is a volume game. Your job is to cover and assess material quickly and prolifically on behalf of other people. It’s rewarding in a number of ways, but one of the drawbacks is that you don’t have the bandwidth or the agency to meaningfully champion great projects and writers that come across your desk in an ongoing capacity. I decided that I wanted to build a team of veteran readers and industry professionals who could find and champion talented undiscovered writers and break down the walled garden that Hollywood has traditionally operated as.
John was coming off several years of assisting high-profile CEOs, producers and executives at companies like OddLot and Media Talent Group. He was looking to do something on his own and build it from the ground up. With his experience, relationships and entrepreneurial instincts, he was the perfect partner to launch ScreenCraft with, and it was the perfect time. Five years later, we haven’t looked back, and we’re excited to keep growing and keep making a difference in the lives of talented aspiring writers and creatives.