The deadline for this year’s Scriptapalooza is upon us. I was a semi-finalist last year with my script ‘Best Woman’, and interviewed the winner, Andrew Carter. Here’s the interview in full.

Andrew James Carter, pictured left, won this year’s Scriptapalooza international screen-writing competition with his crime-drama ‘Juice’.

I was delighted to make it as far as the semi-finals with my script ‘Best Woman’ but winning, well that’s potentially life-changing. I tracked Andrew down on Twitter as I wanted to learn more about the guy who not only scooped the $10,000 first prize, but who also wins introductions, via Scriptapalooza, to a host of top Hollywood agents and managers.

The first part of my interview with Andrew was posted at the Collective Review but this second interview is for writers, and digs deeper into the process. Happily for us, Andrew was delighted to talk about the genesis of his award-winning script, his character development, creative influences and career ambitions.

Yes people, welcome to #scriptchat nerd heaven…

British writer and student Andrew, 26, is living in Milton Keynes (about 40 miles north of London), while he studies for his PhD in Astrophysics. His area of research is Extrasolar Planets (‘planets orbiting stars other than our own, specifically the elements and compounds which make up their atmospheres’), which was enough to get me hooked. But he’s also incredibly passionate about his writing and as every writer knows, that’s just as important as having the technical skills.

‘Juice’ is thrilling crime drama, ‘about a cynical hitman – known only as ‘Cane’ – who accepts five different contracts on the life of London crime-lord, Alastair King,’ explains Andrew. ‘However, as Cane puts together the pieces of his plan, he soon finds himself managing both his mission and his clients’ ignorance of each other. Inevitably, Cane’s balancing act starts to fall apart and he becomes hunted by both his target and his employers.’

Like every script worth its salt, ‘Juice’ went through a few changes during the writing process. The original idea came to him as a stand-alone scene a few years ago while he was studying at university but as Andrew reveals, ‘Ironically, that scene never made it into the final version and the events of the short-story were reduced to better serve the overall plot. It’s only now, writing this, that I’ve come to realise how little of the original spark ended up in the final piece.’

Incredibly, this was his first attempt at writing a feature length screenplay. He’s never been to film school either, but he’d written half a dozen TV pilots and has also spent time writing novels. ‘Film school was out of the question because I didn’t have the money, he explains. ‘Instead, I chose the PhD option – firstly, it paid the bills, secondly, I was qualified to do it, and thirdly, it presented me with flexible hours which allowed me to keep writing as-and-when the mood took me.’

He fits his writing around his research (and vice versa), and started work on ‘Juice’ about a year ago. ‘I hit a stumbling block in late Autumn of last year,’ he says. ‘I abandoned it for other projects. Then in March, I had an epiphany and figured out what about the plot was causing me to doubt it. After starting fresh and resolving those issues, I arrived at a polished version about a week before the Scriptapalooza deadline – just enough time to get a few friends round for a proof read. I think I owe those guys a few beers now.’

Naturally, there were some edits to be done. ‘I was happy with the overall plot and structure after the second draft – but there were still a few scenes which were removed or rewritten in subsequent edits. The script has gone through another round of polishing since its entry to Scriptapalooza, but most changes in that pass were to improve the readability or tweak the dialogue – nothing major.’

One of his main challenges was creating a hit-man character that hadn’t been seen before, as well as fleshing out credible secondary characters. Giving everyone a voice was something he worked hard to do. ‘I had to ensure that each character was unique and easily identifiable,’ he says. ‘One of the inadvertent advantages of leaving the script for several months was that the characters had time to bed themselves down. By the time I sat down to write the second draft, I wasn’t so much creating new characters as borrowing pre-existing people from draft one. The protagonist probably changed the least over that time, since it was his story-arc which inspired the overall plot. Cane was designed to be as contradictory as possible; to contrast the familiar criminal-underworld in which he exists – even down to having a stereotypical hitman-esque name, which he pragmatically despises. If anything, the world of the story was changed to suit Cane, rather than Cane changing to suit anything else.’

Aside from this crime-drama, he’s written a few sci-fi specs, but says that he doesn’t have a genre preference. ‘Most of what I write stems from a character storyline rather than an overall concept. I have plenty of concept ideas, but I usually only start laying out a plot once I’ve got a protagonist (or, in one instance, an antagonist) with a sufficiently unique and inspirational story arc. I suppose, with my background, most of my concepts are sci-fi – and I do enjoy creating those worlds – but the characters always come first for me. If a sci-fi setting doesn’t work for my protagonist, he-or-she will just have to make-do in the real world.’

It’s an system that is obviously working but who are his creative influences? ‘Joss Whedon and Chris Nolan. There’s barely a project between them that I don’t love. I’ve heard Joss get a lot of stick for ‘Alien Resurrection’, but I’d recommend any doubters get their hands on the original screenplay before passing judgment. Both have done much to disprove Hollywood’s insistence that film and TV cannot be both intelligent and action-packed.’

His favourite character then is somewhat surprising – no Spocks or Buffys. ‘I’m going to go for Forrest Gump,’ he says. ‘It ranks among my favorites simply because it defies every rule of storytelling I know. Mostly, of course, because it doesn’t have a story. It’s a tangled tale of one man’s life, loosely held together by an intermittent love-story, but ostensibly there isn’t what you’d call a plot. When we consider the character’s journey, there isn’t really one either – Forrest stays pretty much the same throughout. He gains wealth, power and responsibility, but remains the same honest, naive, innocent idealist throughout. The film runs its whole length simply on the strength of that one character and the audience’s fervent wish for him to stay the same – to preserve his innocence and his honesty. The same can be said of few characters in film history.’

So, what’s next? Is it film, TV or both (like Joss Whedon) that he’d like to conquer? ‘If made to choose, I’d likely go for TV. Like everyone I’ve got pet projects that would be impossible for a newbie to get the budget to make – but if we’re talking “ideal” here, I suppose I’d like to spend a few years in the UK TV scene writing for shows like Doctor Who, Sherlock and Luther, while maybe getting a few features produced at the same time. Then I’d like to move to the US and write for a few shows there – Dexter, Fringe, Caprica, Stargate Universe – before making the move into running my own shows and finally making those pet projects a reality.’

He’s aiming high but why the hell not, we’re all out there shooting for the stars, although as Andrew says, ‘For now, with feet firmly rooted, I’ll just focus on getting a credit to my name’. Before adding, ‘In the immediate future, I need to finish my PhD thesis so I can finally be free to write full-time…for as long as I can feed myself, anyway.’

Visit Andrew’s website, where you can read the loglines of his other scripts.

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