KINGSPORT, Tenn. - Stephen Woodward of Kingsport is pursuing his dream of selling his screenplay in California this summer, thanks to winning a contest and his nearly lifelong interest in writing and music.
Woodward, an adjunct college instructor, recently won the WriteMovies International Screenwriting Competition No. 31 with his screenplay "Crush," which he adapted from a novel he wrote for his master's degree.
The competition, sponsored by WriteMovies.com, received 1,000 entries worldwide. On top of a cash prize and guaranteed agency representation, WriteMovies will help Woodward development his script further and see that it is pitched for him to the appropriate studios.
"It's quite an honor," said Woodward, who began writing screenplays in graduate school. Woodward teaches composition at Northeast State Community College and in the Jumpstart program, a dual enrollment program, this school year at Sullivan Central High School in Blountville.
He teaches composition I and II to Central students, who - if they successfully complete the course - get high school and college credit. Some Central students helped him by reading over his scripts.
"They noticed things a lot of my grad school readers hadn't notice," Woodward said, adding that he hopes his quest and career path show students "you can really be a writer. You can be a screenplay writer."
However, not all of his favorite movies are the same as theirs, he found out this semester.
" 'Citizen Kane' (the movie directorial debut of Orson Welles, who also starred in it) is one of my favorite movies, and I showed it to my Jumpstart classes as part of their film evaluation paper," Woodward said. "They almost universally hated it. In fact, it's become a running joke in class that my taste in movies is pretty bad and that nothing could be worse than sitting through 'Citizen Kane' again. Oh well, sometimes they don't always share my interests."
Woodward also teaches composition classes at Northeast, although not this semester. In the fall, he is to return as an adjunct faculty member at Northeast - likely at another high school for Jumpstart - and also be an adjunct faculty member for King U n i v e r s i t y.
"I often feel like I'm writing in a vacuum, so to be recognized like this is surprising. I love movies, so my process is as simple as trying to write something I would like to see on screen - something both funny and heartfelt," Woodward said.
Woodward is a graduate of Emory & Henry College and obtained his master of fine arts degree in fiction from Spalding University in Louisville, Ky. He also was a freelance writer for the Knoxville News-Sentinel and worked two years at the Middleboro Daily News and did public relations for a year for Lincoln Memorial University.
Stemming from his love of music, Woodward said "Crush" is about a blues guitar player named Wallace Crush who's at the end of his rope after his tour gets canceled.
"I'm a huge move fan, and I'm also a huge music fan," Woodward said.
He said the Crush character is sort of a combination of blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn, blues and rock guitarist Eric Clapton and blues and pop musician John Mayer. He also said he drew some from his time as a guitar player in a band when he attended Lee High School in Lee County, Va., where he grew up after being born in Kingsport.
"After he (Crush) meets a young songstress playing on the streets of Nashville, Crush is inspired to write a pop song that propels them both into international superstardom," Woodward wrote in describing the screenplay. "Their paths now intertwined, Crush is consumed by both fame and jealousy of her burgeoning success, leading him to a crucial decision: choose fame, or the woman he loves?"
He said the plot line is similar to "A Star is Born" and "The Artist," with an old school artist falling in popularity while the new guard artist is on the rise.
Woodward plans to travel to California next month to pitch "Crush," as well as other projects, at the Great American PitchFest, which Hollywood producers attend to seek new material.
He said WriteMovies.com? , which does contests twice a year and began in 1999, already has sent him 13 pages of notes on the "Crush" screenplay and either will find him an agent or will represent him as an agent in California.
Woodward, who turned 27 on April 6, is single and said this is the time for him to pursue his dream.
"It's a great time for me to go to LA" and seek a sale of the screenplay, Woodward said. "If I don't do it, I'll definitely regret it."