As part of the ongoing interview session here at See Me Sell A Screenplay, today’s interview is with David Ebeltoft. David is a screenwriter out of the New York City area that has placed in a recent screenplay contest. For those of you wondering what it takes to win a script contest, have a look at the interview with David for some insight. And you can read his script on the Philadelphia Screenplay Festival site.

Drawn to film by its visual explanation of the narrative and its efficacy as a collaborative system, David Ebeltoft penned the feature length script, You Were Once Called Queen City, in 2007. The script recently won the coveted Grand Prize at the Philadelphia Screenplay Festival and was also awarded one of three Feature Development Awards in the highly competitive 2008 Bluecat Screenwriting Lab Competition. David has written for the music-themed television show Noise Floor and has been a creative consultant on several projects for Denver-based producer and director, Kelly Magelky.

David currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Interview, part one:

SMS: I see from your website that you are a photographer, is that your day job? If so, is this a career that allows you a lot of time to write or do you find yourself trying to make time to write? I ask that because a lot of people that have desk jobs have set writing times of either before or after work or both.

DE: During the day I’m a mild mannered corporate art collection manager, and at night I’m slightly schizophrenic with my creative career, splitting my time between writing and photography. My day job is a gig to pay the bills and support my creative interests.  It’s hard to squeeze time in during the week for writing but I’ve found that being in an industry that is remotely linked to what you want to do helps.  I get to deal with art all day, which inspires my photography and in turn fuels my writing.  For example, while photographing my hometown in North Dakota, I started taking notes and recording memories of the settings and scenes being captured.  This eventually led to a narrative interest the camera couldn’t capture and my script, You Were Once Called Queen City, was born.

SMS: Can you tell the readers a little about You Were Once Called Queen City? How long did it take you to complete?

DE: The script is about Danny Mesersmits, a past-obsessed teenager, who is trying to decide whether to follow in the wrestling footsteps of his deceased father, a local legend.  It’s set in a sweet, mid-western town and contains a quirky collection of small-town idiots dusting up situations that sometimes help and other times hinder Danny’s decision.  When an unexpected tragedy occurs Danny has to come to terms with his past so he can deal with the present and face his future.

It took about two years to obtain the draft I submitted for contest consideration.  For the first six months I started doing free-writes associated with topics I knew I wanted to deal with.  I had a long list of short topics, everything from love and loss, to pickles and kool-aid that was based on my memory and experience.  I then took those free writes and started forming them into a story and plot structure.  After the structure was set (another six months) I sat down and penned the script, which took three months to write.  Six months and four drafts later, I thought it was at a point to release into the world.

Since receiving some helpful and insightful feedback, I’m now at the point where I need to dive back into it and make more changes, so in reality the script isn’t finished.  Final answer, three years and counting.

SMS: How many scripts have you completed? If more than the one (You Were Once Called Queen City), have you entered any others into contests?

DE: Just this one.

SMS: What contests/placements have you earned with You Were Once Called Queen City?

DE: I received the Grand Prize at the Philadelphia Screenplay Festival and was one of three Feature Development Award Winners in the Bluecat Screenwriting Lab Competition.  I was also a finalist in the 2008 Screenplay Festival.

SMS: Are there any contests that you entered that particular script in that you did not place in? If so, was that before you started placing in contests with it or after? If before, what did you do to change the script that changed the game for you?

DE: You bet, I entered a total of ten competitions and only placed as a finalist or above in three.  At first I wanted to enter about twenty, but upon receiving my first two rejection notifications I realized that a flat out sorry wasn’t going to help me.  I needed some feedback, like a ‘good try, but try this’ reply.  So I went back in and tailored my list to the competitions that offered feedback for every script entered and awards that were made to further the scripts potential as a literary work.  Monetary awards help as do industry credit, but I was timid and knew that although my script was worthy it also needed more work to compete in a land of lions.  I ended up cutting the competitions that offered ‘$10,000 and possible production’ and focused on intensive writing labs and story consulting as winnings.  I didn’t change much in the script itself, a few corrections here and there but nothing major, as I didn’t know what wasn’t working.

SMS: What, if any, type of training do you have in screenwriting? Do you do things like writers groups? Do you write with a partner?

DE: I do not have any training in screenwriting.  I went to school for photography and museum studies but was always attracted to the written, spoken, and performance aspect of the film medium.  It got to a point where my images were giving 10% of a narrative so after awhile I picked up the pen to continue telling the story the photo couldn’t.

I haven’t attended any formal writer groups or written with a partner.  I usually just run my ideas by a good and honest group of creative guys and gals, ranging from musicians to attorneys.  I can instantly get a sense if my idea is entertaining or needs a little more work.  It also helps to talk it through with someone who hasn’t been thinking about it constantly for the past 6 months, their initial reactions have helped immensely.

SMS: Have you earned any money as a screenwriter? Do you get paid to do any other type of writing? If not, do you do any other type of writing?

DE: I’m currently working on a pro bono basis.  I’ve done some television pilot and series work for a music-themed show and have consulted on several projects for a director & producer, but my payments have been lunch, beers, and knowledge.  All the projects I have worked on had non-existing budgets but were great learning experiences and made crucial connections in the film world where I’m still a newborn babe.

Stay tuned for part two of our interview with screenwriter David Ebelhoft later this week!