Breaking Into the Screenwriting World: An Interview With Screenwriter Cody Tucker

01/17/2020

Any new or established screenwriter understands the struggles of breaking into the screenwriting world. Before you can even worry about how your script will be received, you have to get it into the right hands. 

While this may seem like an unfeasible task, many well-respected film festivals and entertainment organizations hold annual competitions that are specifically designed for emerging screenwriters and filmmakers. One such organizations, Sun Valley Film Festival, holds several filmmaking contests before their annual event in Sun Valley, Idaho, including the High Scribe Competition and Residency. The competition offers four screenwriters the chance to hold an official residency during the 2020 Sun Valley Film Festival, where they will receive mentoring from established screenwriters and face-time with Academy Award winner, Stephen Gaghan. 

If anyone understands the magnitude of the prize and its impact on helping those trying to break into the screenwriting world, it’s previous High Scribe winner, Cody Tucker. Submittable recently discussed the win with Tucker and how winning changed his career.

How did you initially become interested in filmmaking?

Since I was a kid I was always a good writer, as well as an avid movie and television watcher. Then it started to dawn on me that people are the ones who make the stories up. I really started liking this idea of creating a world under the reality you make. As I got older and my movie and television tastes evolved, I placed importance on what I was watching and I started wanting to make something as good as the best things I was watching, or better. It all ended up becoming educational for me. I wanted to know who wrote this one, who directed that one, why was something made when it was, why this shot, etc. That was sacred knowledge to me because no one I knew at the time had it. I knew that was how I wanted my brain to work.

What is the premise of your winning High Scribe script—Life of the World to Come?

When the dead start to resurrect, a man comes back to life and must find his wife and son before the world is over.

Where did the inspiration for the script come from?

I was sitting in church one morning (when that was something I did) and started reciting the Nicene Creed with everybody. You say it so many times over the years as a kid that it’s knee jerk, so you don’t put much thought into it as you get older. Then I said the line, “We look for the resurrection of the dead.” I sort of laughed to myself and said, “Man, that’d be crowded.” The idea started right from there. 

What was the most rewarding aspect of winning the High Scribe competition?

Having Stephen Gaghan be the one who made the choice. It was very validating that he saw something in the script that merited it winning. I always want to know what people think about my writing. Especially those who are held in very high regard. Even if it hadn’t won, I still would’ve felt that I was properly evaluated by someone who knew what the hell they were talking about. He also ended up being very helpful after the festival.

What was your favorite part about attending the Sun Valley Film Festival?

What I liked most about attending Sun Valley in 2013 was that I was in a community of filmmakers for a period of time. That is rare for me. I got to talk shop. I live in St. Louis and don’t get to venture out much, so for four days I was going to premieres, talking with writers, directors, actors, etc. I really welcomed that because it’s not very common for me.

What has been the most challenging part of breaking into the screenwriting world?

The time it takes. First, a story takes shape through an idea, then a treatment, then a script, then notes, then another script, more notes, and so on and so on. That can go on for months, sometimes years. The project I am currently working on has been going on for over two years. And once I write something and hand it in, it’s on someone else’s timetable. There’s a lot of waiting and it’s important to do something productive during that time. I’m not prolific in that I can bounce from one idea to another in the blink of an eye. An idea comes, I distill it, and then get to work. Long story short, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Another issue for me is that I am not in Los Angeles. I know that makes breaking into the screenwriting world more difficult. I would live there if it was feasible, but until that happens I have to play the way I am set up in the game right now. My management and I speak on the phone or via email regularly. I take meetings over the phone and just keep trying to build that bridge out west until it’s done. 

What project(s) are you currently working on?

For the last two-plus years I have been adapting the graphic novel, The Interview, into a screenplay titled, A Monster in a Small Town, for EnterMedia (creators of The Good Doctor.) When that’s not the focus, I generate pitch ideas and write scripts when they’re called for. 

What advice or words of encouragement do you have for aspiring screenwriters?

Believe that you’re a good writer who should be doing this for a living. Believe that you’re better than everyone else, but know they believe the same thing. Network, take meetings, write anything you can, stay active, stay relevant, stay viable. But also live life. Think of it as research.

This announcement was sponsored by Submittable partner, Sun Valley Film Festival.

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Abby Lessels

Abby Lessels moved to Missoula, Montana, by way of a small town in Western Massachusetts. She enjoys writing and photographing for publications like Edible, drinking Constant Comment tea, and compulsively quoting The Office.