Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Jim Mercurio

After my class two Wednesdays ago, I braved rush hour traffic to see my lifelong friend Sean Kanan perform comedy at the Irvine Improv. He and I did standup comedy when we were 15 and lived in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. We would steal his parent's car and drive to Niles, Ohio to Tickles Comedy Club and watch the old school touring comedians like Glenn Hirsch (Gleeb Hush), Shirley Hemphill, and Steve Mittleman. Then after watching six back-to-back shows, we would do our 10 minutes on Monday, open-mic night. One of the amateurs at the time, Dan O'Shannon, who later went on to exec produce Cheers, sold me a series of fat jokes for $10, a highlight being: I don't understand why I'm overweight, I try to eat a small amount of food from each of the 53 basic food groups. (Dan, if you're out there, will you take a look at my Night Court spec?).

Back to the Improv. Before the show, I asked Sean if he wanted to come and cold-read some scenes from my class to help the writers. Before I could even neurotically list all of the reasons he might not want to do it, he said yes.

Sean showed up 30 minutes early and agreed to talk about the business side of things. Sean has produced several films (he wrote one of them) whose cumulative budgets exceed $3 million, he has been a regular on The Bold and the Beautiful and General Hospital. He discussed how competitive things are for an actor and although he doesn't play any head games in the waiting room, he says when it's his turn to audition, he is there for blood, to kill to get the part. His honesty was refreshing.

Here is a reminder that you can learn more about a person by showing than telling: Sean earned his breakout role as Ralph Macchio's nemesis in Karate Kid III from a 2,000-person open cattle call. The year before the movie was even produced, Sean and I -- juniors in college who were home for the summer -- were sitting on the stoop of the local Pennzmart (gas station) sipping our Big Gulp equivalents of diet coke. Sean stood up and announced that he had read there would be a sequel to Karate Kid II, and that (in a huge nod to positive thinking and diligence) he was going to get the part as the kid who fights the KK. I may have left out the fact that I was double-fisting spinach and pepperoni strombolis, but not a word of this paragraph is hyperbole.

Sean and the other actress, Giovanna Maimone, read the scenes aloud and brought the students' scenes to life. This was one of the favorite parts of the class for the writers. A lot of my teaching forces students to see screenwriting from the perspective of the other filmmaking artisans - directors, actors, designers, etc. - to gain insight into telling a more nuanced and cinematic screenplay.

Sean read the climactic scene from one of the writers' heavy dramas. He playfully chastised the writer and us for throwing him a cold-read curveball and said that he would have liked more time to prepare. We thought he and Giovanna were amazing in the scene and the writer was reassured that the scene was working. Sean showed up to read scenes with no preparation. And that's why it was such a giving and graceful gesture. His willingness to be not perfect in support of the writers' growth was why his favor was such a gift.

The Weekend Class (l to r): John, Bob (repeat top 20, woo hoo!), Sean, me, Sharon, Tony, Magali, Giovanna (front)

Sean and several other actors, including, hopefully, Kurtwood Smith, will be joining us this year.  There are still seats available for the 11/30-12/3 and 12/8-12/10 classes.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


The 2010 Champion Screenwriting Competition is proud to announce the winners of the Shorts categories.


The Device and the Operator by Cassandra Holroyd


A Simple Plea by Dean Watts

BEST SHORT SHORT (Less than three pages)

Aurora by Kristi L. Simkins

These winners receive $500 each and are invited to one of the Champion Labs.  The other Top Ten shorts writers are welcome to attend the 11/30-12/3 or 12/8-12/10 sesssion at a 60% discount.  Please email info@champ(xxx)creenwriting.com to sign up.  Replace xxx with "ions."

Congratulations to Kristi, Dean and Cassandra!

Friday, November 12, 2010


Without further ado, from nearly 1000 features, here are the top top 20 features in the 2010 Champion Screenwriting Competition.


Anatomy of a Town by Patricia Fox
Bank Robbing for Dummies by Robert Watson
Civil War by Geoffrey Elsner and Carson Griffis
Closure by Darren Swanson
Controlled by Craig Cambria
Damascus Road by Patrick Homes
Dead Last by Kevin Lee Miller
Death in Venice Beach by Nicholas Horwood
Genius by Jim Kenney
Horror Comic by Stephen Hoover
Little Eden by Timothy Jay Smith
Monster Job Hunter by Yehudi Mercado
Nuclear One by Michael Toay & Travis Mann
Out of Range by Elizabeth Medes
Purple Haze by Jeff Fry
Spotnik by Celeste Chan Wolfe
Stealing Canada by Tyler Smith
Take My Advice by Alicia Lomas-Gross
The Queen is in the Parlour by Marc Goldsmith & Laurence Holzman
Zombies and Other Middle School Issues by Ted Strickland

All of these writers receive a spot in one of the week-long Champion Labs, a year-long membership to itsonthegrid.com, 10 pitches from VirtualPitchFest.com, a 15-minute recorded audio version of a screenplay excerpt from iScript, two career coaching sessions with Rhona Berens, Ph.D and a few other exclusive offers which I will announce soon.

Details about the class and other offers will go out soon and a mass email to everyone who entered will go out tomorrow via Constant Contact.  Sign up for updates at http://www.championscreenwriting.com/ if you are not sure if you are on the list.

Shorts winners will be announced tomorrow!

The winners of the feature category will be announced in Los Angeles on Dec 3 at our informal awards dinner...Hollywood, Thai food, $10,000...someone's going to be Kung-Pao'd.

Thanks to everyone who entered and congratulations to the writers who advanced.

Jim Mercurio

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Top Ten Shorts for 2010 Champion Screenwriting Competition

We received more than 200 shorts and we are excited to announce the top ten scripts.  We will announce the winners of the Best Drama, Best Comedy and Best Short Short in less than 48 hours.  Each of the winners receive $500 and some assorted other goodies.  We will send out a mass email when we announce the top 20 features, which should happen within the next 36 hours.

Thanks to everyone who entered and congratulations to these writers.  Every one of these scripts is awesome.


A Simple Plea by Dean Watts

Aurora by Kristi L. Simkins

Broken Bulbs by Miyako Akina Fuqua

Cakewalk by Brian Baker

Dead in the Room by Marjory Kaptanoglu

Douchebag by Luke Spears

Skywhale by Carl Huebner

The Checker Game by Steve Warren

The Device and the Operator by Cassandra Holroyd

The Job by Steven Davis

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


We will announce the top eight or ten shorts in a day or two.  Am hoping to get top 20 Feature list out within a week, so everyone will have at least three weeks to get to Los Angeles.  The first class begins Nov 30. Check out the previous blogs for info about classes.

Sign up now to guarantee yourself a spot!