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American Gem Short Screenplay & Literary Festival
2011 Screenplay Contest

Enter your Short Screenplay, Short Story, Treatment in American Gem Short Screenplay Contest / Literary Festival. 

Winning Screenplay in the American Gem Short Screenplay Contest will be Produced.

Grand Prize Winner / Short Screenplay Gets to Pitch Screenplay to Producers, Studio Executives and Agents. Certificate of achievement awards to the Top 25 scripts and top 3 in each of the other categories.

from script to screen


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FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards
Screenplay Contest Interview



CATEGORY 2 / Drama

Chris Van Strander


Chris Van Strander
of New York, NY, USA


Chris Van Strander is an award-winning screenwriter, playwright, and actor currently living in New York City. His plays include August, The National, Breuckelen, Terrible Infant, The Mothering Instinct, and Daniel Pelican, among many others. His work has been produced and developed internationally with: Circle East Theater Company (formerly the Circle Repertory Lab), Theater Catalyst (Philadelphia), The Asylum Theatre (Las Vegas), Live Girls! Theater (Seattle), Collective: Unconscious (NYC), Emerging Artists Theatre (NYC), The New York International Fringe Festival, as well as many fringe fests across Canada. He was recently awarded a Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance Grant, and has been a finalist/semifinalist for The O’Neill Playwrights’ Conference, PlayLabs, Page 73 Productions’ Playwriting Fellowship, and Ensemble Studio Theatre’s One Act Marathon, among others. Chris is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and a member of The Dramatists Guild of America. As an actor, Chris has appeared in film, TV, regionally, off-off-, and on Broadway. 25, which also advanced to the Second Round of the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition (top 10% of 4,000 entries) is his first feature screenplay.


Part 1.


I knew we wanted to be screenwriters........

when I realized I could tell different, and in some ways more expansive, stories on film than I usually get to onstage. I’m primarily a playwright, and while I love writing for theater, I really relished the bigger canvas 25 gave me: a larger cast of characters, real-life locations, a more visual narrative style—all that.

I know I've succeeded........ 

when what’s on the page truly, precisely, and rivetingly tells the story I’ve set out to tell.


My inspiration to write 25.....

came from two colleagues (a director and an actor) who’d recently turned 25, and suggested I write a film for them. (P.S. They ultimately and amicably chose not to pursue the project, so the script’s a free agent.)


Part 2.


FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

Chris Van Strander: I’ve written ever since I was really young, so it’s always been an instinctive part of the way in which I order my world. When I hear other folks express sentiments like “I write to figure out what I think about things,” that rings very true for my experience.

FilmMakers Magazine: What did you do to prepare yourself to write your first script?

Chris Van Strander: For this, I read lots of screenplays, studied films structured similarly to what I thought 25 was going to be like, and consulted a few resources (see below) for screenwriting advice.

FilmMakers Magazine: Is this your first script and how long did it take you to complete?

Chris Van Strander: 25’s my first full-length screenplay. Juggling it with other projects, the first draft took about 18 months—but that’s including research, outlining, etc.

FilmMakers Magazine: Do you have a set routine, place and time management for writing?

Chris Van Strander: I’m one of those who has to at least try to write every day. Where and for how long I get to varies greatly, depending on what else is going on that day/week.

FilmMakers Magazine: Do you believe screenplay contests are important for aspiring screenwriters and why?

Chris Van Strander: I’ve never entered one before trying a few with 25, but I hope so. I’m seeking representation, so if this experience should put me into contact with an agent, or help 25 get produced, then yes.

FilmMakers Magazine: What influenced you to enter the FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards / Screenplay Contest?

Chris Van Strander: Industry friends recommended it to me as one of a handful of highly-regarded, must-enter contests.

FilmMakers Magazine: What script would you urge aspiring writers to read and why?

Chris Van Strander: Double Indemnity. An all-around Cadillac of a script—indelible characters in conflict, ratcheting tension, crackling dialogue. Linda Seger’s book Making a Good Script Great includes a helpful case study of the Witness screenplay, and how targeted rewriting can focus and elevate a script.

FilmMakers Magazine: Beside screenwriting what are you passionate about and why?

Chris Van Strander: My family and friends, of course. My playwriting and acting. Traveling (every few years I hike across Spain). Plus I love a good scotch.

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

Chris Van Strander: Many favorites (Wilder, Goldman, Chayefsky, Kaufman, James L. Brooks), for vastly different reasons. I deeply admire David Simon. It’s been said to death, but The Wire is a work of great art, and the writing on it’s a huge achievement on every level—from its broadest character and story arcs, to its line-by-line inventiveness and nuance. A level of craft I aspire to.

FilmMakers Magazine: Name the director you would love to work with and why?

Chris Van Strander:
Lots, from Ang Lee to Roy Andersson. But after seeing In the Loop, it seems like creating something with Armando Iannucci would be an immensely fun challenge.

FilmMakers Magazine: Name the actor you would love to work with and why?

Chris Van Strander: Laura Linney. Intelligent, beautifully calibrated performances; I’ve never seen her hit a false note.

FilmMakers Magazine: Any tips and things learned along the way to pass on to others?

Chris Van Strander: I really don’t feel qualified to be giving anybody screenwriting advice; I just know what worked for me on this. Linda Seger’s book, which I mentioned above, and John August’s tip-packed blog were both excellent resources while I was writing 25. Rather than listen to me (poorly) parrot their advice, just run and read them.

I will say that once I really, truly, in-my-bones “got” that screenplays are, like, all structure, like 1000% structure, and embraced that, the process became a lot easier. In my plays, I feel tons of freedom to write “off the spine,” but whenever I wrote off it on this, I found myself in the woods (and mixing metaphors to boot).

So, STRUCTURE—all that 101 stuff about knowing what story you’re trying to tell, and pushing that story forward scene after scene, hurtling your characters through the thing. George Lucas’ (!) remark about thinking of a film as “sixty great two-minute scenes” was an unexpectedly helpful mantra that’s stuck with me.

And of course to just generally be ruthless with your own work, and cut ‘til it kills you.

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

Chris Van Strander: I’m getting married! (And working on another screenplay, of course.)

FilmMakers Magazine: Where will you be five years from now?

Chris Van Strander: Writing full-time—preferably from a room with a view of some nature. Right now all I got is a brick wall across the street. Ah, New York City.


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