Interview with the 2023 Winner

Eric Carlson is an exceptionally talented screenwriter currently residing in the US.  Eric won the Faith in Film Screenwriting Competition with his brilliant script aptly entitled “Reach for the Sky”.

We sent Eric a few questions after their win, and he was nice enough to respond: 

1.       What's your background? How long have you been writing?  And what made you choose and or transition into screenwriting?

I’ve had two distinct careers – the first as a Navy officer and the second as a screenwriter. I began screenwriting about 25 years ago while still serving. I’ve always been a film buff, and when I met screenwriter Todd Robinson on the set of the movie “White Squall” I knew I wanted to pursue writing as a second career. Watching actors breathe life into the characters Todd created was the defining moment for me. 

2.       What screenwriting training have you received? And what were some of your biggest breakthroughs?

For my first screenplay I purchased Syd Field’s book “Screenplay – The Foundations of Screenwriting” and a small book on how to format a script. From there I started writing. And kept writing. In 2006 I joined a screenwriting group in Richmond, VA – the Virginia Screenwriters Forum – and have been a member since. I attribute my success to the critiques I received over the years from VSF.  I obviously watched - and still watch - movies from a writer’s perspective and read as many scripts as I could find. I committed to writing at least 2 scripts a year. Once I felt confident, I began entering contests to see how my scripts stacked up against others. As my writing improved, so did my performance in competitions. At that point I knew I was on the right track. I’ve also attended many film festivals, seminars, and met as many people in the business as I could. When I had a script place in the Nicholl Fellowship Screenwriting competition, I knew I reached a solid skill level.

3.       What else have you written? What writing habits work for you?  Do you write in short bursts or long shifts, in the morning or late at night, do you write at coffee shops, at home, or at the office when no one else is looking?

Over the past 25 years I’ve probably written at least 35 scripts. About half were completed and then “tossed in the drawer” because the premise just didn’t work out. Sometimes you have to pursue a premise to the end to see if it is successful. And if it isn’t, you move on to your next story. Regardless, the time spent writing it is still beneficial. I tend to write in spurts at home in my favorite chair unless under a deadline. Then I will spend 12 or more hours a day writing while only taking short breaks. Deadlines are good because they force you to write under pressure.

4.       What's the title of the script you entered, and what's it about?

Reach for the Sky is an inspirational true story about a small-town high school industrial arts teacher who in 1964 motivated his otherwise poor performing students to build an airplane that he eventually flew. How many teachers can say they had so much faith in their students they literally put their lives in the students’ hands by flying an airplane they built? That’s what really attracted me to the story. Although the story ends with the first plane his class built, over his career his classes built 15 airplanes. Today over 100 high schools have programs very similar to the program he started back in 64.

5.       Where do you look for inspiration and what inspired you to write this script?

I tend to gravitate toward true stories with an inspirational message. I want people to finish a movie feeling better about themselves and the world. That message in the story behind Reach for the Sky is what caught my attention and led me to develop it.

6.       Describe your process? Do you outline your story first? Do you use notecards or a beat sheet? Or do you simply sit down and let it flow?

I pretty much defy convention and just start writing. I have an ability to literally “see” the story in my head before I begin writing, so I just follow that storyline. I do make changes as I edit, but the basic story I know from the beginning - and I can recall it anytime.

7.       What was your experience with our festival? Are you happy with your involvement? What did you like most about your experience? And what could we improve on?

Absolutely wonderful experience - and I truly enjoyed my consults! They made me feel like I was just sitting in the room with them having a nice chat about my script – just incredibly wonderful people. You also kept me informed every step of the way! I would urge anyone with a solid inspirational script to enter! I believe audiences want these kinds of stories, so here’s a perfect opportunity to see if your script is on the right track.

8.       What are you writing now and what do you plan on writing in the near future?

I’m juggling two scripts – one a western with a moral message and a bit of a harder edge, and the other is another inspirational true story. I’m also working with a production company on a script I recently optioned. They are moving toward pre-production which is exciting.

9.       Any advice for those about to dive into their first feature-length screenplay?

You will hit your first wall at about page 30. Don’t stop. Keep pushing to

the end. Try to keep an audience in mind as you write. For me, editing is

the most fun. You’ve done all the hard work. Now you can hone your story

to perfection. Don’t be afraid to put your protagonist through the wringer.

The harder you make their journey, the more engaged your audience will

become with the story.

10.   Last, but not least, what have been your biggest victories since entering our festival? Any more awards, any representation, any options, connections, new opportunities, and or plans to move to New York or LA?

I’m awaiting the results of a few more contests, and as I mentioned above, I have a script under option. The strike has slowed things down, but it is still moving forward. It’s an exciting process to watch unfold! My plans are to remain in beautiful Virginia, knowing New York or L.A. are a plane ride away. So far with my optioned script I’ve been able to do everything with Zoom and e-mail. Both are a blessing for screenwriters!

Thank you all again for this great opportunity! Hopefully my answers are beneficial. This has been a wonderful experience!   -Eric 

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