Aussie screenwriters in final of Script Pipeline Contest

22 July, 2016 by Jackie Keast

Michael Noonan.


Aussie writers are among those vying to take out the 2016 Script Pipeline Screenwriting Contest, with the winner to be announced in Los Angeles this weekend.

The competition, now in its 14th year, aims to discover up-and-coming writers and connect them with producers, agencies, and managers across studio and independent markets.

Finalists are given exposure to Script Pipeline industry partners – approximately 200 qualified contacts – and circulation.

The winning script receives $25,000 and the runner-up gets $1,500. Both receive development consultation.

According to Script Pipeline, over $6 million in specs have been sold from its alumni since 2000.

Brisbane’s Michael Noonan, who is currently teaching film at the University of Monterrey in Mexico, has two scripts in the mix, Alternate Ending and #Escape.

Both scripts were also semi-finalists in the Academy Nicholl Fellowships for Screenwriting; Alternate Ending in 2014, and #Escape in 2015 (then titled The Lupis Escape).

Alternate Ending is a thriller that follows a political candidate who, on the eve of an election, sees the movie version of his life and realises he’s going to be assassinated.

Noonan, who has made a variety of shorts and is a five time Tropfest finalist, told IF he’s been working on the script for about four years, and has gone through about nine drafts. 

"I think the latest draft is pretty solid," said Noonan. "When you write something, you think ‘I’ll get it made next year’. And then four years later you’re still redrafting. It gives you an appreciation of how long these things take with feature films."

#Escape is a newer script that Noonan workshopped with Screen Queensland last year. A black comedy, it follows the son of a notorious assassin who mounts a crowd funding campaign to finance his father's jailbreak and flight across the Mexican border.

"Comedy’s always tricky. It’s good just to get in a competition, you think ‘it must be working'," said Noonan. 

“Apart from getting contacts, these competitions are good for just getting a bit of reassurance that something’s alright. A lot of the time you’re on your own, you write the script and you send it off. A lot of the coverage services are pretty brutal and people don’t really give you feedback, and your friends aren’t necessarily honest. This is the most objective feedback you get can get, when someone says ‘it works’.”

Ben Phelps (left) and Gabriel Dowrick.

Sydney-based screenwriters Ben Phelps and Gabriel Dowrick have reached the finals of Script Pipeline for the second time with their script Control Room. They were also finalists in 2012 with a another script, The Hitman’s Cookbook.

Of the decision to enter Control Room in the competition, Phelps told IF that he and Dowrick, who have written around eight screenplays together, “just decided to give it a crack and see how it would be received overseas.”

“We had good fortune with The Hitman’s Cookbook being well received back in 2012 so we’d just decided to see if this film, which is very, very different, would have a similar reaction. And fortunately it has.”

Control Room is an espionage thriller that follows two female ASIO spies who have to cooperate to stop a terrorist attack by ‘hacktivists’ on the Australian Prime Minister – whom the hackers hold accountable for war crimes – during a G20 summit.

“Once upon a time whistle blowers like Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden would have been lauded… These guys are now branded as traitors and find themselves on the run in different jurisdictions overseas,” said Phelps of the story’s inspiration.

“So we decided to think about what would actually happen, what’s the next step for a hacker if releasing the truth doesn’t set us free… if you can’t use logic or truth to generate change, do hackers then start to turn to violence to get a result?”

Despite the fact it’s an Australian-focused story, Phelps believes the reason that the script has garnered a good response in an international competition is its global themes.

Melbourne’s Penelope Chai and Matteo Bernardini are also in the final for their script Cinderella Must Die, an action adventure “set eight years after happily-ever-after.”

The winner of the 2016 Script Pipeline Competition is announced on July 23 in LA.