American Gem 2003 Short Screenplay Competition - MILE ONE ELEVEN
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Charles Valenza


Charles Valenza
Ocean Grove, NJ

Charlie Valenza recently wrote and produced Found Money, which was Awarded Honorable Mention: FilmMakers American Gem Short Screenplay Competition 2001.  Found Money is an official selection of the International Festival of Festivals in Palm Springs , CA ; the Tambay Film and Video Festival, Tampa , FL ; and the Black Point Film Festival, Lake Genva , WI .  Found Money was also a finalist in the Garden State Film Festival, Asbury Park , NJ . Charlie feature-length work includes "The Heresy of Galileo" which was a finalist in the Brooklyn Film Festival; a quarter-finalist in the Maui Film Festival; and a semi-finalist in the prestigious Chesterfield Writer's Film Project.  Charlie has worked as a resident writer/director at the Broom Street Theater in Madison , WI .  He has earned a BFA in Theater from Adelphi University , Garden City, NY, and an MBA in marketing from New York University .  His first short script, Egregious Torso, was produced and directed by John Ohannisian.   

(More information about Found Money can be found at 


I knew I wanted to be a screenwriter ....

as an aspiring playwright and actor in college, I saw the film El Topo by Alexandro Jodorowsky and realized that “stage” was the limiting past and “film” was the unlimited future.

I know I've succeeded....

I’m reading through a draft of a script, or a series of scenes, and I’ve forgotten that I was the one who wrote it.

My inspiration to write MILE ONE ELEVEN.......

came from several places.  First, from being a New Jersey to New York commuter who traveled through the World Trade Center every workday morning at approximately nine o’clock and happened to be early on the morning of 9/11 by about twenty minutes.  Also, getting off my home bound train on that same day and being greeted by emergency workers in protective gear.  It was like a nightmare I had imagined during my cold war youth.  Second, my curiosity about the Mile 111 crossing on the Garden State Parkway .  Third, the many rumors since 9/11 about terrorist plots targeting the NYC area.  And, finally, the issues of religion and hate are important to me.  One of my rules as a writer is to write only about things that are important to me.




FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

Charles Valenza: My creative beginning was an actor in high school and community theater.  I was fortunate enough to receive an acting scholarship, without which I would not have been able to study theater as an undergraduate student.  My theater training was broad and I soon realized that I didn’t want to confine myself to acting.  I had stories I wanted to tell and I had to chance to both direct and write as part of my college program.  My first one-act play was produced as my senior year project.  Screenwriting came later, meeting an independent producer/director who wanted a script.

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

Charles Valenza: Being an actor was truly my preparation for becoming a stage and screenwriter.  As far as the technical script writing skills, I had a little book that showed screenwriting format and I followed that.  My first film script, Egregious Torso, was based on a dream a friend told me.  It was a low-budget 16mm B&W, the producer really liked that I wrote it like a play, one location. 

FilmMakers Magazine: Do you believe screenplay contests are important for aspiring screenwriters and why?
What influenced you to enter the American Gem Short Script Competition?

Charles Valenza: I know many writers who are “down” on the script competitions.  Some give you no feedback and, for us beginning writers, feedback is important to learn the craft.  Fortunately, today there are new avenues to get valid constructive criticism, online communities for example.  Others say that they got “nothing” in the way of furthering their ambitions from winning a contest.  I believe the contests are important and can be used effectively.  My script Found Money was only an Honorable Mention in the first American Gem, but that little bit of credibility helped get it read by a casting director and then professional NYC actors who eventually signed on to make the film.  Found Money has now screened at four US film festivals, no small feat since there are now over 3,100 short films being considered in the circuit.  I intend to use any contest success I have with Mile One Eleven the same way, using recognition to gain exposure.

I was encouraged by Found Money to continue to tell a compelling story in the short format, again using contest recognition to help get people to read the script and start the production ball rolling.  Getting read is a huge challenge for a new writer.

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

Charles Valenza: Besides screenwriting, I get passionate about the truth.  Therefore, I’m passionate about science.  I’m also passionate in my opposition to intolerant dogma, oppressive corruption and greed, and the unjust use of power. 

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

Charles Valenza: I don’t have a favorite screenwriter though, I admire many scripts. I won’t make many friends by saying this, but currently most screenwriters are filmmakers who sell themselves short.  You’ve made the film in your mind and put it on paper.  At that point you have two choices:  1) Hand it over to a production company, or 2) make the film yourself.  I realize film is a collaborative process, but so is theater.  I will continue to insist that I be part of the production process.

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

Charles Valenza: There are plenty of directors whose work is outstanding.  But in order to name one, I would need a piece of information I’m missing:  which ones work well with their screenwriters?  Those are the ones I want to work with.

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

Charles Valenza: Geena Davis.  She hasn’t gotten the parts she deserves, especially lately.  I think she has extraordinary down-to-earth appeal that has been under utilized by “
Hollywood .”  I like to see her achieve a gritty, strong “realism” that would meld with her sharp insight and humor.

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

Charles Valenza: Tip for my writer friends:  Here’s a “exercise” that improved my writing 100%.  (You’re going to hate this, but trust me if you do it and the light will go on.)  Get a book about film production and go to the part about breaking down the script for shooting.  Take your best script and break it down as if you are the Producer and you will have to shoot each and every shot.  I was forced to do this as the producer of Found Money.  It was a lot of work, but when I was finished I felt I knew how to write a script like I never had before. 

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

Charles Valenza: Writing and producing a low-budget feature to be complete in early 2005.

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

Charles Valenza:  I’ll be writing and producing a new film every 18 months.

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