American Gem 2004 Short Screenplay Competition - THE CHRISTMAS CARD
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Marc Calderwood

First Place Winner

Marc Calderwood
of Albuquerque, NM

I was raised in Anchorage, Alaska. When I was seventeen I moved to the lower 48 with my parents where I graduated from Palm Springs High. That year we moved to Silver City, New Mexico where I attended Western New Mexico State University. 

After a decade of failed matrimony I spent quite some time as a single parent of two sons. In 1978 I went into business with my mother. We started Rio Grande Travel, a travel management company, that we grew to $60 Million in annual sales. In 1991 she retired and I purchased her interest and added several partners. As President and CEO I continued to direct the company until 2000 when I made the decision to sell to my partners and redirect my career to my first love; writing. 

Today I live with my wife, Phyllis, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She continues to work full time while I work at writing full time. We have three grown children who are nearly finished with their educations.


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

I started writing twenty-five years ago, then I took a hiatus to raise kids. After the feeding frenzy I decided to go back to my first soul-mate; writing. I sold my business, told my wife to hang on and started to write. At first, I wrote anything and every thing I could write. It was like some nymphomaniacal romp; a hot, sexual thing that felt good, produced a whole lot of words but no cohesive outcome. When I came to my senses I realized I needed to find a niche; a discipline. 

I began to explore my options: I attended numerous writing seminars, I read about the business of writing, and I talked to folks in various stages of writing careers. In late 2002 I attending the first Screenwriter's Expo. Earlier, I had written a short screenplay for a screenwriting class and had some interest in the field. After Expo I visited a local Barnes and Noble. I simply walked through the sea of books that never sell and my decision was made. The odds of writing a successful novel are about the same as writing a successful screenplay. In the final analysis, to get prime shelf-space anywhere, one has to be very good at whatever it is one does. 

I know I've succeeded....

I'll have succeeded, as a writer, when; someone, somewhere, one-hundred years from now, has a desire to watch a screenplay that I wrote-even though they've seen it a hundred times-just because it's a good story. 

My inspiration to write THE CHRISTMAS CARD.......

Compassion is a keystone in most of what I write, and I believe it's important to view the debris of September 11th, 2001 with an understanding that many people suffered loss, and the trauma manifests itself in numerous ways. Even the angry teenagers (in the script) are damaged beyond their ability to control their own actions. I picked Christmas because it is the quintessential soil for hurt, anger, retribution, forgiveness and selfless acts. The inspiration was a bit of all of that with a mix of my own damage. 




FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

Marc Calderwood: All of the great story tellers of the past; especially those from the late 19th and early 20th centuries inspire me. These giants were true story tellers and our parents read us their works until we learned to read them for ourselves. Today, every time I read a well written piece, see a good film, listen to fine poetry I'm inspired all over again. 

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

Marc Calderwood: I wrote my first script-Two Beautiful Ladies, A Foggy Night And A Body In The Trunk-as an assignment for my first script class. Other than the class itself I bought David Trottier's Screenwriter's Bible, and Syd Fields Screenplay. Then I sat down and started writing. In those days I didn't have a program so everything was in Word, what a pain. But, a scriptwriting program does not a scriptwriter make and writing it out in that manner taught me a great deal about basic format structure 

FilmMakers Magazine: Is this your first script and how long did it take you to write THE CHRISTMAS CARD?

Marc Calderwood: The Christmas Card was my second script. I've written fifteen shorts since writing this one, and really . . . none of them are completely finished. I reread them all, and I constantly make changes so I have to say that nothing I write is ever complete; to my satisfaction. I suppose if I had to put an hour figure to this piece I would say sixty or seventy hours, maybe more, but certainly not less and I still find myself making changes to it. 

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

Marc Calderwood: My routine starts every morning at eight and I write for five or six hours. I write at any place that serves coffee and switch places often so that I don't get involved with visiting. It strikes me odd that I can have my face stuck to my screen, fingers flashing away, a look in my eyes the indicates that I'm on another planet and someone will sit down and ask me about my RAM! But, I continue to write in coffeehouses because I'm too undisciplined to write at home. I reserve later in the day for research, and the business end of writing and that's what I do at home. I also spend time reeducating myself. When I was younger I was too smart for school so now I'm doing all the homework I didn't do then. I usually find time on the weekends to write as well so that each week I'm writing 30 to 40 hours.  

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

Marc Calderwood: A recent article in Script Magazine, by John Hill, takes an unfavorable shot at contests, deriding them as wasteful efforts. I don't believe anything can be further from the truth. It's so easy to be critical, but for those of us out here in the cosmic dust of Hollywood contests provide some important ingredients for the beginning writer. Among those are:

  • Reality check - Writing screenplays isn't for everyone. If, after the 30th or so entry, one hasn't made at least Honorable Mention or Finalist one might possibly consider poetry as a field for exploration. As Clint Eastwood put it, "A man needs to know what his limitations are."

  • Hope - Writers, real writers, don't mind the lonely hours, it's all done for hope, and each time you send out your work there is this hope that it will be recognized as having some value. 

  • Practice makes perfect - I've written 15 shorts. Most of them have been entered in one contest or another and nearly half have ended up as a Finalist or above. These winners are the latest pieces and are proof that my work is becoming better. You will never find an agent willing to give you that kind of feedback.

  • Interest in your work - This is not the easiest way to get someone interested in your work because you still have to be better than everyone else, but it is surely another way.

  • Resume builder - It's difficult to build a resume in this business but it is necessary and contest placement is a way to do that. There isn't an agent or management company in the world that needs another writer with future potential to show up on their doorstep. Produce work, win some contests, produce some more work and someone will give you five minutes. If you're as good as you say you are that's all you'll need. 

FilmMakers Magazine: What influenced you to enter the American Gem Short Script Competition?

Marc Calderwood: I entered American Gem primarily because of the testimonials on the web-site. It's important to hear what others say, and there are numerous positive statements about the competition and it's affect on careers. Secondly, the prize range in the American Gem competition is one of the best. It has real depth by offering numerous prize levels. Many contests offer a large first place prize then nothing after that. There are some that don't even offer honorable mentions or semi-finalist levels. These things are important as boosts to the soul when one is slugging it out through another 10 page day.  

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

Marc Calderwood: The same one that blew my mind when I first started reading scripts, Badlands. I read it before seeing the film and I still can't shake the natural, clean, clear vision that the work evokes.

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

Marc Calderwood:I love traveling with my wife, whether it's a trip through rural New Mexico or an adventure through Italy. She's my best friend, such an easy companion to be with and I would be a fairly one-dimensional person if it weren't for her dragging me away from my computer once in awhile. I'm hooked on in-line skating for the juice I get from exercise. I'm very passionate about history because when you dig deep enough truth is revealed. Last, I am passionate about all aspects of writing. I still write short stories, poetry, non-fiction articles and children's work. I just had a piece printed in Highlights For Children and I am as proud of that accomplishment as anything. 

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

Marc Calderwood: I have several favorite screenwriters:

  • Andy Kauffman - for everything he's written

  • Betty Comden and Adolph Green - for Singing In The Rain

  • Joel/Ethan Coen - for everything but the last two

  • Me - for the continuous hours of entertainment I have given myself while writing. 

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

Marc Calderwood: I would love to work with Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeanute or Peter Jackson. All of these men make absolute magic happen on the screen better than almost anyone. I'm not a slice-of-life writer and find myself drawn to write and to see films that have that little twinkle of odd magic in their eye.  

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

Marc Calderwood: Morgan Freeman, Tom Cruise and Cate Blanchette are three actors that I find most appealing and the reason is the same for all three. Each and every time I see these people I am reminded just how good they are and each time they seem better than the last, especially Tom Cruise. He just seems to be getting better with each film.

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

Marc Calderwood: I have these recommendations:

  • Don't write in a vacuum, join script groups, go on-line (Zoetrope, Trigger Street) attend seminars, but find ways to get your work read by as many people as you can. Eat the feedback like it's your last meal, then go back and rewrite. 

  • Always write a sense of yourself into your work, and never take that out no matter what the feedback says. Learn to change the elements of structure or format or style without surrendering the "you" in your work. I see, too often, very new writers trying so hard to be someone or something they're not on the advice of others who may know less. We are writing because we want to say something and this is the soul of the work. Soulless work should be reserved for advertising copy.

  • Andy Warhol said that "Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art." Develop an understanding of good business. I've found this one thing most lacking on the infant writer side of the industry (that's us). I have a written; 1 year, 3 year and 5 year business plan, and I would suggest strongly that anyone serious about the business of writing consider developing their own written business plan. It's difficult to gauge how things are going if you don't' have a way to measure progress, and having a serious business plan intimates that one appreciates the business side of the art of film.

  • Last and most important, remember this . . . 

"Never, never, never give up." 
- Winston Churchill

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

Marc Calderwood: I think my short script career is behind me, I've accomplished what I wanted and now it's time to work on features. I have three features that are in various stages of progress right now and I will be reworking and polishing these for the next six or so months. I feel that my placement in the American Gem competition will provide great opportunities, but I'm not rushing anything, I'm enjoying the journey far too much to be rushing. 

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

Marc Calderwood: On the A List.

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