Write of Passage Winner 2017 - Interview with Sandi Eberhardt
Interview: Winners of the Write of Passage Screenwriting Competition
Our Winner is: “Adjusting the Offense” by Sandi Eberhardt of Brea CA, with help from Development Executive: David Hyde. Logline: A high school quarterback tackles his arrogance. #17-DE04-W23
Sandi Eberhardt of Brea CA is our Write of Passage Winning Writer for 2017. That means she wrote the best 12-page screenplay in one week (168 hours) with an advisor called a Development Executive (DE). David Hyde of Rio Linda, CA is the winning DE. Both are interviewed below.
Prizes include $750 cash ($500 to the writer, $250 to the DE), introductions to Hollywood Pros, including Brian Bird ("Not Easily Broken" and “When Calls The Heart”).
Any WP script may be produced for the 168 Film Festival's Write of Passage Spotlight. Writers and mentors (DE's) receive screen credit if their film is made.
Some quotes from this interview:
“I loved the theme of “Power.” I really reflected on what that means to me and I kept coming back to Jesus.” -- Sandi Eberhardt.
“I feel like the toxic climate we’re currently living in is festering with power struggles.” -- Sandi Eberhardt
“I informed the instructor that I write in the faith-based and family genres and that I don’t do the “(friends) with benefits” thing. She was polite, but not very complimentary.” –- David Hyde
Writer Sandi Eberhardt is first up (SE) and then D.E. David Hyde (DH). The interviewer is John David Ware (JDW). We asked some probing questions and got probing answers.
JDW: Tell us about yourself. What do you do for work?
SE: I’m a full-time mom to 3 awesome kids and a wife to a fantastic husband of 28 years. Caring for my family is my deepest passion and love, but when I’m not doing that, I love to take on projects (at my old church’s Children’s Ministry) to teach kids about the Bible through skits. My goal is to not only teach complicated theological concepts in a simplified way, but to entertain my audience. My love for writing theatrical “teacher-tainment” has evolved into wanting to learn screenwriting for movies and episodic TV shows. So, I have self-taught through books, blogs, and videos. Write of Passage, over the last couple years, has helped me grow in this area by leaps and bounds.
JDW: How did you learn about WP &168?
SE: The first time I heard about 168 was in 2009 when I was an actor on a 168 Film Project team. In 2012, I signed up for the Write of Passage competition with the primary goal of improving my screenwriting skills. I was drawn to the WP competition because I loved the idea of having a mentor/editor guide me through the writing process with immediate, professional, constructive feedback. I had no expectations of winning anything, of course, but was very encouraged when I made it to semi-finals that first year. I got so much out of my first Write of Passage experience that I vowed to do it every year. And each time I’ve participated, I’ve learned something significant and something very different from each of the incredible DE’s I’ve been assigned to.
JDW: Besides the verse, what was your inspiration for this year’s best screenplay, “Adjusting the Offense?”
SE: The story of Joseph has always fascinated me. Joseph’s ability to maintain strong moral character in the midst of adversity and betrayal has always been inspiring. In the end, he acquires a significant amount of power, but uses that power for the benefit of his family/nation, rather than for revenge, which is another avenue he very well could have taken. At the same time, Joseph’s flawed side actually ministers to me, too. I love that Joseph has both honorable and unintentionally irritating qualities at times...like we all have. I wanted to write a modern day variation of Joseph that paints a picture of a really great guy who has some slightly annoying blind spots.
JDW: How did this year’s theme hit you?
2017 Theme and Verse: “Power” Who follows who and why? Who decides the pecking order? Throughout history, all people in every conceivable relationship have fought for power. It is wonderful when allied with liberty and justice. But, in the wrong hands it can be disastrous. Plug in with us as we take an electrifying journey through the corridors of power.
Verse: Genesis 37:6-7 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.” NIV
SE: I loved the theme of “Power.” I really reflected on what that means to me and I kept coming back to Jesus. Jesus always prioritized God first, others second, and himself last. I feel like the toxic climate we’re currently living in is festering with power struggles (racially, gender-wise, politically, personally, globally.) Everyone seems to want to demand and elevate their own rights above others. But, when I look at Jesus’ example, his wielding of power was not about demanding his rights and elevating his own status, but by laying his rights aside, serving others selflessly, (especially those who had no voice,) and changing lives and attitudes through his servanthood, love, and compassion.
JDW: How do you see the verse in your story?
SE: Okay, honestly, this part was hard for me. Like I said above, I love the “Power” theme. There’s so much potential there for interesting story lines. Prior to receiving the verse, I had all these great “Power” ideas sloshing around in my brain. But then, the Genesis 37:6-7 verses were assigned, and all my ideas got tossed in the mental shredder. First of all, I had to look up what a sheaf was exactly. All that “binding sheaves” verbiage threw me. I thought, “I have NO idea how to turn this verse into a story.” But then, I prayed. I read the Joseph story over many times. In rereading the story with a writer’s hat on, though, I chuckled at the comedic elements: little favored Joseph, tattling on his older brothers’ bad behavior and then undiplomatically announcing a dream to the family that claimed they would all one day bow down to him. The story suddenly seemed funny to me, so I knew I wanted my main character, Joe, to have a dream very similar to the sheaf dream (minus the actual sheaves,) that would eventually come true just like it did for biblical Joseph.
JDW: This story is about power that comes from position and leads to pride and ultimately about introspection. How do you see the journey?
SE: People in positions of power (even those who are nobly-driven) need humility “pillars” in their lives to keep them grounded in reality. Otherwise, there comes the potential for an abuse of power. Cancerous tumors of pride can unknowingly build inside those whose visions get blurred by inflated egos. So, I wrote in the Granita “Grannie” Baker character to be Joe’s pillar. She is a firm, maternal, loving, but honest voice that leads him to that introspection. The journey for Joe, (and even for me) is about constantly adjusting the mindset to track toward Christ-likeness – putting the needs of others above selfish desires.
JDW: How are you planning to shape the story going forward? Any plans to make the film?
SE: I would love to see my script made into a film. But, personally, I only know how to act and write. That’s it. I admire those who know how to do all aspects of the filmmaking process from start to finish. I wish I knew how to do that. So, even if I wanted to turn my script into a film, I wouldn’t really know what to do.
JDW: Maybe we can help you to connect. Tell us about your family and where you live. How has your environment and family shaped your writing? What obstacles have you had to overcome in life? How have they helped your writing?
SE: My dad worked for the State Department when I was growing up, which required our family to move every 2-3 years to different countries. As an introverted kid, it was rough walking away from friendships and creating new ones. I hated it. As soon as I felt like I was truly bonded to someone, we’d move again and I’d have to start all over. The lack of consistency with friends, environment, culture, and language was difficult, but the one thing that did stay constant was my family…and my stuffed animals. My siblings and I created an imaginary world, which starred my beloved teddy bears. We created funny voices and personalities that were so detailed that we knew each character’s fetishes, enemies, likes, dislikes, and weird daily habits. Our imaginary world was a constant source of laughter and entertainment for us, but also stability for me when I felt like my world was uncertain. I think it’s why I love writing and creating characters from scratch so much - the escapism was deeply therapeutic for me. I now do the same kind of imaginary play with my youngest daughter and her stuffed animals. Now that I’m older/wiser, my new characters have become more nuanced with a non-survival-based kind of humor. My daughter, husband, and I laugh ourselves silly with the characters and life situations we create with her stuffed animals’ world.
JDW: Tell us about your pursuit of the arts?
SE: My first love is actually acting. The reason I even started writing in the first place was specifically to write material that I wasn’t ashamed of and that was fun to play. Being Asian, I have had a particularly hard time getting cast in roles I like. Writing parts for myself for the Children’s Ministry teaching skits I create is great because it gives me a lot of freedom with acting. I still consider myself very much a beginner at screenwriting, but I’m hopeful I am improving. At this point, I just want to keep on writing, get better at it, and eventually produce high quality work that might actually be worth selling.
JDW: How did your Mentor/Development Executive, help shape your story?
SE: David Hyde, who was also my DE for the 2016 competition, was great because he saw problems in my story that I couldn’t see. This is why I really love the DE aspect to the WP competition. It is so valuable to get an alternate perspective as you create a story from scratch. I struggle with a lot of self-doubt when it comes to my writing. Sometimes I think, “wow, that’s good.” But, ten minutes later, I can switch to “What was I thinking? That’s horrible!” David is not “smoke-blowing” in his feedback. He’s professional, to the point, and knows his stuff. When he did praise a section, I knew the praise was genuine. Plus, as I evaluated his comments, I could see that he was right on. Plus, he saw inaccuracies, uneven structure, and holes that I didn’t notice. He really helped me clean up and refine so that the story flowed well. I most appreciated that he saw the potential in my Homecoming football idea despite the fact that the picture wasn’t fully painted for him; and that I wasn’t fully sold on the idea either.
JDW: Tell us about your writing process.
SE: I’m embarrassed to admit that I had a hard time writing my script at first. I’d like to say I had a great idea off the bat and finished a rough draft all on Day One, but that was far from the case. I sent David, (my DE) a rough idea on Monday, but I told him (and believed in my heart) that my idea sounded cheesy and ridiculous. David thought it had potential and he liked it as long as I focused on the characters. Sadly, I wasted a lot of time struggling with how I could “de-cheesify.” Before I knew it, several days melted away. I had the main skeletal outline of the story, but I didn’t know how to write clever dialogue. After rereading David’s notes, I suddenly realized that the reason I couldn’t write dialogue was that I didn’t know my characters at all. So, I started creating characters, whom I liked and made me laugh. Then I turned my drama into a comedy, which made all the difference. Once I started to realize how my characters would behave, I knew exactly how to give them a voice. A massive, adult-looking 14-year old Tim Tebow was my inspiration for Joe. Picturing what Tim would do and say in a high school locker room had me giggling like crazy as I wrote. I pictured a young, more handsome version of Will Ferrell as my Chris character, (think “Elf” in his cluelessness,) and then I really started to have fun writing. I was finally able to spit out the entire first draft in a couple hours. This was an impactful lesson.
JDW: What are your plans for the future?
SE: It’s a big dream, (and possibly beyond my abilities at this point to accomplish) but I hope to create a funny, redemptive, Netflix original series that I write and hopefully perform in. Until then, I just want to write as much as I can and get better at the craft.
Interview with Winning Development Executive David Hyde
JDW: Where are you from and what do you do?
DH: My father was career Navy, so I grew up on both coasts. Currently, I live in Rio Linda California, just outside of Sacramento. By day, I am a Sales Support Analyst for a national distribution company. By night, I am Dad, husband, writer and generally everything else in life.
JDW: You are frequent participant in WP and 168. What have you learned? Do you still find it useful?
DH: 168 WP was my very first venture into the screenwriting world. For me it was a natural progression to move from being coached to coaching others. I learn more every year. Reading and reviewing other works has made my writing stronger and helps me give back for all of those who help me get to where I am today.
JDW: Tell us about your writing philosophy and process.
DH: I write about one feature per year. I lay no claim to the ideas that pop into my mind. Those are all just God telling me what to do, which is probably why I have yet to write a second screenplay in the same genre as any of my previous works.
I try to touch my craft at least every day. If I am working on a script, I am writing or brainstorming every day. If I am between scripts, I am pitching or marketing my work.
As far as process, I typically don’t outline very much other than to get some scramble of ideas on paper or my whiteboard before I forget them. The actual writing process I learned from Bill Meyers, which I call the toothpaste approach. I start at the top and go until I can’t squeeze out any more. The next day I start with what I wrote the day before, rewrite that and press forward. Not the most conventional technique, but it is what works for me.
JDW: What do you see as some differences between telling stories in your region vs. other places?
DH: Sacramento has a very active film community, but compared to Southern CA or the Southeast it is rather small.
JDW: How is the tolerance for things of Christ in the media where you are?
DH: Right now I have a number of projects in the faith-based arena as well as some studio level scripts. A while back I was in a writing workshop where the assignment was to write a comedy breakup scene between two “friends with benefits.” I informed the instructor that I write in the faith-based and family genres and that I don’t do the “with benefits” thing. She was polite, but not very complimentary of my writing. It is a balancing act, but I think it is important for me to produce quality Christian value-centric material regardless of which market it fits.
JDW: What have you learned? What would you tell young writers about your experiences?
DH: This is a long road. Be diligent and faithful to your craft. It can be as much about being in the right place or meeting the right person as it is about having an excellent product to show. Never stop learning.
JDW: What are your plans for the future?
DH: Currently I have a faith-based comedy starring Jaci Velazquez and Robert Amaya that I hope will be funded and begin filming in spring. I just finished writing an indie drama and am taking a shot at my first period piece set in 13th Century Scotland, which will be a new challenge for me.