Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 35
Known overnight: Local screenwriting duo secures prestigious fellowshipFrank DeJohn and David Hedges springboard into Hollywood with 2013 Academy of Motion Picture Arts Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting
BY JOE PAYNE
From the moment the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the winners of the 2013 Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting competition a couple of weeks ago, the lives of several screenwriters changed forever.
One screenwriting duo based in Santa Ynez made the cut for Legion, a script by Frank DeJohn and David Hedges. They won the year-long fellowship, which includes a $35,000 cash prize.
“Frank and I met a few years ago through a mutual friend who knew we had to meet,” Hedges said. “He knew we were both screenwriters who were trying to break into the industry.”
Within their first few meetings, the two knew they would collaborate on a script; they just didn’t know where it would take them. Legion centers on a Roman centurion named Marcus Caelius—a real, historical figure—who was part of the Germanic wars around the year 9 of the Common Era.
“We’re both big history buffs, but Frank happened upon a battle in Germania where 30,000 Roman soldiers just disappeared. We thought that was interesting for a setting,” Hedges said. “Most Roman movies are done in the sand, so we like the idea of a different setting, and then Frank finds this cenotaph from that period and it’s a tribute to this guy Marcus Caelius.”
The cenotaph relates in Latin that Caelius was the first centurion of the 18th legion and that he was 53 years old when he died in the Varian War. This provided DeJohn and Hedges with the character they were looking for to get a script going.
“Frank is the one who found it,” Hedges said. “He must have a search engine that no one knows about: ‘obscure things in history dot com.’”
When the duo finished the script, DeJohn began submitting it to contests. It won a handful, and the guys used the prize money to pay the registration fees for other contests—including the Academy Nicholl Fellowship.
“I kind of forgot about it,” Hedges said. “And then six months go by and we got e-mails that we were finalists. We just got the call from the academy saying, “Congratulations, you won.’”
After the initial shock, excitement, and exuberance, the gravity of the duo’s situation began to sink in.
“Once we kind of realized what it meant—essentially the academy holds this contest and then they tell everyone these guys are the screenwriters for the year—they put our names out there,” he said. “And just overnight we went from nobody returning our phone calls and then we were like the prom queen; everybody wanted to talk to us.”
DeJohn and Hedges are now full-fledged screenwriters complete with managers, agents, and a studio that wants to produce Legion. Two of the first managers to read the script, Jake Wagner and Daniel Vang from Benderspink, actually drove up to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles to meet with the screenwriters the morning after they read the script. DeJohn and Hedges signed with them that morning. From there, their managers set them up with agents and meetings with prospective production companies.
“We were walking into these rooms and four guys in suits are pitching their company to us,” Hedges said. “So in the span of three weeks we went from not getting phone calls returned to having agents and an amazing production outfit who want to produce our movie.”
Now with Legion on the way to becoming a film, DeJohn and Hedges are already working on their next screenplay. A requirement of the fellowship, which does reward the duo $35,000, is that they use the next year to write another film. They already have a plot forming—again based on obscure though historical events.
“We found this nearly forgotten sport that was popular in the late teens and early ’20s,” Hedges said. “It was called motordrome; these guys would race motorcycles around a curved, wood track.”
The main character, Hedges explained, is going to be a returning World War I veteran who turns to the sport while dealing with his memories of the war. The film is going to have plenty of room for action, thanks to the sport.
“They are wearing leather jackets and leather helmets going 100 miles an hour and splinters are flying up and piercing them,” he said. “This was basically the beginning of the American motorcycle culture.”
Right now the team is working on making the best script they can possibly produce, all too wary about how fast things can change in the filmmaking business.
“Frank and I see this as an entry point,” Hedges said. “It’s not a pedestal, but a doorway; we aren’t trying to kid ourselves. There are plenty of writers out there.”
Arts Editor Joe Payne is one of those other writers out there. Contact him at email@example.com.