UVU film students chosen to be mentored by Hollywood screenwriter

Five Utah Valley University film students are getting the opportunity of a lifetime to be mentored by a renowned Hollywood screenwriter.

Five Utah Valley University film students are getting the opportunity of a lifetime to be mentored by a renowned Hollywood screenwriter. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)


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OREM — Five Utah Valley University film students are getting the opportunity of a lifetime, to be mentored by a renowned Hollywood screenwriter.

Screenwriter and film producer Ed Neumeier, best known for his work on sci-fi films "Robocop" and "Starship Troopers," is mentoring the students as part of the school's first-ever UVU-FanX Studios Writer's Room.

The Writer's Room program offers aspiring film students real-world experience under the guidance of industry professionals. The students are working with Neumeier to write manuscripts based on prompts provided by FanX Studios executives.

The students will get paid for their screenplays and have their screenplays considered for production by FanX Studios.

The program is based on the traditional writer's room concept in Hollywood, in which writers and directors gather to write, refine and collaborate on television and film projects. The university said the program is a "unique initiative."

"UVU's Innovation Academy launched the UVU-FanX Studios Writer's Room as one of many initiatives that we are developing with Brent Baum and Jonathan Schwartz of FanX Studios to provide elite professional experiences that impact our students and their futures," said Tammy Clark, associate provost for Academic Innovation at UVU.

The five students were selected from a group of 27 who took a special digital cinema course for Hollywood pitches specifically developed for this mentoring program. Students learned how to turn movie ideas into pitches for film producers and identified potential production constraints related to their ideas.

Halfway through the spring semester, the five students were chosen to be mentored for their pitch work, writing skills, professionalism, reliability and ability to collaborate. They are juniors Sawyer Burton, of Highland; Annika Halversen, of Thousand Oaks, California; Spencer Schwindeman, of Salt Lake City; Jessa Wright, of Sparks, Nevada; and senior John Hintz, of Provo.

Halversen said the class was a fun opportunity to be the "guinea pigs" since it was a pilot class for the mentor program. She loves pitching story ideas and found it challenging to pitch a movie with a $2 million to $5 million budget rather than the typical low-budget pitches she is used to.

"It was interesting because we didn't completely know exactly how it was going to go," she said.

For the rest of the course, the five students began meeting with Neumeier and a few other executives to work on developing and writing the manuscripts in the writer's room.

Now that it's summer, the program is more like a job and the group meets every two weeks to get industry feedback on their work. The students will turn in a polished draft in mid-August and then the studio will decide what to do with it moving forward.

"We get creative feedback but then we also get executive feedback, which is so different than what we're used to," Halversen said. "School gives us a lot of good creative outlets, and this is giving us very much like how real the industry can be, and it gives us a lot more real-world experience that you don't really get — especially with writing — in any type of film school."

Getting both kinds of criticism and advice about the industry has been instrumental for Halversen.

"It's been cool. We get that super valuable industry opinion in the creative sense of what we're all passionate about, and then we get the business reality side of this is how you can legitimately work as a writer," she said.

The executives really care about the future of the students and have told them it's likely the students will get to stay involved if their ideas get put into production, Halversen said.

She said she would love for her idea to be filmed and to become an executive producer for it, but she knows it's rare for ideas to actually make it through to completion. For now, she is planning on continuing to make her screenplay as awesome as possible while she enjoys this experience opportunity.

Halversen's film idea is based on a group of girls at a summer camp who convince themselves scary things are happening around them and that they need to escape.

"It turns into this kind of campy, fun slasher that they all just convince themselves of," she said. "I love a good satire, tragedy comedy."

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Cassidy Wixom covers Utah County communities and is the evening breaking news reporter for KSL.com.

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