Already, Alex's resume rivals that of professional writers who have been working for years. As a senior who will graduate in May 1998 from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing, he has credits in screenwriting, playwriting, fiction, and journalism. His one-act play "Portrait" has been performed as part of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival and, last May, in an off-off Broadway short play festival. He is currently writing a 600-word profile piece for Icon magazine, as well as both a screenplay and a play about interns in a film production company. His fiction has been published in Three Rivers Review, a small Pittsburgh-based journal. He writes movie and play reviews for The Tartan, the CMU campus newspaper.
Alex's most noteworthy accomplishment, however, is also his most recent. His screenplay Weeds won a national screenwriting competition sponsored by Scenario magazine. Scenario normally publishes only previously-produced screenplays; however, once a year, they hold a student screenplay contest, with a grand prize of $5000 and publication in Scenario. The last winner of the contest has been talking to studios about selling his work. The award ceremony takes place in New York; Alex had to cut one of our conversations short so he could go rent a tuxedo.
According to Alex, Weeds is "a very difficult story to summarize (and not sound stupid while you're doing it." It is the story of a fourteen-year-old boy named Eric. he is orphaned after his father dies; he leaves Kansas and goes to live with his only surviving family: an aunt, uncle, and cousin who live in Los Angeles. Eric has a great deal of difficulty adapting to living in the city, in addition to being in denial over missing his father. One night, Eric goes to an abandoned football field (which is overgrown with weeds) and, in an act of senseless rebellion, cuts crop circles in the weeds.
It is a very personal piece for Alex; "I never wrote Weeds with the intention of having it produced. I really wrote it just for me." He submitted the piece to the contest after a friend told him about it; Weeds was the piece that Alex thought was most ready for submission. "I'm not sure if I wanted anything to come of it," he said. But then he thought for a second. "All right, maybe I did... no, I'm not sure."
Even though is most commercially successful writing has been away from class, Alex credits CMU's Creative Writing program for giving him the basics and the tools necessary to write those pieces. He gave me an example: "Screenwriting, unlike playwriting, must take advantage of the visual quality of film. And really good screenwriting, I think, is able to advance the story with visual scenes. Have you seen 2001? There's no dialogue for the first thirty minutes. That is so cool! I credit the English department for helping me understand the value of the visual."
He also credits the department for exposing him to new writing in all forms: fiction, screenwriting, and journalism. "Nothing has taught me so much as other people's writing."
Alex's future is still very much up in the air. He has applied to the journalism graduate schools at Columbia and Northwestern. He would like to go to work for a magazine right after graduation, though. He has interned at Premiere magazine for the last two summers, and they are interested in hiring him when they get an opening, which might not happen for another year. So for now, he's sending unsolicited resumes to magazines, even though he doesn't expect anything to come of it. Alex has no plans to pursue screenwriting as a career. If Weeds' success opens some opportunities, he will take them, but he is not counting on it. "It would be bad luck if I did."
When he talked about the future, Alex talked about the possibility of
not getting into grad school. He talked about the possibility of not working
for Premiere. However, he never talked about not writing.