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American Gem Short Screenplay & Literary Festival
2011 Screenplay Contest

Enter your Short Screenplay, Short Story, Treatment in American Gem Short Screenplay Contest / Literary Festival. 

Winning Screenplay in the American Gem Short Screenplay Contest will be Produced.

Grand Prize Winner / Short Screenplay Gets to Pitch Screenplay to Producers, Studio Executives and Agents. Certificate of achievement awards to the Top 25 scripts and top 3 in each of the other categories.

from script to screen


FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards
Screenplay Contest Interview

| Winners | Bio | Synopsis | Script Excerpt |






Jess Kroll & Benjamin Tsai
of Sunnyvale, CA, United States



Jess Kroll

Jess Kroll is a published author ("Land of Smiles", 2013, Monsoon Books), essayist and journalist with an MFA in Writing from the University of San Francisco. He is a lifelong cinephile and currently serve[s] as the film reviewer for Pop Mythology, a pop cultural blog which ranks among the top 2% of most visited websites in the United States. He received the Myrle Clark Award for fiction, had his stories published in numerous literary magazines, and wrote thousands of freelance articles for both print and online. He just completed a six-book young adult series for publication next spring and has an offer to begin a new series due for publication next fall. Ben approached him to be involved in "Fer-de-Lance" because of his expertise in writing. He was intrigued by the depth of every character, the dichotomy in Bias as both hero and menace, and the use of narrative to critique social issues without letting that message dominate the narrative.


Benjamin Tsai

Benjamin Tsai is currently working for the University of California as a tax analyst. He earned his bachelors at UC Davis and his masters at University of San Francisco and Golden Gate University. He has been a feature film fan since he was a child. He came up with the idea for "Fer-de-Lance" in 2013 with the goal of critiquing current socioeconomic issues in our society through the use of film. Since he doesn't have a storytelling background, He approached Jess to be involved in "Fer-de-Lance" because he trusts Jess's expertise in bringing out the best in a story and its characters. issues without letting that message dominate the narrative.


An ex-Army Special Forces soldier/ex-con puts together one final mission to assassinate a high profile gangster, get paid, walk away and start a new life with the woman he loves.


Part 1.


I knew I wanted to be screenwriter when........

Jess - I realized that some stories are best suited for film.

Ben - when some small ideas came into my head that grew into coherent stories that could become movies.

I know I've succeeded when........ 

Jess - my characters begin talking and acting on their own, even if they deviate from what I want them to do.

Ben - the characters develop and stories come together on paper.

My inspiration to write Fer-de-Lance.....

Jess - came from my writing partner Ben. His initial idea, characters, and allegories sparked my imagination. Writing was surprisingly smooth from then on.

Ben - came from trying to create a story about the current socioeconomic problems in the U.S. today. These include the difficulty finding work due to the economy still struggling from the recent financial crisis, the difficulties of ex-convicts finding work due to their felony histories, and prescription pain killer addiction being able to strike anyone. All of these issues are reflected in the Robert Bias character's current struggles and the decisions he makes.

Part 2.


FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

Jess Kroll: I started writing as a kid to give my comic book characters a reason to have flashy action scenes. Since that time writing has become a physical necessity. I become ornery and unpleasant when I go too long without writing. It's my passion and finally, after years of education and struggle, my profession.

Benjamin Tsai: Knowing that I had some good concepts for films in my mind, I needed to at least try to put the stories together in writing. If I did not try to write them, I would have to live the rest of my life wondering if I could have written any good movies.

FilmMakers Magazine: Is this your first script and how long did it take you to complete?

Jess Kroll:
I completed one other script about a month before beginning "Fer-de-Lance". I'm in the process of revising it. After a few months of brainstorming with Ben, the original draft of "Fer-de-Lance" took about two months to write, primarily because my computer's hard drive crashed twice in a month.

Benjamin Tsai: Fer-de-Lance is my first script and took several months to complete from brainstorming to the finished product.

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

Jess Kroll:
My writing habits typically change based upon the project. I found that "Fer-de-Lance" came easiest to mind at night. I'd set a page or scene goal and work at it until that goal was completed.

Benjamin Tsai: My time management plan depends on my schedule. If it is tax season, I do very little work except small brainstorming and note-taking. When tax season ends, I take a little break and then go through my notes on the characters and the scenes that I know will be in the screenplay. The first organized notes I take are the characters to develop them before the screenplay actually begins. After developing the characters, I think about the parts that I know will be in the screenplay and think about how the characters will reach those parts of the screenplay. Then I begin writing my draft and let the characters further evolve. Once the draft is complete, I send the draft to Jess for further development because of his expertise in bringing out the best in a story and its characters.

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

Jess Kroll:
Definitely. I think screenplay contests are excellent for screenwriters looking to gauge their work with that of their peers. Writing is art and personal expression, but the profession of writing is competition. One can't succeed in any business if one isn't offering something equal to or better than others in that business. The same is true for screenwriters. Contests are also a good way of gaining unbiased opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of a screenplay, while also serving as a reminder that those opinions are by nature subjective. Screenplay contests are a good way for aspiring screenwriters to learn that not everyone is going to fall in love with their work, but that doesn't mean their work isn't good.

Benjamin Tsai: Screenplay contests are important for aspiring screenwriters because these contests provide them with the ability to assess their abilities. The unbiased feedback helps screenwriters see their strengths and areas they can improve on to become strong screenwriters.

FilmMakers Magazine: What influenced you to enter the FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards / Screenplay Contest?

Jess Kroll:
I appreciate Filmmakers International's focus on supporting emerging artists from all around the world as well as the organization's commitment to quality work. Receiving approval from an organization as familiar with filmmaking and aspiring artists as Filmmakers International would mean that Ben and I have created something worthwhile.

Benjamin Tsai: Most other screenplay contests only help the winners get their screenplays in the right hands. Filmmakers International understands that the winning screenplays are not the only good screenplays in the contest, which is why Filmmakers International will help screenplays that finished well but did not win find producers and representatives to read the screenplays.

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

Jess Kroll: "Citizen Kane" by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles. The script's grasp of structure, character, setting, dialog, and storytelling form the basis of the best film ever made. The film and script may be old, but the fundamentals never go out of style.

Benjamin Tsai: "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller. The script utilizes fear mongering from the historical Salem Witch Trials as an allegory of McCarthyism's fear mongering at the time Arthur Miller wrote "The Crucible". Writers who read "The Crucible" and compare the script to the society Arthur Miller lived in can see how writing can be used to critique society.

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

Jess Kroll:
I'm extremely passionate about political and social issues such as healthcare, human rights, economic inequality, gun legislation, and education. Other than entertainment journalism - primarily film-related - most of my reading time is devoted to news and research on these issues. A big part of what appeals to me about screenwriting is the opportunity to examine these issues in a creative and entertaining way.

Benjamin Tsai: Trying to understand how everything that goes on society affects our everyday lives, including policy decisions and education attainment. I read newspaper articles to help me develop my understanding of the world.

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

Jess Kroll:
Charlie Kaufman's characters aren't always the most authentic, and the dialog isn't the snappiest, but his imagination is unlike that of anyone else. His scripts move so far into surrealism and postmodernism yet never lose their connection to some aspect of the human experience. Kaufman is the screenwriting equivalent of Terry Gilliam in that his work has become its own genre.

Benjamin Tsai: Michael Mann because of how he allows various characters to develop in his movies, from the main characters to the supporting characters' personal issues.

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

Jess Kroll: After watching "Mud" and "Take Shelter", I think Jeff Nichols has a great understanding of slow-building tension. His films have a very authentic look and feel and excellent performances through the entire cast.

Benjamin Tsai: Andrew Niccol because his films focus on controversial issues occurring in society through the use of his characters and stories. For example, in "Lord of War", Niccol shows the devastating consequences amoral weapons dealers like Yuri Orlov have on people around the world.

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

Jess Kroll: Robert Bias in "Fer-de-Lance" was inspired by Steve Carell. Everyone knows that he can be very funny and often quite warm, but his performance in "The Way, Way Back" displayed a distance and potential menace that audiences didn't expect. "Foxcatcher" later proved he can excel at drama. The part Ben and I wrote requires an actor who can make that switch from light and caring to dark and dispassionate. Carell has displayed all of these in different parts. It would be great to see them all put together.

Benjamin Tsai: Steve Carell. Robert Bias's warm and friendly behavior in his personal life is based on the usual protagonist characters Carell plays, such as Cal Weaver in "Crazy, Stupid, Love". At the same time, Carell has the ability to turn on the switch into darker characters such as John du Pont in "Foxcatcher". Robert Bias has the same ability to switch to a cold and calculating killer when called upon to do so.

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

Jess Kroll:
Finish what you start. The biggest difference between an "aspiring writer" and a "writer" is completing the work.

Benjamin Tsai: Learn from the critiques from your writing peers. Learning from these critiques will help screenwriters develop better work in the future as their skills evolve over time.

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

Jess Kroll: Ben and I have already started plotting out a new screenplay. I just completed a six-book young adult series for publication next spring and have an offer to begin on a new series due for publication next fall. I'm also revising my first screenplay and continuing to work on my second adult novel, which I put on hold for "Fer-de-Lance" and the YA series.

Benjamin Tsai: Now that tax season is over, I am planning a political satire screenplay with Jess and catching up on other things at work that I had to put off during tax season.

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

Jess Kroll: On as co-writer of both "Fer-de-Lance" and the script Ben and I are currently developing.

Benjamin Tsai: Continuing my career as a tax analyst with the University of California while still developing ideas into screenplays.



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