Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest: Jonathan Barger 2018 Quarter-Finalist for Thriller Station Zero Optioned by Zorg Studios

Final Draft Big Break is celebrating its 20th anniversary! We wanted to share some of the success stories. Meet Jonathan Barger 2018 Quarter-Finalist for his thriller Station Zero that is now optioned by Zorg Studios.
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Final Draft Big Break is celebrating its 20th anniversary! We wanted to share some of the success stories. Meet Jonathan Barger 2018 Quarter-Finalist for his thriller Station Zero that is now optioned by Zorg Studios.

Jonathan Barger is a Los Angeles based screenwriter specializing in existential horror. He discovered his love for film while completing a degree in Architecture at the University of Texas, and used his experience there to work as an Art Director on a number of indie films. He wrote his first feature script during this time, which advanced in the Austin Film Fest competition. After having several more scripts advance in various contests, his exposure from Big Break landed him an option deal on his feature script, Don’t Sleep.

Why did you decide to enter Big Break with all the other contests out there?

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Big Break has a great reputation for helping new writers get discovered and launching them into careers. Advancing a script in Big Break will get you and your writing in front of decision-makers in Hollywood, which is the best possible prize for an unknown, unrepped writer like me.

What has happened to your screenwriting career since your advancement in the contest?

Directly as a result of the contest, a production company optioned my script. Big Break sends an email of all the quarterfinalist’s loglines, and from that I received a couple of requests to read my script. One of them expressed an interest in making the film, they arranged a meeting with the director and I signed my first deal. I’m blown away at how quickly things have happened so far, and if all goes well they could be shooting in a few months. None of it would have been possible without the connections setup by Kala and the team at Final Draft.

What advice would you give to someone considering entering their scripts in contests?

Get feedback early and often. Pitch your idea to friends and sharpen it based on their reactions. Share loglines and keep working them until people’s eyes light up. Write a synopsis and improve it until people beg to see the script. Then keep writing drafts until people love it.

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What advice do you have for contest-winning writers to take the most advantage of that success?

Meet everyone you can and aim to build relationships rather than asking for something. Big Break does an amazing job organizing social events that can be a huge help to new writers. Go to all of them. Talk to everyone. Get contact info and follow up. If you make friends and help people when you can, it will grow your circle and naturally lead to more opportunities. Because of the Big Break events I’ve made a lot of new friends in all areas of the industry, which have led to more meetings and connections.

Tips for meeting executives?

Practice talking about what you love, even though that sounds like it should be easy. Aside from a great script, most people are looking to work with people they like. That’s most likely to happen if you can share whatever gets you excited about storytelling. I’ve flopped during a couple meetings because I was nervous answering questions that ought to be easy, like “
what have you been watching lately?” In the meetings when I felt prepared for the “easy” questions, I’m able to express what I’m passionate about which helps make a connection. Those meetings more often turned into invitations to explore ideas to develop together.

What's the biggest mistake writers make when entering contests?

If you have any inclination that something isn’t working in your story, trust that instinct and fix the problem before submitting. Don’t be too precious about cuts or changes that are necessary to strengthen the story. You have to be brutally honest about your own work if you want it to be competitive.

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