Julie Holderman was born in the dead of a Minnesota winter to a mother who will never let her forget how wide her shoulders were on the way out. She’s been telling stories ever since. In her early teen years, she attended the Alpha Young Writers Program, and returned a decade later to serve as a staff member and help students find their legs the way other staffers once helped her. She studied writing and history at Ithaca College and is eying a history MA in pursuit of a PhD.
Script caught up with her to discuss her recent win in the Industry Insider Screenwriting Contest. The contest is unique in that the writer takes a logline given by an industry insider, Don Murphy who produced the Transformers franchise as well as Natural Born Killers, and turns it into a unique screenplay in the genre of their choice.
Script: Is this your first contest or are you a regular entrant?
Julie Holderman: I’ve entered one or two contests before (short stories, mostly), but I wouldn’t call myself a regular entrant.
Script: What drew you to this particular contest?
JH: Honestly, the one-on-one sessions with Writer’s Store advisors. Except for a couple of really basic screenplay classes in college, this was an entirely new format for me. Even if I didn’t win, I wanted to get one of those top ten spots so I could quiz someone about the way the format worked, its hallmark differences, the tricks and techniques that only come from experience. I wanted to learn, and I saw it as a great opportunity to do so. It really was, too. I know this sounds like an advertisement, but it’s the truth. It was tremendous fun.
The chance to go out and talk to someone in the industry was like the cherry on top of the sundae. I honestly didn’t believe I would win, so I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I just wanted one of those top ten spots.
Script: Have you entered this script in other contests? How did it do?
JH: Not yet! I want to give it another round or two of editing before I enter it into something new.
Script: Tell me about the script's concept and the story it conveys.
JH: It follows two young female science students in 1890s Chicago, after the murder of their teacher. In trying to find out who killed her, they discover her shady dealings with one of Chicago’s foremost businessmen. They have to choose whether or not to bring him to justice for her murder, exposing their teacher and ruining their own future careers, or staying silent. He’s very invested in making sure they can’t say a word.
I wanted really to focus on these two women in an environment that was at the time extremely hostile toward female advancement in the sciences. There were restrictions in some places that said men and women couldn’t be taught together. Women were “too distracting.” And then there were restrictions on the type of classes you had to have, in order to be allowed to take the medical examinations. Women who hired professors to teach them outside of a classroom setting still couldn’t take the tests to qualify for medical licenses, because they weren’t educated in the same way.
There are these two women. Hattie, who was raised in the West, is a bit of a roughneck who’s used to getting things done and not having people fuss about whether or not she’s doing it in skirts. And then you have the other side of the coin, Victoria, who wants to study the “domestic sciences,” basically taking a science education and using it for the improvement of the home and home management. Her father is a businessman, she’s a socialite, and it’s salacious enough that she’s a college woman without her diving into a murder investigation alongside Hattie, this social oddity.
When it comes down to it, Hattie and Victoria only have each other when they face down this man who can ruin them and their families with a word. They have to learn to value and to trust each other, and maybe to steal a couple of tricks from each other in a pinch. It’s about them finding themselves when everything they thought they wanted is at risk.
Script: Tell me a little about the trials and tribulations of bringing your winning script to the contest.
JH: Getting past the first thirty pages. I would write them, then go back and rewrite them, then go back and re-rewrite them, because I kept finding things to improve or change or clarify. The more I learned, the more I thought, “Oh god, I have no idea what I’m doing,” so I’d go back and rewrite again. Right about page 90 things started rushing together toward the ending and it kind of worked itself out from there, but getting to page 90 was Sisyphean.
Script: After all that, how did it feel to win?
JH: A bit surreal. I didn’t expect it. An unfamiliar number popped up on my phone, and I answered, which I don’t usually do when I don’t recognize the number. She said she was calling about the contest, and I thought, “Here we go, somebody won.” When she said it was me, I’m pretty sure I swore. I sort of spent the rest of the day wandering around going, “Was there some kind of mistake?”
This was the first screenplay I’d ever written, and it won. It felt good. Definitely affirming. Still a little surreal. I’m really, really looking forward to the L.A. trip and the lunch with Don Murphy. It’ll probably still be surreal when I get there.
Script: What are the strengths of this script that you feel propelled it to the winner’s circle?
JH: I’m told the setting and main characters were unusual. What attracted me was the struggle of two young women finding society’s approved limits and exceeding them, as they weigh justice versus personal gain.
Script: What’s one thing screenwriters should know about contests?
JH: Oh god, I don’t know. I barely know anything about contests myself. But I do know not to hang your hopes on a win. You enter, you go on to writing something else. Keep moving, keep writing, and you’ll have more to submit.
Script: You were a student and a teacher at the Alpha Workshop. How did your time there help you prepare to be a scriptwriter?
JH: It helped me understand story. I was a student there back in 2002, I was fifteen, and it was the first time I really got a sense of how big storytelling was. How much was involved, how much you could do with it. I couldn’t be stopped after that. I dissected everything I read, everything I watched, read books and took classes to help me dissect things better. I drove my parents crazy predicting what would happen when we went to movies, or watched our favorite TV shows. I’ve been obsessed with the mechanics of story ever since, and hopefully that shows.
Script: What’s next for Julie Holderman?
JH: Heaven only knows. I’m working on a novel, a few short stories, and doing more research before I rewrite the script again. I’m going to keep finishing things and keep submitting things. We’ll see where that leads.