2019 ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship Winner, Elie El Choufany, has signed with Tom Drumm of Think Tank MGMT after ScreenCraft introduced them. Elie grew up in Beirut, Lebanon just as the civil war was coming to an end. He says, “During that crucial time in my life, there was only survival and fear. Starved for stories and adventure, for a life beyond fear and hiding, my four-year-old self would sneak out of the house when everyone was fast asleep, and I would slip into the VHS store that my parents owned, where I had access to a world lead by courage. Those illicit midnight screenings were so spellbinding that even the loudest blast booming from outside wasn’t enough to deter me. I didn’t know it at the time, but FILM and TV changed my life forever.”
We had a chance to catch up with Elie and ask him about his career after winning the ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship. His answers are below.
ScreenCraft: Where were you as a writer before entering the ScreenCraft Fellowship?
Elie El Choufany: I’ve always believed that preparation is the key to success. So did Alexander Graham Bell, but what does he know. Before entering the ScreenCraft Fellowship, I was in full preparation mode for the past few years. Everyone talks about developing an impressive body of work and finessing your writing skills before knocking on industry professionals’ doors, and everyone is absolutely right about that. But that’s only one part of the skill set that a screenwriter should be developing. Let’s smash cut to a montage sequence of Bruce Wayne learning the stealth ways of the ninja with the mysterious League of Shadows in Batman Begins. Classic. In between the sword sparring sequences with Ra’s al Ghul, Mr. Wayne is encouraged, if not pushed, to find his inner bat and is bestowed with wisdom while simultaneously trying to avoid having his head chopped off. I was doing that… metaphorically speaking of course.
Between constantly writing screenplays and reading scripts, books, comics, etc… and developing a growing network of support filled with fantastic filmmakers of all sorts, I was also on a different kind of journey trying to find my own inner bat: my identity as a person and as a writer in relation to my community and the film & TV industry. I believe that being a good writer gets the door opened for you, but finding your inner bat gets you the conversation.
SC: How did you feel before placing in the competition?
EEC: I’m not going to sugarcoat it, I’ve never refreshed my email as much as I had before placing in the ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship.
It is a tense and distressing process sending your work to the void and waiting for the inevitable message that can either be soul-crushing or euphoria-inducing. But it’s a feeling that I’ve grown accustomed to. Any person who has ever been in a situation in which their work is being examined and, for lack of a better word, judged, knows exactly that feeling you have in your stomach that can sometimes be confused with hunger and/or crippling anxiety that stops you from being able to do the very basic things in life like breathing.
But throughout the process, I’ve always felt hopeful and fulfilled because I was and I still am doing what I love to do best, which is telling stories. Storytelling is in and of itself a true pleasure. The recognition and the affirmation are the cherries on top.
SC: What changed for you after placing?
EEC: For quite a bit of my adult life, placing in a prestigious screenwriting competition such as ScreenCraft’s Screenwriting Fellowship was the goal. In that sense, one of the main things that have changed after becoming a fellow is the goal itself.
During the spectacular whirlwind that is the ScreenCraft Fellowship, the ScreenCraft team introduced me to my manager Tom Drumm from Think Tank Management, as well as setting the fellows up with meetings with some of the biggest studios and the most influential people in the film and television industry.
This experience has genuinely filled me with so much gratitude and humility, and I am now more driven than ever to keep pushing forward. What hasn’t changed however is my passion for storytelling and my crippling addiction to coffee.
SC: What would you say to somebody on the fence of entering?
EEC: I would ask them a question: if you were in front of a crowd of thousands of people, and you wanted to introduce yourself to all of them, but there is no microphone on stage. What would you do?
If you were to shout from the top of your lungs, the best you can achieve is have the few people at the front hear your name, and they’ll probably get it wrong, and you’ll most definitely end up with a soar throat.
Now imagine the ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship as a magical megaphone that amplifies your voice to the far reaches of the stage. Do you see where I’m going?
The idea is that this industry is by its very nature a cooperative space. What ScreenCraft does is facilitate the process in which you introduce yourself to the crowd, but what you say and how you go about it comes back to you.