Tribeca Film Institute (TFI) today announced the recipient of the 2014 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Student Grand Jury Prize for Screenwriting. Survival of the Fittest by Laura Alsum of UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film and Television was selected as the best-of-the-best screenplay from the winning scripts submitted by six leading film schools participating in Sloan’s National Film Program.
The $50,000 grant was created in 2011 by the Sloan Foundation to spotlight the best screenplay from six film school partners – AFI, Carnegie-Mellon, Columbia, NYU, UCLA and USC – who give annual awards in screenwriting and film production for original work that dramatizes science and technology themes and characters. The award, selected by a distinguished jury of filmmakers and scientists, fast-tracks the best script of the year for development, providing a major career opportunity for the student filmmaker.
Alsum, from Denver, Colorado, will receive a $30,000 cash prize. The award includes an additional $20,000 administered by TFI towards year-round support, including mentorship and guidance from scientific and film industry professionals, networking opportunities, and industry exposure over the course of the year. Alsum will also attend this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, taking place April 16-27, and participate in the TFI Filmmaker Industry Meetings which provide filmmakers the opportunity to network with industry leaders to help advance their projects toward completion.
Survival of the Fittest was selected by an awards committee comprised of actress Amy Ryan (Clear History, The Office, Gone Baby Gone); producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff (The Wolf of Wall Street); biological anthropologist Helen Fisher; screenwriter/director/producer Nancy Savoca; actor Rae Dawn Chong (Jeff Who Lives at Home, Commando); director/screenwriter Deepa Mehta (Heaven on Earth, Fire, Earth, and Water), physicist Gabriel Cwilich, and actor Matthew Modine (Dark Knight Rises, Full Metal Jacket, Birdy). Alsum’s screenplay was chosen from nominees that had won Sloan prizes in 2013 from the Foundation’s six affiliated film school programs: UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, USC School of Cinematic Arts, Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, AFI America’s Conservatory for Filmmakers, and Columbia School of the Arts. UnNatural Science, a story about pioneering zoologist, Ivan T. Sanderson traveling to the Himalayas with his wife in search of the legendary Yeti, from Kendell Klein of American Film Institute Conservatory, received honorable mention.
In Survival of the Fittest, twelve-year-old Charlie just wants to play baseball and be a star athlete, but when he is sidelined due to his progressive neuromuscular disease, he must prove to his school that he still belongs by winning the last competition of the year – the science fair.
“Fostering emerging filmmakers who will excel at raising awareness of science and technology in partnership with Sloan is incredibly rewarding for Tribeca Film Institute,” said Tamir Muhammad, TFI’s Director of Feature Programming. “In the fourth year of our partnership, we continue to see extraordinary screenplays from the applicants. Laura’s clear vision and outstanding creativity deserve the year-round support and funding – we know she will bring true and vivid depictions of science-related themes to the screen, and we are grateful for Sloan’s vision and continued commitment and support.”
“We are delighted to partner with Tribeca and recognize the best work from our film school program, which for over 15 years now has been encouraging a new generation of filmmakers to integrate science and technology into their films,” said Doron Weber, Vice President, Programs, at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. ”Several of the most successful feature films resulting from our national film program – which has produced over ten theatrical films in the past two years – have started out as highly promising student projects like Laura Alsum’s beautifully crafted coming of age script, Survival of the Fittest.”
Last year’s prize went to Barnett Brettler of UCLA for his script Walking Hours, which is set in a dystopian world where people are losing the ability to sleep. The story follows a British border agent as he leaves the safety of his country to search for the woman that he loves.
The Sloan Student Grand Jury Prize was created to recognize the very best student screenplay in the nation that uses science and technology themes or characters to tell an engaging story. Since 1997, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has given more than $3.8 million in direct grants to film students throughout the country. Established as part of Sloan’s increasing commitment to support science and technology films through to commercial production, the Sloan Student Grand Jury Prize will boost development of the winning project, and introduce the work and its writer to the industry at large. The award will be presented at an evening reception in New York City on Thursday, April 27.
Join the conversation about the Sloan Grand Jury Prize using the hashtag #scienceandfilm.