Meet the Filmmaker: Laura Alsum

In February, Laura Alsum was awarded the 2014 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Student Grand Jury Prize in Screenwriting for her script, Survival of the Fittest. Sloan Science and Film talked with Laura about her project and how the prize will help her take her story to the screen.

Sloan Science and Film: Can you tell our readers a little about yourself?

Laura Alsum: I recently graduated from the MFA in Screenwriting program at UCLA. Before moving to Los Angeles, I lived in Denver where I worked in marketing and public relations, and also participated in a theatre company for people with disabilities in my spare time. Writing for a comedy show with this company helped me realize I wanted to pursue writing full-time, which ultimately led me to UCLA. I enjoy creating character-driven dramas and dramedies for both television and film, and most recently co-wrote a show containing comedic vignettes about living with a disability for the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

SSF: What’s Survival of the Fittest about?

LA: Twelve-year-old Charlie’s only focus is playing baseball and being a star athlete, but when he is sidelined due to a progressive neuromuscular disease, he must prove to his school that he still belongs by winning the last competition of the year—the science fair. Survival of the Fittest is about learning how to adapt when things in life don’t go as planned, and figuring out relationships that inevitably evolve through the process.

SSF: What kind of science are we going to see in the film? Are you working with science advisors?

LA: The bulk of the science is evolution and adaptation, especially as it relates to genetics and mutations with Charlie’s neuromuscular disease, Friedrich’s ataxia. When I initially wrote the script, I worked with Jessica Lynch Alfaro, Ph.D., a biological anthropologist. Now I have been partnered with science advisor Jessica Brommelhoff, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist familiar with the various biological processes that can lead to ataxia.

SSF: Tell me a little about some of the challenges you’re anticipating in bringing the film to the screen.

LA: Being strictly a writer, I’m essentially starting from scratch. I have the script, but need to find a team to help me make this a film—which is a process I know can take some time. Additionally, the story is about a child grappling with mature themes like illness and mortality. Finding the appropriate audience, and fine-tuning the script in order to do so, will be a challenge (albeit a good one).

SSF: What are your next steps to get there? How have the funds from Sloan helped?

LA: As I mentioned above, I am starting this process with just a script in hand. Therefore, it is difficult for me to have a timeframe in mind. Two years would be fantastic, but it very well could take another five or ten to finish. My next steps are rewriting the screenplay to send out to various producers and directors. The funds from Sloan will provide me with the ability to focus on the re-write for Survival this year, as well as give me the opportunity to do research and have meetings with those who might help make this script a film.