Screenplay Winner: Timothy Gaensler-Debs

Your winning script stood out above several hundred others. Have you entered or won other competitions?


I have entered multiple contests with my feature, NICKED, and my TV pilot, VALKYRIE. I have been Semifinalist and Second Rounder, but this is my first time winning!



What was the inspiration for your winning script?


I studied archaeology in the UK, and while there, I stayed with a lovely family whose journey and wonderful personalities inspired my characters in NICKED. The family was a mixture of native UK citizens and Middle Eastern immigrants, leading to a wonderful cultural swirl.


Over the years, we stayed in touch, and when the rise of Isis led to the theft and sale of priceless artifacts, we discussed the impact of losing one’s heritage. All of this, together with my passion for noir films, led to the creation of NICKED.



Describe your writing process. Do you work from an outline…or do you just start with FADE IN?


I owe much of my process to my mentor, Donald Martin. The first question I ask myself is, why does this story matter? Besides being entertaining, what do I want to express with this project?


Next, I plot out the basic story points, beginning, middle, and end. From there, I write a beat sheet and an outline, then go to script. The Syd Field Paradigm and Scott Myers’ 10 Plot Points are useful tools to check whether my story works on a structural level.


Throughout this process, if I “hear” some fun or arresting dialogue, I’ll jot it down for the script. As I write the screenplay, I ask, is this scene gripping? Fun? Emotional? This reminds me that I’m trying to tell a story, not design a schematic. After I complete the script, it’s time to rewrite!




Was your winning script a first draft…or had you received coverage that helped improve your work as a second or third draft?


I wrote NICKED through a series of classes in the UCLA Screenwriting Certificate Program. Through the contacts I made, I sent my script out for notes from friends as well as coverage from contests. Taken together, these notes helped me to vastly improve NICKED.



Which film or television writers have inspired your work…and how?


There are far too many wonderful talents I look up to, of course, but the ones that leap to mind include John Huston, William Goldman, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Guy Ritchie, Jordan Peele, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, and Akira Kurosawa.



What’s your #1 favorite movie or television series…and why?


Again, this an impossible question for me, but relating to NICKED, I’d go with the MALTESE FALCON and FARGO TV series as inspirations. Both were massive influences on my love for noir, crime, and darkly comedic stories.



What has been your greatest challenge as a writer?


Self-doubt and disciplining myself to sit and write. There always seems to be another cabinet to clean, the trash to take out, or some other distraction instead of parking my butt in a chair and slamming on the keys. Then, when I’m faced with the tyranny of a blank page, all the voices I wished didn’t exist come crawling in to convince me that my work is garbage of the highest order. HOWEVER, I’ve found that the combination of supportive colleagues, family, and a pinch of thematic music helps me grapple with the writing process.



Have you made any further progress in your writing career?


I’ve been lucky enough to be brought on to adapt a novel for a TV series (fingers crossed), and I’ve made some lovely contacts in the industry along the way. Winning this contest is a wonderful opportunity to forge further ahead!



What advice do you have for writers hoping to win a prestigious contest as you have?


Surround yourself with writing colleagues who push you to improve yourself. Also, find your cheerleaders wherever you can, who will tell you to press on when it feels like the world is saying “NO” to you. Writing classes, workshops, online videos, and reading screenwriting books have also been immensely helpful. Finally, do whatever it takes to create a consistent writing schedule and find a story that you NEED to tell to keep you going no matter what.



What other writing projects are you working on that you want the world to know about?


I’m currently researching a thrilling dark fantasy series for adaptation, writing a comedic murder mystery, and developing my sweeping medieval TV show, VALKYRIE.  


Would you be interested in attending a live year-end online event at minimal cost to meet with senior judges, selected literary managers, and independent producers?


Very interested!

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