Big Break Sci-Fi/Fantasy Winner Dustin Milligan Signs With Anonymous Content
May 23, 2023
If you’re a fan of quirky comedy, you most likely know Dustin Milligan as an actor on the Emmy-winning TV show Schitt’s Creek. Charming and handsome, he plays Ted Mullens, the love interest of the confounding Alexis Rose (Annie Murphy). What you probably don’t know about Dustin is that he’s been writing ever since he was a kid growing up in Canada. His feature script Legend of the Sky Drifters or Murph and Alex go to Time-Jail won the 2022 Final Draft Big Break competition in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category and he’s recently signed with a literary manager at Anonymous Content thanks to the win. I chatted with him to find out more about his script and career aspirations beyond acting.
Born to Write
Dustin grew up in Yellowknife, Canada, a town that’s so close to the Arctic Circle, it’s often referred to as the magnetic north where the colorful sky dance known as the Aurora Borealis can be seen for about 240 nights a year. Both isolated and spectacular, this frosty village served as an incubator for Dustin’s creativity.
“As a very young kid,” says Dustin, “it all started with getting an assignment and I always had a voice that was very left-of-center comedically. I was fortunate enough to developed it quite early on.”
His inspiration came from Monty Python, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, SCTV and Kids in the Hall. “There's a lot of these sort of weird comedic shows as well as a slew of sci-fi stuff that I just absorbed like every single Star Trek series and all the weird nineties alien sci-fi stuff that seems to proliferate within like a five-year span,” he says.
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Discovering Story in Front of the Lens
Once he graduated high school, he moved to Vancouver to pursue acting. He got lucky landing various TV work and then becoming a regular on the hit show Schitt’s Creek. Despite that success, he says the writing never stopped. He always hoped that establishing himself as an actor would help him with his other creative pursuits like writing, producing and directing, but says that wasn’t really the case.
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“There was a lot of messaging I was getting very early on that if you keep doing the acting thing and once that really hits, then people will start to pay attention to your projects. I believed that for a really long time but that wasn’t true.”
Being an actor, he says people didn’t really take him seriously as a writer. “There was that kind of cliche thing of, ‘Oh, he's another actor who thinks he can write.’” He struggled with his confidence, but he kept at it.
“I started entering these competitions because they were blind competitions. So, I could go in and there’s no name attached to it. I'm being judged just on the writing itself. And it was a way for me to feel like I was going in with a clean slate and letting the writing speak for itself,” he says.
Keep Going, No Matter What
Eventually, he started getting good responses from the competitions and even became a finalist in a few. Then he wrote Legend of the Sky Drifters or Murph and Alex go to Time-Jail.
“I wrote this script as a love letter to all the sci-fi that I absorbed and grew up watching, especially all of the fun, slightly raunchy buddy comedies that I grew up watching and loved and always wished I could act in,” he says.
Though he entered this script into Final Draft Big Break in 2021, it didn’t make it past the first round. “I didn't change a word and just submitted it again in 2022 and it got as far as it did, which I think is kind of the reality of the industry where it just takes the right person to look at your work and to see it for what it is. And sometimes you get a no, but it doesn't necessarily mean there's anything wrong with it. It just means you’ve got to keep trying,” he says.
Dustin’s advice for writers is to cultivate the joy of writing and to express yourself exactly how you want to express yourself.
“It's important to pay attention to what's happening in the industry, know the rules and understand trends that are occurring, but don't follow someone else's path. Don't follow the trends just because you think that'll help you get something sold or get noticed sooner. I truly believe the best possible way for you to break in is to make sure it's you on the page, make sure it's your voice and make sure it brings you joy. When you're having fun writing, the reader will have fun, too. Let all the other stuff – the doubt, the insecurity, the questioning, the self-criticisms – put all that as best you can out of your head and just focus on the joy because that will translate. That's what people pick up on in a very subtle way. And that's ultimately what we all want.”
Written by: Shanee EdwardsShanee Edwards is an L.A.-based screenwriter, journalist and novelist who recently won The Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer and was honored to be mentored by actress/producers America Ferrera. Shanee's first novel, Ada Lovelace: The Countess Who Dreamed in Numbers was published by Conrad Press in 2019. Currently, she is working on a biopic of controversial nurse Florence Nightingale. Shanee’s ultimate goal is to tell stories about strong, spirited women whose passion, humor and courage inspire us all.