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North Fork TV Festival Partners with Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for 2nd Annual Science + Tech Script Development Competition

June 18, 2020
3 min read time

After a successful first year, the fifth annual North Fork TV Festival is partnering with Alfred P. Sloan Foundation again for the second annual science + tech script development competition, which aims to encourage screenwriters to create more realistic and compelling stories about science and technology and to challenge existing stereotypes about scientists and engineers.

“The pilot competition, and the partnership was one of the most successful and talked about parts of last year’s festival,” Elias Plagianos, Artistic Director at North Fork TV Festival, tells Final Draft.  “It is such a unique opportunity for a writer to have their script get developed and actually produced into a pilot. Scripts get optioned and purchased every day in Hollywood, but writers rarely get to see the projects brought to life.”

As for why science and engineers are so integral to storytelling -- when the status quo of Hollywood might not paint them as elegant or adventurous characters -- Plagianos says that’s exactly the point.

“The short answer is scientists and engineers are people. They have multilayered complicated relationships, and rich lives that are ripe for telling stories in all types of genres,” he says. “Usually the portrayal of scientists and engineers in popular media is cliché and one dimensional. It can scare or confuse mainstream audiences about scientists and their work.”

Plagianos uses the 1960’s as an example “where there were all those cheesy atomic age monster movies. That kind of portrayal, as ridiculous as it may be, has a lasting effect on audiences. We want to tell stories that focus on real science and the actual people who choose to work in these fields. The more that mainstream audiences can connect with science, engineering, and tech on a personal level, the more open they will be to understanding the complex nature of the work.”

In terms of what current shows he believes are accurately portraying those in science and tech, Plagianos points to TV series like Silicon Valley, Halt and Catch Fire, and recent films, First Man and Hidden Figures.

“These are great examples of the type of stories we are looking for,” says Plagianos. “These move away from the typical one dimensional portrayal of these characters in the fields of science, tech, and engineering. It gives us a look into their personal lives and struggles. We want to sit next to them and experience the roller coaster of their lives. Their triumphs and their failures.”

As for what type of writer they’re looking for, Plagianos says the competition is open to anyone who is interested in having them produce their pilot. When it comes to experience, while those with an extensive background are welcomed to apply, a writing background might not be necessary. Last year’s winner, Max Pitagno, had just graduated with a degree in science and a passion for writing. And while Plagianos says you don’t need to be a scientist either, he encourages writers to do their research “because half of our judges are scientists. The other half are industry professionals with an impressive resumé who are looking for a great pilot with an interesting hook that they can pitch to networks as a series.”

This year’s panel of judges include professionals in the entertainment industry, distinguished scientists, and well-known actors like Tony Award winner Rachel Bay Jones. “We want to approach the judging process from all angles,” says Plagianos. “Having their input and unique voices involved in the decision making process is invaluable.”

When it comes to support post-competition, Plagianos says the winning script is offered an 18 month option where the North Fork TV festival, and it’s impressive network of industry professionals work to get the pilot developed and sold to a network as a series.

Since Pitagno’s win last year, he has been accepted into a prestigious film school master’s program, and Plagianos says they are working together to develop his script from a pilot into a full series. 

In terms of why science + tech stories are so prevalent now, Plagianos says with the current global health crisis, he believes it’s more important than ever to have serialized stories about scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. “These are the people who change the world and they deserve to be properly represented. This competition is about planting the seeds for the next great science based TV show, and the more people hear about it, the more they might want to share their story with us.”

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