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FAMILY: Ventura County | FOR THE KIDS

Scripting Talent

Network guides students in mastering the skills of screenwriting.


For the past four years, Thousand Oaks-based screenwriter Catherine Coughlin has been a mentor for aspiring teenage screenwriters, on behalf of an entertainment industry volunteer group called the the Scriptwriters Network.

She meets several weekends a month, either at Universal Studios or at an East County cafe, with youngsters who have won the network's annual High School Fellowship. Coughlin works in multimedia projects for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation.

For the past four years, the 10 winners admitted to the free yearlong program have been Los Angeles-based. But this fall the network is opening the competition to high school students from Ventura County. It's promoting the program, which starts in December, through East County high schools and public libraries.

Kids in grades 9-12 interested in applying--and who can arrange their own transportation--should attend one of the network's regular roundtables with prominent screenwriters Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Universal Studios in Universal City.

Applications, including a writing sample, are due by Oct. 31; winners will be notified by Nov. 30. In December, winners will begin the yearlong series of seminars and tutorial sessions, meeting several times a month, with the goal of completing a script within a year. Students may also bring parents or guardians.

Last weekend, Coughlin conducted a script-mentoring session with student Shant Istamboulian at a Thousand Oaks deli. She's not his regularly assigned tutor, but, she explains, "Kids can call any of us who have volunteered to do the mentoring."

The other part of the arrangement is that students are expected in Universal City once a month for a network meeting, followed by a seminar with a working screenwriter. The purpose of the studio seminars is "to introduce the kids to writers who are successfully doing what the kids want to do," Coughlin says.

Recent speakers at the scriptwriter meetings, have included writers from such productions as "Dawson's Creek" and "Courage Under Fire," "Mouse Hunt" and "From the Earth to the Moon."

When Coughlin and Istamboulian met, they went over his script about a pair of brothers coping with the death of their father. To demonstrate economical ways characters can be developed in a script, Coughlin brought along the script of the film classic "Casablanca."

Istamboulian intends to continue with the seminar aspect of the network program even though his fellowship ends next month. (He finished 12th grade this summer and has enrolled in a junior college.) As a former fellowship winner, he's allowed to become a network member. The network has 600 members and annual membership is $60.

He views the whole process as "a way to get a foot in the door," but he adds, "it's more about catching on to industry practices and learning about script writing." And Istamboulian has learned that breaking into Hollywood is hard. "Most of the writers who spoke at the seminars had to borrow money before they became successful. It was interesting to hear of their plight as beginners."


Orientation meeting for Scripwriters Network High School Fellowship Program, Saturday, 1:30 p.m. at Universal Studios. Reservations required. Admission, $15. (213) 848-9477.

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