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McDaniel student wins screenwriting competition

Jordan Butler, a graduate student from Westminster studying counseling at McDaniel College, won the Maryland Film Festival's Baltimore Screenwriters Competition in May for his script "Charles Street Rivals." Since then, he has worked with writer and producer Norman Steinberg to translate his vision into a feature film while continuing his schooling. The Times caught up with Butler to discuss his favorite films, the writing process and navigating the Hollywood process.

Q: Could you talk a little about your film, "Charles Street Rivals?"

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A: It's a coming of age film kind of in the vein of some of my favorite films, "A Bronx Tale" and "Good Will Hunting." It takes place in the world of college sports in Baltimore. In the writing, I drew on some of my own experiences as a college athlete. I played college lacrosse at Mount Saint Mary's. My initial goal was to capture the juxtaposition between the stadium and the classroom. I didn't want to focus on just one or the other, but describe the way they work together. I wanted to get at some of the social aspects of the team that I thought hadn't been done accurately before.

Q: What was the writing process like?

A: I've always been a lifelong film lover. After college I lost a job working as a wine rep in Baltimore, so I took a job — falling back on my psych degree — working with a subsidiary of Sheppard Pratt. That's when I started writing and working on the screenplay after hours. I wrote the whole screenplay here in Carroll County. I wrote it at work, at Birdie's Cafe, just all around.

Q: How did you get involved in the Baltimore Screenwriter's Competition?

A: I actually was just reading some blogs as I was engaging in this whole journey as a writer. I wanted to see if there was anything local. I read that winning competitions was one of the best ways to go about things. I saw the Baltimore Screenwriters Competition had some legitimate people attached to it, so I just submitted my script.

Q: Where did your love of film originate?

A: It's been with me so long that I don't know the exact time I got hooked. I'd imagine it was whenever I saw my first movie. I remember growing up, I was always trying to see as many movies as I could. I would rent movies constantly and I hung out with people that liked movies. Now I still try and see movies as often as possible. I like to go to the Carroll Arts Center and see the foreign art flicks, and I have a ridiculously long Netflix.

Q: Are there any films that were particular influences on your style?

A: My favorite film overall is "Good Will Hunting." I like directors like Gus Van Sant and Peter Weir and those who create character pieces. I'm really interested in strong characters and an interesting narrative. I'm not into big blockbusters as much. My tastes have evolved since I was younger. When I was little, I loved action movies. Now they aren't as interesting.

Q: Is there a difficulty to create the multi-faceted characters you find interesting?

A: I think everything starts with character. The more well-rounded you can make them, the better. I love "The Wire" and "Mad Men" and shows like that where nobody's entirely good or bad. I strive to do that in all my scripts. I don't care for the stories about the cookie-cutter good guys. I strive to capture humanity in all of its idiosyncrasies.

Q: What happens with the script now?

A: After I won, I asked one of the judges, "Where can I go from here?" They told me there was a judge, Norman Steinberg, who wrote "Blazing Saddles," who really liked my work. He's become a great mentor since the competition. I shot him an email that evening, and he said that he thought I had chops, and he thought I wrote great scripts. It was one of the surrealist moments of my life. He put me in touch with his manager. He's given me the confidence that I can at least represent myself at that level. He's been a great asset with networking.

Q: Does your background in counseling help when creating characters?

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A: Absolutely. It helps me understand what makes us all tick. It helps me figure out why we are the way we are, and I can work that into my scripts.

Q: Do you have any plans to move out to L.A.?

A: At this point in my life, it would be tough without some firm relationships established there. Ideally, that would be the endgame. If I could sell a script or get hired writing for TV, that would be great. Until then, I feel like I'm on a good path here. I don't want to just jump into something.

Q: In a perfect world, what director would you like to see tackle your material?

A: It was suggested to me early on that Mark Pellington would be a good fit for the material. I've actually been a huge fan of his; he directed "Arlington Road" and "The Mothman Prophecies." He was a college athlete, his dad played for the Colts; he's from Baltimore and it's tonally and thematically very similar to stuff he's done in the past.

Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or at jacob.denobel@carrollcountytimes.com.

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