When trying to break into the film business, it is always helpful to be in the right place at the right time.
Jamie Nash of Ellicott City learned that at the Austin Film Festival, the right place and time is the hotel bar after dark.
"Hanging out in the bar at night is a primary activity at the Austin Film Festival," Nash said upon returning from the four-day event in Texas this month. "That's where you meet people."
But Nash knows that fortunate meetings are preceded by steady work. The author of 10 scripts, he has taken steps to solicit agents and producers to read his work.
His latest tactic has been to enter a few well-respected contests, and it paid off this time.
The screenplay he wrote with a partner, Michael Garber of Los Angeles, was a semifinalist in the festival's accompanying contest, the Austin Heart of Film Screenplay Competition. Out of 4,000 entries, 30 screenplays were finalists, divided into categories for adult and comedy.
In addition to going to Austin to find out if he won - he didn't - Nash, 30, was given the opportunity to attend seminars, see films and network like crazy.
Nash took his loss in stride. He said it is a common complaint that dramatic screenplays tend to win contests (a little drama even helps in comedy categories) and "mine goes more for laugh than tears," he said.
His screenplay with Garber, All's Faire, takes place at a modern-day Renaissance fair and involves "a love triangle between a fool, a wench and a geeky guy who wears his chain mail to the mall."
"I thought it was hilarious," said B.J. Burrow, screenplay competition director. "It was the best broad comedy that we got."
After about 80 readers, including graduate students and fellowship participants at nearby University of Texas film school, narrow the field, the top 30 scripts are read by representatives of both large and independent production companies.
A couple of finalists' works are then read by a panel of screenwriters, who select the winners.
The idea, said Burrow, is to get the semifinal scripts into the hands of companies that might be interested in buying them.
"I can't stress enough the level of professionalism of the scripts in the semifinal," Burrow said.
The writers are comparable to those who have sold screenplays, "they just need a break to get there," Burrow said.
Nash has been writing and making films since high school.
"Screenplays are really easy to write," he said. They are focused on the essence of the story with little decoration.
Things like what people wear and look like, the elements of the setting and props and even much of the background motivation are generally left to the director, actors and other people making the film, not the screenwriter.
"Everything I put into it is about making people turn the page," he said.
That doesn't dampen Nash's enthusiasm for storytelling, although it has made directing seem more appealing.
He has a script he wrote to direct himself. It is about "two women, two yard sales, one block," he said.
'A numbers game'
Nash is trying to sell five of his screenplays and working on about four more ideas. When he returned from Austin, he started another script. This one has its main characters faking a reality TV show.
"I'm a firm believer that it's all kind of a numbers game," Nash said. "You never stop doing new things and [hopefully] one time it will strike gold."
You also never stop editing. All's Faire is one of the first screenplays Nash wrote. "Every year I pick it up ... and add to it," he said.
Nash is a regular visitor to the Maryland Renaissance Fair. A juggler who has demonstrated his skills at Camden Yards, he knows other jugglers and magicians and thought such performers would make a great basis for a script.
It was about three years ago when Garber, a New York University film school graduate who runs a postproduction company in Los Angeles, requested scripts though an Internet group.
He was looking for something to produce or direct as a first step in getting representation or a movie deal.
"I received a lot of scripts, a lot of them bad," Garber said. Then, he saw Nash's and "I thought this has got a really great heart to it, a really great soul," Garber said. "It just needs to be punched up."
Garber sent back a version with lots of suggestions and revisions, even though he had no idea how Nash might take the constructive criticism.
Nash was receptive, and the two started sending the script back and forth over the Internet.
They have met in person once, and Garber was unable to go to the Austin festival. But they have found a connection through technology that works for them.
"There is probably no other person in the country I could do this with," Garber said of the long-distance working relationship.
"[We have] that trust, we know we are in this together. "
Both have other partners and individual projects as well.
For now, Nash has no desire to move to Los Angeles. He makes his own schedule as a free-lance computer programmer out of his home in Ellicott City. He also gets to spend time with - and bounce ideas off - his wife, Amy, who works for his business.
Nash likes to watch every kind of movie. He took advantage four times of Blockbuster's movie-per-day-for-30-days offer. "I watched every one" of the 120 films, he said.
Nash said being a semifinalist gave him "a good little buzz for a couple of weeks."
"It [is] inspiration to write the next one, if nothing else," Nash said. And he continues to work all the angles. His luggage was misplaced as he left the hotel, and it may have accidentally been given to Tobe Hooper, director of such films as Poltergeist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
"Perhaps it was on purpose," said Nash, who pointed out there are copies of his script inside.
After all his hard work, Nash would be thrilled if his luggage was in the right place at the right time.