PNW students claim top honors in national scriptwriting competition
Purdue University Northwest communication student Jessica Cannell had never written a television script—any script, for that matter—before enrolling in the university’s COMMUNICATION 436 Scriptwriting course last fall.
But come April 23, she will make an acceptance speech before an anticipated Las Vegas audience of some 1,000 attendees at the 2017 Broadcast Education Association’s (BEA) collegiate Script Writing Competition Awards Program. The annual competition is held collaboratively with the National Association of Broadcasters Convention.
BEST OF THE FESTIVAL
Cannell, 28, a Griffith native and Hammond resident, served as the lead writer of a script that initially won first place in the BEA’s Television Spec Series Category. Then, in competition with four other categorical first place scripts, judges awarded the PNW script BEST OF THE FESTIVAL as the top overall script in the competition.
Within the Television Spec Series Category, for which scripts of current television programs are written and submitted, Cannell and PNW classmates Adrian Benton of Crown Point, Julio Casares of East Chicago, Lauren Edmond of Hammond and Bianca Martinez of Schererville teamed to write an episode for the AMC network program, “Humans.”
The BEST OF THE FESTIVAL recognition is the highlight of another award-rich year of scriptwriting by Purdue Northwest students, instructed by Associate Professor of Communication Mary Beth O’Connor.
Besides the efforts of Cannell and her script-mates, other PNW students also excelled in TV scriptwriting. Janel Contreras of Merrillville, Elizabeth Carey of Lowell, Vanessa Matthews of Highland and James Mullaney of Hammond also earned a first place. RoLonda Crawford of Gary, Jacob MacDonald of Ripon, Wisc., Hardy Willis of Valparaiso, Raquel Witherow of Schererville and Joe Zuniga III of Griffith placed second. Andrew Morris of South Holland, Ill. also earned third in the Short Subject Film Category. All the students are communication or English majors.
Track record of success
Since 2002, PNW students and those from the former Purdue University Calumet have taken home eight first places, seven second places, seven thirds and four honorable mentions in the national competition—all under O’Connor’s tutelage and typically against student competitors from larger universities offering a formal scriptwriting curriculum.
“Our students have talent; they’re hardworking and competitive,” said, O’Connor, who worked hard herself to learn and effectively teach attributes of effective scriptwriting after joining the faculty of the former Purdue Calumet in 1989. “When I was told I was to teach scriptwriting, I called everyone I could think of—literary agents, screen writers and other professionals—to pick their brains.”
Cannell values the insight and mentoring O’Connor has provided her.
“Because scriptwriting is a process, you want help and feedback; you want someone to provide you creative criticism,” Cannell said, “and Mary Beth is always right there to do it.”
Cannell’s newly-recognized talent also is a testimony to her own hard work, determination and passion. A former English, Spanish and computer technology major and student journalist, she also holds a full time job as an office manager of a maintenance and construction firm and recently served as a part-time chef.
Still, she said she managed to spend 40 to 60 hours a week last fall striving to perfect the award-winning script. Her effort proved to be a labor of love and validated the career path she now desires to pursue after she graduates next year: that of becoming a television writer.
“It was a very hard process, but I loved it,” she said. “I believe all my previous experiences helped me, because effective scriptwriting, I have learned, is knowing and understanding people, then conveying that understanding as succinctly as possible to create interest in a story.”