An Interview with 2023 TITAN Awards Winner Christopher Kearney

About The TITAN Awards

The TITAN Awards is a global, prestigious screenwriting contest whereby material competes against its own kind for as long as possible over the course of a contest cycle.

Horror feature vs Horror feature, Series Bible vs Series Bible, Sci-Fi vs Sci-Fi, 1 Page Pitch vs 1 Page Pitch etc.

In the contest’s third year (2023), the situation was ferociously competitive and there were a great many writers and projects that impressed.

The annual awards are rare in talent discovery terms in that they are judged by genuinely heavyweight industry figures, with appropriately high-level credits on major movies and TV shows.

The three winning writers received….

SILVER Winner 🥈

Our silver prize winner across all categories, decided by The Titans

  • All 3 Titans read your work personally
  • 3 x private virtual lunches with each TITAN individually
  • Our Senior Industry Judging Panel read your work personally
  • 12 months of IS career coaching via regular 7hr one-on-one sessions*
  • Script distribution to the IS industry roster
  • 12 month subscription to IMDBPro
  • 12 month subscription to RocketReach contacts database**
  • Headline mention in official IS winners press release
  • Lifetime access to all IS online courses
  • Unlimited 75% off IS script coverage services for 12 months
  • Everything included in the category winners’ pack
  • $2,000.00 cash

GOLD Winner 🥇

Our gold prize winner across all categories, decided by The Titans.

  • All 3 Titans read your work personally
  • 3 x private virtual lunches with each TITAN individually
  • Our Senior Industry Judging Panel read your work personally
  • 12 months of IS career coaching via regular 7hr one-on-one sessions*
  • Script distribution to the IS industry roster
  • 12 month subscription to IMDBPro
  • 12 month subscription to RocketReach contacts database**
  • Headline mention in official IS winners industry press release
  • Lifetime access to all IS online courses
  • Unlimited 75% off IS script coverage services for 12 months
  • Everything included in the category winners’ pack
  • $5,000.00 cash

BRONZE Winner 🥉

Our bronze prize winner across all categories, decided by The Titans

  • All 3 Titans read your work personally
  • 3 x private virtual lunches with each TITAN individually
  • Our Senior Industry Judging Panel read your work personally
  • 12 months of IS pro career coaching via regular 7hr one-on-one sessions*
  • Script distribution to the IS industry roster
  • 12 month subscription to IMDBPro
  • 12 month subscription to RocketReach contacts database**
  • Headline mention in official IS winners industry press release
  • Lifetime access to all IS online courses
  • Unlimited 75% off IS script coverage services for 12 months
  • Everything included in the category winners’ pack
  • $1,000.00 cash

TITAN Awards Winner – Christopher Kearney

In an extremely close final vote, our three “titans” of industry – producers – all voted, independent of one another, for the contest’s Gold-Silver-Bronze order.

And winning the 2nd place Silver award, the winner of our 2023 TITAN Awards, was Christopher Kearney for his feature screenplay, POLAR:

Receding sea ice forces starving polar bears ashore to Salvage, Alaska. A grizzly attack on an ice fishermen raises the police chief’s suspicions. When her suspicions are confirmed, it is already too late. Her remote town is inundated with ravenous polar bears. How will she protect her Native family and the racially divided community that is at odds with itself?

So after Kearney’s amazing victory, we sat down with him to ask him a few questions about how he feels after being crowned the TITAN Awards winner, his inspirations and his path to becoming a screenwriter.

Interview with TITAN Awards Winner Christopher Kearney

Firstly, Tell us About You: Where Are You From, What’s Your Background in the Business?

CHRISTOPHER KEARNEY:

“I was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Lived in Buffalo, New York for 7 years. Shawnee, Kansas for 3 years. (My dad worked for the government, so we moved around.) We eventually settled down in Columbia, Maryland for my middle and high school years. I attended Ithaca College in Upstate New York where I majored in Cinema & Photography and minored in Scriptwriting.

Before graduating college, I had written 3 feature-length screenplays. One of them was an adaptation of a Tobias Wolff short story. I got permission from Wolff himself, who was a professor at Syracuse. I paid for two 6-month options with money from my summer camp job. To my delight, Wolff actually liked the adaptation. So did several other industry people, including execs at HBO Pictures, TriStar, and Dan Wigutow Productions, as well as cinematographer Andrew Laszlo. But nothing ever became of it. So, after a year, I let the option lapse and went on to my next script, and the next, and the next. It wasn’t until script number 10 that I landed an agent and an option. Both fell through shortly after 9/11.

Since then, I have spent the last 20+ years writing a script a year. I gave it up for two years when I turned 40 because I didn’t reach my unrealistic goal of being a success by then. I worked on an unfinished coming-of-age novel that would have taken a decade to complete. Then I got frustrated with the state of horror films. I felt like I could write something scarier and more original than the safe PG-13 remakes the studios were producing, so I got back in the saddle and cranked out a horror/thriller script every year. (Before then, I was writing drama, period pieces, historical biopics, sci-fi, even a deaf tween comedy!)”

How Long Have You Been Writing Seriously For?

CHRISTOPHER KEARNEY:

“If you count my college scripts, over 30 years.”

How Does it Feel to Have Won The TITAN?

CHRISTOPHER KEARNEY:

“Great! I was actually surprised when POLAR advanced to each round. And I was even more surprised when it won two awards: the 2nd Place Silver and The Pearl Diversity Award. I had entered diversity writing contests before but never even got to the quarterfinals, so I had no expectation there. I appreciate the judges picking the diversity of the material over the diversity of the author. I didn’t write about a female police chief or the Inupiat people to win diversity prizes; I wrote it to be authentic and original to the story.”

2023 TITAN Screenwriting Contest Judge - Shannon McIntosh (Oscar-Nominated Producer)

Can You Tell Us More About the Project You Won With?

CHRISTOPHER KEARNEY:

“POLAR is an eco-horror about ravenous polar bears that invade a costal Alaska town and how the police chief struggles to protect her Inupiat family and racially divided community. The tag line is “JAWS with paws.””

Where Did the Idea For This Project First Come From?

CHRISTOPHER KEARNEY:

“When I was a kid, I used to make my own HBO Guides for my fictitious pay cable company. The cover for one of the monthly issues was for a movie I invented called SNOWMAN. It was about an Alaskan biologist who discovered the government was secretly dumping toxic waste drums in the Arctic. Some polar bears fed on the region’s contaminated wildlife and became (you guessed it!) mutant polar bears. The poster art showed a snowman with a bloody gash from a bear’s claw along its face.

Decades later, Tomas Alfredson made SNOWMAN with Michael Fassbender, and I got upset that they stole my title. They didn’t really “steal” anything; 12-year-old me was wounded because I didn’t make my SNOWMAN first. Alfredson’s movie and the novel it was based on had nothing to do with my idea. It just motivated me to explore what would actually cause polar bears to attack a small town today.

I did a lot of material research but, as a “method writer,” I decided to go see the polar bears in their natural environment to get it right. I joined a small group tour to Kaktovik, Alaska where I potentially put my life at risk and saw about a dozen polar bears and cubs around the island village. The first night, a bear snuck onto the island and hid under a nearby building.

The next day, the tour guide recorded video of me less than 50 yards from another bear that came ashore. (Dumb in retrospect but exhilarating at the time!) In between the bear sightings, I managed to interview some of the Inupiat people and get a flavor for the place, their customs, and daily life.

I also interviewed the only female police chief from the Northern Slope (now retired), as well as did a ride-a-long with a police chief in a county near me. Both informed me greatly about the police chief character’s behavior.”

What Would You Say the Key Touchstones and Influences Are For It?

CHRISTOPHER KEARNEY:

JAWS was the greatest influence. It’s the movie that got me into movies – even more so than STAR WARS or Disney – because I felt like JAWS could really happen. I wouldn’t go past my waist in the ocean when we vacationed at Cape Cod the summer that I first saw JAWS.

JAWS 2, GREMLINS, and even DOG SOLDIERS are other obvious influences when you read it. There’s even a little bit of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD when you think about POLAR’s societal conflicts and the law trying to play middleman.”

Dog Soldiers 2002 Trailer HD | Neil Marshall | Sean Pertwee

What Scene in the Script Are You Most Fond Of?

CHRISTOPHER KEARNEY:

“The scene when the marine biologist goes onto the sea ice and looks for GPS tagged bears. While she observes a distant mother bear and cub through binoculars, a male polar bear called GASH, that looks like a snow mound in the background, uncurls and sneaks up on her. The marine biologist leaps onto the broken ice flows, jumping from one to another, until she slips into the freezing water. As she tries to pull herself out, Gash dives in behind her. Realizing this, she dips underwater and tries to swim away, but the bear catches up with her off screen. Then we see a stream of blood flowing into frame. That was the first visual I had in my head before I started writing it. Think that’d make a perfect teaser trailer.”

Why Did you Choose to Enter The TITAN and What’s Been Your Experience With Other Contests?

CHRISTOPHER KEARNEY:

“I honestly chose TITAN because it was an affordable, early-bird entry fee and I liked the fact that it was broken up into genre categories, which I felt was more equitable. I’ve had some success with other contests, but it was mostly just the notoriety of having been a Finalist. I didn’t get a sale, option, or new representation because of any of them.”

In Terms of the Winners’ Benefits, Which Run Over the Whole Course of a Year, Which One Are You Most Excited About?

CHRISTOPHER KEARNEY:

“Meeting virtually with the producer/judges. I respect all of their work, and the fact that they chose a horror script as one of this year’s best is encouraging.”

The TITAN Screenwriting Contest banner

What Are You Working on Next?

CHRISTOPHER KEARNEY:

“Without getting too specific, it’s a revisionist monster movie, involving a giant spider. It answers the questions: “Why would someone make a giant spider?”, “How would someone actually go about doing it?”, and “What would that look like today?”

I’ve done my homework already, and it’s yielded some interesting results. Most of my regular readers like it better than POLAR.”

What Do You Consider To Be Your Super-Strengths to be As A Writer, and YOUR WORK-ONS? 

I’ve been told I’m an amazing researcher. Over the years, I’ve become kind of a “method writer,” which means I thoroughly investigate my subject, characters, and setting before I start writing. For my giant spider script, I flew to Arizona to watch and interview arachnologists, job shadowed an investigative reporter at the Arizona Republic (to get a character right), and an old friend showed me the city, suburbs, and desert for several days to help me authentically represent the area.

Imagery is another strength. I tend to write what I see (in my head) well.

Economy in writing is something I still work on. My first drafts tend to be overlong – between 120-130 pages. I throw in everything and the kitchen sink, then see what sticks. Even though I outline beforehand, I just wish I could write only what was needed in the end. I consider my first drafts a “Director’s Cut.” 

Where Do You Hope to Be in 5, and 10 Years?

CHRISTOPHER KEARNEY:

“When I was a teenager, I thought I’d be a millionaire writer/director by 40. Now that I’m older and more realistic, I just hope to have a script optioned, go through the full rewrite process, and end up with a movie I’m proud of on the other end. Being a full-time screenwriter would be wonderful, but JAWS screenwriter Carl Gottleib once told me, “Don’t quit your day job until you’ve sold two scripts.””

2023 TITAN Screenwriting Contest Judge - Basil Iwanyk ($3bn box office producer)

Quickfire Round:

Favourite Movie Made By the Judges:

““Favorite” and “best” are two categories in my Gemini mind. The “best” would have to be Once Upon a Time in Hollywood…, Tarantino’s most mature film since JACKIE BROWN, in my opinion. But my “favorite” would have to be SICARIO because I didn’t know where that movie was going. There were so many shocks and surprises along the way. I loved that it wasn’t neat and formulaic. Especially, the seemingly inconsequential subplot about the Mexican cop and his family. Most producers/studios would’ve cut that. Glad they kept it in. Good heartbreaking/frustrating payoff. Messy like life. 

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD - Official Trailer (HD)

Favourite TV Show Made By the Judges:

“Sadly, I don’t watch TV shows that much anymore. It’s too much of a time investment. However, I did watch the pilot for GOOD OMENS and quite enjoyed it. When I saw the collection of Neil Gaiman’s GOOD OMENS scripts at Barnes & Noble, I sat down and read the first episode to see how it was written.”

Your Top 10 Movies of All Time:

The Best:

My Favorites:

When Harry Met Sally... (9/11) Movie CLIP - Four-Way Call (1989) HD

Your Top 10 TV Shows of All Time:

If you Could Emulate Anyone’s Career, Whose Would it Be?

Steven Spielberg was my idol growing up. JAWS was the most influential film for me. I am in awe of how he has had such lasting commercial appeal while also maintaining artistic integrity (with a few hiccups, of course). I admire his range. Like Stanley Kubrick, he’s tackled a little bit of everything. Horror, sci-fi, drama, historical, comedy, musical, animation. I’m the same way as a writer. While I have a knack for writing horror/thriller, I’ve dabbled in just about every genre except Western

Thanks Christopher!

Learn more about The TITAN Screenwriting Contest.

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