An Interview with 2022 TITAN Awards Winner Haley Dercher

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 second year (2022), 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 their work personally
  • 3 x private virtual lunches with “The Titans”
  • 12 months of bespoke, daily script marketing via their own personal IS script marketer*
  • 12 months of IS career coaching via regular 7hr one-on-one sessions*
  • Script distribution to the IS industry roster
  • 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
  • $2,000.00 cash

GOLD Winner 🥇

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

  • All 3 Titans read their work personally
  • 3 x private virtual lunches with “The Titans”
  • 12 months of bespoke, daily script marketing via their own personal IS script marketer*
  • 12 months of IS career coaching via regular 7hr one-on-one sessions*
  • Access to “The Writer’s Journey”, a 4-festival/lab series of events
  • Script distribution to the IS industry roster
  • 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
  • $5,000.00 cash

BRONZE Winner 🥉

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

  • All 3 Titans read their work personally
  • 3 x private virtual lunches with “The Titans”
  • 12 months of bespoke, daily script marketing via their own personal IS script marketer*
  • 12 months of IS pro career coaching via regular 7hr one-on-one sessions*
  • Script distribution to the IS industry roster
  • 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
  • $1,000.00 cash

TITAN Awards Winner – Haley Dercher

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 2022 TITAN Awards, was Haley Dercher for her pilot screenplay, IN DREAMS:

When a psychiatrist invents a technology to record and view patients’ dreams, she starts noticing a recurring character appearing. She must piece together whether this is a glitch in her technology – or a message being sent by her new competitor – all while struggling with the threat of corporate espionage, and the night terrors that have plagued her since childhood. 

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

Interview with TITAN Awards Winner Haley Dercher

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

HALEY DERCHER:

“I’m originally from suburban New Jersey, but I’ve lived my entire adult life in New York City. I don’t have any background in the business; I’ve been a lifelong movie and TV buff and got my Master’s degree from New York University in Media, Culture, and Communication, with a concentration in visual and cultural studies. There, I got to take classes in film, television, writing, and general popular culture.

I spent the next 15 years doing marketing for tech startups while writing screenplays on the side. Once COVID hit and the entire city shut down, I used it as an opportunity to fundamentally reset my life, turning my side hustle into my full-time work.

I started writing more and more, entering contests and winning. That encouraged me to make my first short film (which will hopefully play the festival circuit in 2023) and take my work even more seriously. Through a Facebook group for women in filmmaking, I got a job as an assistant to a top comedian, where I’ve been fortunate enough to work on his most recent Netflix special and see his writing process up close.

It’s been a very organic progression and I’m very excited for the coming year. I feel good things are in store.”

How Long Have You Been Writing Seriously For?

HALEY DERCHER:

“I’ve only been writing full-time since the pandemic, but I’ve always held writing-heavy jobs in my marketing career; always on the content creation side of the business.”

How Does it Feel to Have Won The TITAN?

HALEY DERCHER:

“It is incredibly encouraging to have won the TITAN! I think most screenwriters can empathize with feeling like, at the conclusion of each piece we write, there’s a sense of ‘oh no, maybe I’ll never write anything else again.’

Winning the TITAN has boosted my confidence that maybe this thing I feel like I’m pretty good at will be well-received by the industry at large. The TITAN award is my signal to keep going; put my head down and write!”

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

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

HALEY DERCHER:

“My pilot, IN DREAMS, is about a troubled psychiatrist who invents a device that allows her patients to record their dreams and watch them in therapy. Over the course of treating them, she notices a character recurring across unrelated patients and needs to figure out if this is a glitch in the technology or some kind of message being sent to her.

It’s part corporate espionage, part sci-fi mystery, and part lovable, tragic heroine.”

Where Did the Idea For This Project First Come From?

HALEY DERCHER:

“I have absolutely no experience in the sci-fi realm; I like stories that are rooted in real life and real, accessible characters. But after working most of my life in tech startups, I knew I had a lot of experiences and strange characters to pull from.

Additionally, since I needed to essentially create a new kind of technology to craft the story, I needed to work just outside of realism in order to develop an invention that seemed like a believable technology, but that doesn’t exist already. In that way, I came to sci-fi pretty honestly. Since I had no real reference points, or even an understanding of existing sci-fi frameworks, I was able to work on this story without preconceived notions or expectations of where it “should” go.

That freedom of movement allowed me to create a story that felt very fresh and current as I was working on it.”

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

HALEY DERCHER:

“I am drawn to eccentric, troubled, complex characters. I don’t think a protagonist needs to be perfect in order for us to root for them; I’m much more interested in characters who we see at their lowest points and who show us their ugliest selves. Characters who are hot messes or still figuring themselves out.

Strong, imperfect women are my favorite protagonists. Fleabag (Fleabag), Peggy Olson (Mad Men), Rayanne Graff (My So-Called Life) are always character inspirations for me.

Though this piece crosses genre quite a bit, there’s elements of Succession, Silicon Valley, and the more surrealist, dreamlike elements of The Sopranos.”

Fleabag Fourth Wall Break

What Scene in the Script Are You Most Fond Of?

HALEY DERCHER:

“I really need to push myself to write action into a script. If I gave in to my instincts, every script would mostly be characters sitting around a table talking to each other. I love dialogue that feels not just real, but lived-in. I want to understand the depth of characters’ relationships just from how they talk to each other. In the same way that you can sit in a restaurant and tell that the table next to you is on a first date or a tenth date, I think it’s important to be able to get that same information from the way characters speak.

My favorite scene in this piece is the one that takes place at the bar. You have three strong personalities in one room, and they’re all sort of talking over each other. I love the pacing of it, and the way their relationships become obvious the longer we hear them talk. There’s inside jokes, sarcasm, insults, humor, exasperation, bitterness, longing, all melted together.

The scene doesn’t even do much to move the overall plot forward, but it establishes the dynamics we’ll be dealing with over the course of the entire series, and it does it in a charming way.”

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

HALEY DERCHER:

“I entered The TITAN because of…the titans! I’m at a point in my career where I’m just trying to get my work read by as many movers and shakers as possible. I want to make real relationships with people and understand more about what they’re looking for; whether it’s related to my work or not.

The TITAN seemed like a fast track to getting my work read by people who could really move the needle of my career, as long as the work I produced was solid.

My experience with other contests has been a mixed bag. There doesn’t always seem to be a rhyme or reason to what advances. That’s why winning isn’t necessarily my goal. I just want to know my work is being read by real industry folks, and that’s a guarantee with the TITAN.”

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

HALEY DERCHER:

“I’m excited for my meetings with the titans, and I’ll be prepping for those like my life depends on it.

But really, I’m in this for the long game. I love that my work will be pitched and marketed for the next year. You never know who will read something you wrote and, though the project isn’t right for them, they like your writing style, and suddenly you’re staffed in a room for something completely unrelated.”

The TITAN Screenwriting Contest banner

What Are You Working on Next?

HALEY DERCHER:

“My first short film is in post-production and I’m really looking forward to putting that to bed. Since it’s also a proof of concept for a pilot I wrote about a well-behaved, type-A, overachiever who gets into BDSM to turn her brain off and her body on, I’m excited to see what the reaction will be from festivals and industry folks. I’d love for that project to get further developed as I think the time in our culture is right for that series.

I’m also in the middle of writing a pilot about two young, progressive clergy members in NYC trying to bring their religions into modernity despite the difficulties of starting businesses and the increasingly secular society we live in.

It’s sort of a workplace comedy, sort of a fish-out-of-water story (a cool female Rabbi and a hip young Imam walk into a house of worship….), and looks at how to turn around an industry that’s actively fighting against its best interests. It’s a romp, a buddy comedy, and it has a lot of heart and passion.”

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

HALEY DERCHER:

“All I want to do is write for TV. If it’s my own show or someone else’s show, I don’t care. I love television and I think it’s one of the few mediums that still brings people together across different walks of life.

Eventually, I’d like to be a showrunner, but I never want to get too far away from the writing. I like making the voices in my head talk to each other!”

What Advice Would You Give to Writers Entering Competitions in Terms of Honing Their Screenplays?

HALEY DERCHER:

“Expect nothing, and be pleasantly surprised by any advancement. There’s a ton of talented people in this industry. Some winners won’t become successful, and some people who don’t place in competitions will. Winning isn’t the goal. Just create work you’re proud of.”

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

What’s the Biggest Thing You’ve Learnt in Your Career as a Writer So Far?

HALEY DERCHER:

“I hate to say it, but outlining actually works. Like there’s an appreciable difference in how ironclad the plot is when you outline versus when you don’t. And I truly despise outlining. It’s got big ‘eat your vegetables or you can’t have any dessert’ vibes. But it really does make your work stronger. My apologies.”

What’s the Most Useful Piece of Advice You’ve Found From a Craft Perspective? Something That Was a Fundamental Shift in Your Writing Process

HALEY DERCHER:

“Writers read. Reading the scripts from your favorite shows and movies – or even from shows and movies that you hate! – is so critical to improving your writing.

Finding new ways to unveil information about a character, or alternative ways to get in or out of a scene, the best way to learn it is to read it. You get a sense of flow and arc and pacing just from reading scripts. Some are sparse and minimalist; some are thick and detailed. It’s not about finding a ‘right’ way, it’s just about learning what’s out there.

Another great piece of advice is to get in late and get out early. Can you start the scene a few exchanges later and not miss anything? Can you end it a couple sentences earlier and it leaves you wanting more? Then do it. Edit, edit, edit.

Do a cut draft. When you think you have a completed draft, open up a new doc and cut every piece of stage direction and dialogue that isn’t 100% in service to the plot, and then see what you’re left with. First, it’ll help you see immediately where the holes in your story are. Second, you’ll be able to trim a ton of fat that way. Then you can slowly bring back in your little darlings you can’t handle cutting, knowing you were still discerning about it.”

What Does Your Writing Routine Look Like?

HALEY DERCHER:

“I pick a Spotify station that lives roughly in the genre I’m writing within, or a kind of music that evokes the mood I’m going for, and I put on noise-canceling headphones, pour myself a variety of beverages to pick from, and sit down at my desk.

Then I usually can’t work at my desk even though it feels very writerly to set myself up there, and I swivel my chair so that my feet are up and my laptop is in my lap.

I don’t write every day, but I try to do something in service to my writing every day. If that’s taking down notes that I forget to look at the next time I sit down to write, or just working out plot while I’m cooking dinner, I’m trying to keep my work top of mind.”

Quickfire Round:

Favourite Movie Made By the Judges:

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I’m an absolute sucker for retro sets and costumes, and the cast is truly charismatic in the way Old Hollywood movie stars are supposed to be.”

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

Favourite TV Show Made By the Judges:

Breaking Bad takes place in a world I was totally unfamiliar with, in a part of the country I was totally unfamiliar with, and I loved every moment of it. It was dark, despicable, gorgeous, funny, tragic, and so riveting.”

Your Top 10 Movies of All Time:

“This is an impossible ask, but I’ll give it a try. In no particular order:”

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

Your Top 10 TV Shows of All Time:

“This is also an impossible ask, but here we go. Again, in no particular order:

And really all of that is sort of a lie, because if I’m being honest with myself, Gossip Girl should be on that list, but I can’t. Not when I’ve already listed Dirty Dancing in the movies section.”

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

“I want to be for television what Nora Ephron was for movies. She made movies that were beautiful, funny, realistic, romantic, silly, vaguely Jewish, and featured female protagonists that were smart, complicated, and were most comfortable in pants and a shirt but were still undeniably sexy.

I love how much personality was thrown into the mix. I love that her characters weren’t afraid to be obnoxious or judgemental, but were still good friends and daughters. And her movies are so quotable because her writing was so razor sharp. Her characters were specific, yet universal. I’m deeply envious of that.”

Thanks Haley!

Learn more about The TITAN Screenwriting Contest.

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