An Interview with 2023 TITAN Awards Winner Phoenix Black

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 – Phoenix Black

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 3rd place Bronze award, the winner of our 2023 TITAN Awards, was Phoenix Black for her feature screenplay, KEANU REEVES IS MY MUSE, MY SON IS A DRAGON:

Based on my true story, Sri Lankan Australian SUNNY – a chaotic single writer – writes to KEANU Reeves about whether it’s too late to have kids and he moves in as her imaginary muse. Soon after she fosters Korean ANDY (10), a boy who thinks he’s a dragon. There are 2 parallel stories: In his dreams, Andy escapes into the dragon realm, where he’s a young dragon on a quest to rescue his dragon father from jail. In the day he makes Sunny’s life hell. Sunny, under Keanu’s advice, tells Andy about Keanu and accepts he’s a dragon. The trio become a strange sort of family, as Sunny and Keanu’s relationship deepens. Sunny secretly grieves the loss of her son, who she lost late into the pregnancy. She also deals with her mom, who has dementia. Andy and Sunny’s mom have a special relationship, melting Sunny’s heart. Andy folds his real world into his dream world. He finds photos of a girl SOOKY under the floorboards. Sooky and the school Dungeons and Dragons nerds, become his dragon companions in the treacherous dragon realm. In the real world, Andy finally finds that his father is not his biological father. Andy runs away just before a custody hearing, forcing Sunny to decide to fight the system for Andy. Andy’s mom unexpectedly speaks on Sunny’s behalf. When Sunny’s mom dies soon after, Andy speaks at the funeral about what family means – love not blood. He discovers that Sunny’s childhood nickname was Sooky. Andy’s loveable dream time dragon protector, Sooky IS Sunny. Andy and Sunny redefine family, using the power of imagination to heal.

So after Phoenix’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 Phoenix Black

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

PHOENIX BLACK:

“I’m a former aid worker, single foster mom and daughter of one of Australia’s first dozen immigrants of color. 

I was raised in Sydney by Sri Lankan parents as the White Australia policy was ending. Dad taught anatomy in England every 4 years so I grew up steeped in London’s theatre culture. Holidays were spent travelling in a VW Kombi Van along the Hippie trail through Europe, the Middle East, to Sri Lanka. After school I waited tables at my family’s restaurant, or visited Dad at the university where he taught medical students and dissected dead bodies.

I have a Bachelor Applied Science and was an HIV/AIDS physical therapist. My Masters in Public Health led to working in the Sydney Olympics, corporate behaviour change communications, business development and emergency response. I set up health and water, sanitation and hygiene operations with Oxfam America and the UN, in war zones and disasters in Sudan, Haiti, Myanmar and Cambodia. I studied advertising copywriting, novel writing and playwriting before a short course in screenwriting.  

I didn’t grow up watching movies. As an aid worker, often the theatres are in rubble. My parents took me to innumerable plays, ballets, galleries and museums. Most of all, my mum told stories. 

I’ve been screenwriting full time since 2021, when I gave up paid work to care for my foster son. He was ten when he came to me weeks before the world locked down. Since then I studied filmmaking, leading to a production manager role on a short film. 

I invest time in marketing as a fundamental part of writing. I’ve been on podcasts and been interviewed about my screenwriting journey. I enter fewer contests than I used to but I placed Top 5 in Final Draft’s Big Break.

I was fortunate to first be mentored by filmmaker Lauren Craig. She was instrumental in my first script, Father Trinity, being Black List Recommended. I didn’t realise at the time that the script was so polarising. Particularly for women and people of diverse backgrounds, there’s always a pressure to change our work to be more familiar. Those early mentorships, having someone who understands your work and seeks to improve rather than mould, are so important.”

How Long Have You Been Writing Seriously For?

PHOENIX BLACK:

“I wrote emails from the front lines from 2006. I was approached to publish them but I didn’t think they were ready. Ten years ago I studied novel writing and was published in an anthology. I studied playwriting and was listed for a commission for my play about bullying. I wrote with a view to someone else writing a movie based on my work. Then I thought, why don’t write the movie? Screenwriting started in earnest in 2021 when I stopped work to foster full time.”

How Does it Feel to Have Won the TITAN?

PHOENIX BLACK:

“This business is talent plus connections and fairy dust. For someone without connections, it’s surreal to finally be read by people who are integral to the film industry.”

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

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

PHOENIX BLACK:

“I was deciding whether it was too late to have children, when I was asked to foster a ten-year-old, (let’s call him) Andy. Keanu Reeves Is My Muse, My Son Is A Dragon is based on my true story of fostering Andy who – after watching How To Train Your Dragon – decided he was a dragon. In his dreams, Andy would go on dragon adventures with his new friends and the sister he had never met. In the day, he would be a dragon, creating chaos as he processed his trauma. Both of us had lost family and had to find a way to connect and form a new family. For us, that was through embracing his fantasy life and adopting Keanu Reeves as an imaginary friend. 

I wanted to write a movie that both adults and kids enjoy, each seeing a different type of movie. For kids, it’s a dragon adventure about finding family. For adults, it’s a movie about surviving miscarriage and sexual abuse, caring for parents with dementia and dysfunctional families. It’s about the healing power of imagination.”

Where Did the Idea For This Project First Come From?

PHOENIX BLACK:

“I lost my first son, Phoenix, late into the pregnancy. Around the third anniversary of his death, I read this old Esquire article where Keanu Reeves said he was fifty-two, it was too late to have kids. I wrote him a letter – not the craziest thing I’ve done – as a way to process my decision to finally give up on having kids. 

So many bizarre Keanu-related things happened. Even the guy buying my fridge was called Neo.  I adopted Keanu as my muse and began writing, for the first time since my son’s death.

Two weeks after I sent the letter, I got the call. A ten-year-old boy needed a home.”

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

PHOENIX BLACK:

How To Train Your Dragon, because that’s when Andy decided to be a dragon, and Instant Family, with it’s chaos of carefree older parents drowning. Keanu Reeves Is My Muse, My Son Is  Dragon has the child friendships and struggles of Bridge To TerabithiaMy Girl and The Goonies, with the wonder of The NeverEnding Story and Jurassic Park.”

Ex Machina Official Teaser Trailer #1 (2015) - Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson Movie HD

What Scene in the Script Are You Most Fond of?

“I love scenes that make readers cry. In the ‘heart scene,’ Sunny, Andy and Keanu are in dragon onesies. Andy blows into the fireplace as Sunny clicks the remote that lights the fire, embracing Andy’s dragon fantasy. Andy rests his head on Sunny’s chest, listening to her heart. She asks him if he wants it. Sunny transforms into a dragon and cleaves her heart in two. She gives half her heart to Andy, who only has a half-heart from his biological mother. Andy’s heart is finally whole.

I ask readers about favourite scenes, so that I don’t cut them in an edit. This one always comes up.”

Why Did You Choose to Enter the TITAN and Whats Been Your Experience With Other Contests?

PHOENIX BLACK:

“To be read by the Titans! I’ve placed in major competitions, including Top 5 Finalist for Final Draft Big Break, but there’s no contact after the congratulatory email.”

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

PHOENIX BLACK:

“Don’t make me choose! Nothing beats a commitment to actively market you and high-level introductions. 

I’m really looking forward to the coaching. I’ve done short-term mentorships and rewrite clinics, but it takes months for a script to fully evolve. You need to mesh with someone who appreciates your style as opposed to trying to quickly bend it to a formula. I’m hoping to write and market a further four scripts next year.”

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

What Are You Working on Next?

PHOENIX BLACK:

“I’m writing Raptors, which is Point Break meets war veterans on motorcycles.

Raptors are the real-life taskforce charged with breaking biker gangs and eviscerating their culture. I’ve interviewed veterans from the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars in the veterans motorcycle club. I’ll get out on a few rides with the club over summer and link in with an OMCG (outlaw motorcycle gang) and air force in the later drafts. It plays like a soundtrack in my head. I’ve got AC/DC, Steppenwolf and Creedence Clearwater Revival on repeat at volume. 

There’s something about riding a motorcycle, like surfing, where it’s a spiritual connection rather than a mode of transportation. As an ex aid worker, I relate to the displacement they felt when they came home. You’re suddenly bereft of the singular, urgent sense of purpose, the brotherhood. I hope I can write something worthy of the men that confide in me.”

What do you consider your super-strengths to be as a writer, and your work-ons?

PHOENIX BLACK:

I came to screenwriting late. I’ve had an adventurous, dangerous, traumatic, funny life. I’ve worked in different industries and countries. There’s no bottom to the well of ideas.  

I write the way my family talks, in disparate postcards, meandering imagery that comes together to form a feeling. My style is visual and lyrical, rich in metaphor. I have a background in behaviour change that I bring into my scripts.  I see movies as a vehicle for social change. 

I have epilepsy so I have story storms. I don’t think linearly. My mum always said ‘there are two sides of the story and the truth.’ I can’t help but see the story from multiple viewpoints and genres. Characters come fully formed. I feel like I channel rather than create them.  

I write cross-genre dramas with whatever the muse brings – fantasy, horror, action. The themes are heavy but the movies are not. That’s where I work best. People who won’t watch a movie about racism or immigration might watch Get Out or Past Lives. That’s an opportunity.

My favourite feedback from readers is:

“I don’t understand it all but I feel it all.”
“Awards bait for A-list actors and production companies seeking artistic thought-provoking content.” 

There’s so much I need to work on! I’d love to write with the visual deftness of Wim Wenders’ Perfect Days or Celine Song’s Past Lives or Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie. I want to play with structure and narrative like Paul Thomas Anderson or Quentin Tarantino

There’s incredible craft in writing films on the cusp of arthouse and commercial – Everything Everywhere All At OncePast LivesGet Out. Diversity isn’t a niche; it’s your audience.  I want that level of mastery, without losing the storytelling style passed down to me. 

I definitely need coaching on finding the right champion. The problem with writing things that are unconventional, with no direct comps, is that they are harder for reps to pitch. The industry wants new voices but is more risk averse than ever.”

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

PHOENIX BLACK:

“Like everyone, I hope to be holding that Oscar for best original screenplay and directing some of my own films. I hope to have enough cred that an out-there script gets past the gatekeepers. Five years ago, I’d never have imagined I’d be here, so who knows?”

The TITAN Screenwriting Contest banner

Quickfire Round:

Favourite Movie Made by the Judges:

A Private War (Basil Iwanyk), about the life of war journalist Marie Colvin, is a movie everyone should see. Despite the war happening in front of us, because of the horror of what we see and yet our removal from it, we are either overwhelmed or untouched. A Private War resonates, it has cut through.  It really speaks to my view that movies can change the world. 

Shannon McIntosh worked on the late stages of Pulp Fiction, my favourite Tarantino. Interweaving nonlinear narratives, with big, expertly crafted characters. Who else could turn banter about a burger into movie cannon? Genius. 

The Power (Georgia Brown) is about young women who develop – literally – electrifying power and the response of men to shut them down. It’s a show for these times. Toni Collette is her usual transcendent self.”

Your Top 10 Movies of All Time:

Moonstruck is my favourite, with no close second. It’s theatre on screen, a tapestry of character vignettes. “You run to the wolf in me. That don’t make you no lamb.” So many great lines. 

I could possibly recite Predator by heart. “If it bleeds, we can kill it.” The music is killer. The cinematography, full of medium close ups in an action movie, makes it personal. 

Get Out is the script I’ve read most often and use as a reference text. The use of unease and foreshadowing, the great twist, completely disguises a drama about racism and cultural appropriation as a horror. It was a movie that people dissected, that made people think.

I love the visual poetry of Amélie, the sensuousness of Like Water For Chocolate, the weaving mini-stories of ParenthoodAliens with Ripley, one of the greatest characters of all time.   

Parasite weaves so many stories into a cohesive, spectacularly shot, character driven movie, balancing genres and tone. Asian cinema does this masterfully. Personally, to see Asian faces in a hit movie is meaningful. Every success of an Asian writer or filmmaker feels like a victory for all of us.

Jurassic Park, so many of Spielberg’s movies, returns me to this incredible child-like wonder. It’s on high rotation at home and I’m still entranced. 

There’s dozens more that come in my top ten. I’ll choose Falling Down because I reference it so often, when people tell me characters need to transform. I can’t think of another movie like it, to remind us that we’re all on the edge of madness. 

Your Top 10 TV Shows of All Time:

Twin Peaks (1990-91) because it was a surreal phenomenon. David Lynch unapologetically does not explain everything. Pride and Prejudice (BBC series) is on in the background when I write. It’s so comforting.

Then there’s every Star Trek ever. I have a teenage son so sci-fi is our common ground. Young Sheldon is so, so well written. I always got control of the remote when Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and X Files were on, much to the chagrin of my parents.

The Haunting of Hill House reinvigorated my love of horror. How To Train Your DragonM*A*S*H and The Wire. The scene where no one says anything but “Fuck!” is perfection.”

Official Trailer | Season 1 | LUCIFER

If You Could Emulate Anyones Career, Whose Would it Be?

“I’ll have to forge my own path. There’s no other way.”

Thanks Phoenix!

Learn more about The TITAN Screenwriting Contest.

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