UCSD theater student takes the gold for original screenplay

    What began as a 30-page screenplay assignment led to the first-place prize of $25,000 for Eleanor Roosevelt College junior Michael Carnick.

    Carnick, a theater major, took home the prize at the 50th anniversary of the Samuel Goldwyn Writing Awards for his screenplay “Who’s Driving Doug.”

    “I’m still in shock,” Carnick said. “I had no idea. I’m just amazed.”

    Other recipients of the award were UCLA and UC Irvine graduate students, chosen from more than 100 submissions from seven UC campuses, based on craft, imagination and emotional power.

    Tony Goldwyn, actor, director and Samuel Goldwyn Foundation board member, hosted the 50th anniversary event held at the Writers Guild Theater in Los Angeles on Nov. 1. The judges included Pulitzer Prize-winning author A. Scott Berg, novelist Jonathan Kellerman, and Creative Artists Agency partner and senior literary director Robert Bookman.

    The event ended with a “class photo” of past and present winners with celebrities such as Academy Award winner Eric Roth, best known for his screenplay “Forrest Gump,” and writer/director Allison Anders.

    Past winners of the Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award include Francis Ford Coppola, director of “The Godfather,” and screenwriter Colin Higgins. Former judges of the contest include David Lynch, Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington.

    The winners were announced from last place to first place. When the fourth place winner was announced, Carnick realized that he had a chance. By the time the second place was announced, Carnick’s family cried and cheered behind him as he turned around and gave them a thumbs-up.

    “I’m a real pessimist. I didn’t think I had a chance, which is why I didn’t apply last year,” Carnick said.

    But, due to the suggestion and persuasion of his theater professor Alan Havis, Carnick finally decided to submit an application last May and completed “Who’s Driving Doug” during the summer.

    “I owe it to Alan Havis,” Carnick said. Two other people who inspired Carnick are Associate Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer Jorge Huerta, who was Carnick’s former theater professor, and Ron Ranson, lecturer emeritus in scenic design. “They really supported me,” Carnick said.

    “Who’s Driving Doug” is a drama/comedy about two friends, one of whom is disabled, that go on a road trip to Las Vegas and get caught in a love triangle.

    Carnick, who has nonprogressive muscular dystrophy, said it was based largely on his own life, although in the screenplay, the main character’s disability is not specified.

    Carnick adapted many of his own life experiences to the main character’s struggles. One example cites a time when Carnick went to a restaurant with friends and was skipped over by the waitress taking orders.

    “I chose the theme because I thought I might have a different viewpoint to offer because I’m disabled,” Carnick said. “I wanted to make people more aware of disability issues in society because they’re invisible and not treated as equals.”

    The subject matter was not a difficult choice. “I had it built up in me for a long time,” he said. “It poured out of me as I wrote.”

    Facing unfair treatment did not motivate Carnick to make negativity the primary emotion in his screenplay. If anything, the emotional makeup of his screenplay is largely fun and laughter.

    Previous award recipients have gone on to write award-winning films and New York Times bestsellers. Carnick himself plans to pursue novel or movie writing, but he will let time decide.

    “This is the first screenplay I’ve ever written, so I still have to see how this all unfolds.” Carnick said. “It’s all really new to me.”

    Meanwhile, agents and producers are considering “Who’s Driving Doug” as a feature film on its way to the big screen, though “the chances of it becoming a movie are very slim,” Carnick said.

    So what will Carnick do with the new chunk of change in his pocket?

    “I’ll probably buy a new computer, some jewelry for my mom and donate some to charity,” he said.

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