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ODU Creative Writing Student Places Second in National Screenwriting Competition

Don Driscoll was working successfully in the corporate world, climbing the sales and marketing ladder for a successful music, movie and book distributor.

And he was miserable.

"So much of sales is lying, which I'm pretty good at. But I much rather prefer lying on paper and calling it fiction," Driscoll says with a smile.

After years of selling books and movies written by others, Driscoll wanted to try it himself. His wife, a graduate of Old Dominion University, "had nothing but praise for it, so I followed her suggestion and applied," Driscoll says.

As soon as he started his English degree in creative writing at ODU, Driscoll knew he had found his passion.

"I think I get my inspiration from a lifetime of consumed media. I'm an unapologetic nerd. I've grown up watching movies, reading science fiction and collecting thousands of comic books. All of that, combined with my own sensibilities, just kind of coalesces into one big idea pool that I pull stories from."

Those unique, passionate sensibilities were helped along by Robert Arnett, an ODU associate professor of communication and theatre arts. Arnett had Driscoll in his screenwriting class this past year. And Driscoll shone.

Driscoll wrote a screenplay called "Chris Gaines Saves the World," starting it in Arnett's class last fall, and finishing it in his advanced screenwriting class in the spring.

Arnett suggested he enter the work in a Virginia screenwriting competition. He did, but Driscoll says he didn't want to wait that long to get feedback (winners aren't announced until this fall).

So Driscoll entered the first reputable screenwriting contest he could find, the StoryPros Awards.

And his screenplay won second place in the comedy category against national competition, including professional screenwriters from the film and television industry.

"Normally, I'm of the mindset that second place is the first loser. Being a sports fan and Pittsburgh (City of Champions) native will do that to you," Driscoll explains.

"However, finding out that I even placed at all with my first feature script, in my first national contest, with over 2,000 entries, was enough to completely bowl me over."

"Chris Gaines Saves the World" is a sci-fi story about two friends who travel cross-country to kidnap country superstar Garth Brooks and convince him to take up his failed rock alter-ego, Chris Gaines, once more in order to stop a malevolent supercomputer from destroying mankind.

"Yes, I staked all of my future hopes and dreams on Chris Gaines. Because at the end of the day, I don't care what anyone says, that album was pure gold," Driscoll laughs.

Arnett couldn't be more proud of his student.

"Winning an award from StoryPros is a big deal for a screenwriter and Don really deserves it," Arnett says.

"Don't let the craziness of the subject matter fool you, Don worked really hard on this script and made it a professional effort. Don wasn't competing against other students, he was competing against writers from all over the country."

Indeed, the judges were glowing in their praise of the work.

"'Chris Gaines Saves the World' is an excellent script, and one of the cleanest and tightest in the contest," the judges wrote. "It may be difficult to get Garth to go along with it, but stranger things have happened! In any event, it's an honor to give it some small measure of the credit it deserves."

Driscoll, who has started another screenplay, says his time at ODU (he's finished his course work and is preparing to graduate) prepared him for his plunge into the literary world.

"I think I had a nugget of raw talent for writing when I got to ODU, but it was really the instruction and guidance of my instructors that helped me to hone that into something resembling a craft," Driscoll says.

"I've still got a long road ahead of me before I can actually call myself a successful writer, but I wouldn't have even ventured down that street if they hadn't given me a map and bus fare."

In turn, Arnett says students like Driscoll couldn't provide a better endorsement of the program.

"The exciting part, for us in Film and Video Studies, is that Don's success demonstrates what we do in the classroom produces professional results."

This article was posted on: August 10, 2009

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