Local screenwriter reels in prize
August 3, 2010
In the past few months, Park City High School graduate Dustin Puttuck has finished a feature-length screenplay, received a grant to film a short version of the project, and had the opportunity to pitch ideas to a panel of film industry professionals.
Just over a year ago, he wasn’t even sure if pursuing his passion for screenwriting was a feasible career path. In fact, he was considering alternate directions including marketing, sales and flooring installation.
"I realized what I was doing wasn’t quenching my passion," he says. So he decided to take a chance. He applied to the Salt Lake Film Society’s 2009-2010 Utah Screenwriters Project and was selected to take part in the one-year program for emerging filmmakers.
By the time he finished the program last month, Puttuck essentially had a new take on his future. He also had the distinction of winning the Utah Screenwriters Project Short Film Fellowship.
Puttuck says he has been drawn to filmmaking since the time he got his hands on his parents’ 8-millimeter camera. He attended Park City High School and dabbled in media studies with technology teacher Chris Maddux, whom he describes as "a great mentor."
After graduating in 2000, he attended Chapman University with the intent to major in film production. He also attended a six-month screenwriting workshop at the New York Film Academy.
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Before earning his degree, however, he decided to return to Park City to focus on other business endeavors. "The passion for filmmaking never died, but I didn’t have a clear idea of how I would get there," he says.
With his newfound incentives and inspiration, Puttuck is planning on returning to Chapman in the spring and entering the university’s screenwriting program.
The Utah Screenwriters Project, he says, is responsible for redirecting his ambitions. "It’s enabled me to find the dedication that lies within me to exercise my craft, which is screenwriting," he says. "It has allowed me to recommit myself to doing it an unfettered manner."
Puttuck was one of 30 students accepted into the 2009-2010 program. Over the past year, he met with the entire group every other month for seminars and workshops and met with a smaller subgroup and mentor twice a month to discuss projects, gather feedback and generate new ideas.
The Utah Screenwriters Project encourages projects related to Utah and, when he signed on to participate, Puttuck already had the nuts and bolts for a feature screenplay in his head.
His main characters are a father and son who must overcome the challenges of being the non-Mormon minority in an LDS-dominated Cub Scouting program in Salt Lake City.
While preparing for an upcoming Cub Scout event, the father is wrongfully accused of drug trafficking and must prove his innocence against the word of a corrupt Scoutmaster who attempts to take the son under his wing.
During the course of the program, Puttuck attended workshops with established screenwriters including John August ("Big Fish," "Go," "Charlie’s Angels"), Keith Gordon ("The Chocolate War," "A Midnight Clear") and Joan Tewksberry ("Nashville," "Northern Exposure").
He also developed a relationship with the mentor of his small group, An Dihn, a filmmaker who runs the Salt Lake City-based production company Fast Eddie Films.
Puttuck was chosen as the recipient of the Short Film Fellowship by a panel of local film industry insiders. The honor includes a cash prize, a $2,500 production grant and support to assemble a team to convert the feature-length script into a short film.
He is currently in the process of editing his feature-length script and also trying to condense the story into a 10- to 15-minute short film. "The challenge now is to take the arc and the main characters of the story and put those into a shorter version while maintaining the comedic quality," he says.
To create the short film, Puttuck is working with Dihn and Fast Eddie Films. The goal is to shoot the film in October, hold a premiere screening in Salt Lake City and submit it to film festivals including Cannes.
He has other projects on the horizon as well, including the opportunity to rewrite a narrative feature about the life of Carl G. Fisher, the man who created the Indianapolis 500 and was the primary developer behind Miami Beach.
Puttuck also plans to submit his feature-length screenplay to the 2010 Slamdance Screenwriting Competition. Ultimately, he says, he would like to venture into directing and producing.
He continues to meet with his colleagues from the Utah Screenwriters Project and says he is grateful for the connections and community of support it created.
Above all, he’s thankful that it pushed him to finish his screenplay and get back into filmmaking. "The experience has given me confidence to move in the direction of my dreams," he says.