Screenwriters love mad scientists and killer robots — we all do — but the North Fork TV Festival is asking screenwriters to be a little more realistic in their portrayals of science and technology. The festival’s second annual Alfred P. Sloan Science + Tech Pilot Script Competition is looking for compelling stories that skip the stereotypes and look more honestly at how science and technology improve our lives.
A panel of eight independent judges, including both television professionals and scientists and technologists, will look for unique, character-driven stories that end in a cliffhanger that could set up a series. For the second year, director Elias Plagianos will work with the creators of the winning script to turn it into an episodic pilot, supported by a Sloan Foundation grant.
The pilot will premiere this fall at the 2020 North Fork TV Festival. Script submissions are now open, must be between 20 and 48 pages in length, and — brace yourself — cannot include science fiction or fantasy.
Last year’s winner, Maxwell Pitagno’s Distemper, examined Dr. Louise Pearce’s quest for the first drug to treat African Sleeping Sickness. Plagianos worked with Pitagno to create a pilot starring Abigail Hawk (Blue Bloods) and Chiké Okonkwo (Being Mary Jane). It became an award winner and official selection at several top film and TV festivals.
“Scientists and their work play a more critical role in today’s society, and yet there are many important untold stories about science. The 2019 competition introduced us to a powerful one: the pioneering work of Dr. Pearce. Looking ahead to the 2020 competition, I very much look forward to meeting the next set of scientists and engineers and the ways they’ve changed our world,” said festival founder Noah Doyle.
“Last year, Maxwell Pitagno’s award-winning pilot Distemper dramatized the incredible story of pioneering pathologist and LGBT icon Dr. Louise Pearce,” said Doron Weber, vice president and program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “We’re excited to partner with the North Fork TV Festival for a second year with an expanded production budget for an episodic series pilot centering around the lives, loves, and scientific passions and conflicts of a rich array of characters in dramatic settings, part of our nationwide film program now numbering over a dozen great partners.”
The North Fork TV Festival, based in Greenport, New York and now in its fifth year, brings together executives, directors, writers, and actors to support independent, innovative TV.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation offers grants in science, technology, and economics. Its program in Public Understanding of Science and Technology, directed by Weber, supports arts aimed at a wide, general audience.
Here’s some information on the panelists, provided by the festival. Their full bios will be available on the festival website:
- Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, who isolated leptin, an adipocyte hormone that regulates food intake and body weight in animals and humans. Friedman is a professor at Rockefeller University, and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
- David Greenwalt is a screenwriter, director, and producer who was a co-executive producer, writer, and director of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and co-creator of Angel. He also briefly executive produced X-Files and co-created Grimm.
- Tony, Emmy and Grammy-award winner Rachel Bay Jones (Modern Family, God Friended Me, Ben Is Back) is best known for originating the role of Heidi Hansen in the original broadway cast of Dear Evan Hansen.
- Dr. Jessica Leighton, Ph.D., MPH, is on the public health team at Bloomberg Philanthropies and works on several global health initiatives including environmental health, cardiovascular disease prevention, and tobacco control. She was previously the deputy commissioner for environmental health at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
- Andrew Nissen is the director of Scripted Development for Entertainment One Television. He most recently worked on Run and Sharp Objects, both for HBO.
- Dr. Heather Lynch is the Institute for Advanced Computational Science Endowed Chair of Ecology & Evolution at Stony Brook University. Dr. Lynch is also one of the 2020 AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute Fellows for Science Engagement.
- Dr. Jeffrey Reid is a vice president at the Regeneron Genetics Center, whose primary focus is on maximizing the impact of the integration of health record derived phenotypes and genomic data in providing biological insights and improving patient outcomes.
- Tom Russo is the Head of Television for Kelsey Grammer’s Grammnet Productions NH. The company’s current series are Hulu’s Light as a Feather and the adult animated comedy You’re Not a Monster for the IMDb platform.