Happy new year to one and all! I revel in taking time around the holidays to slow down, work a little less, read a little more, enjoy friends and family, and just generally recharge my batteries.
As it turns out, film festival and screenplay award judges do not share that sentiment. A boatload of contest decisions rolled in over the past several weeks, and the news has been good for the two screenplays I’ve been submitting — Happy Jack, a feature-length unconventional superhero script, and The Bad Newz, a one-hour coming-of-age comedy TV pilot.
Here’s where the accolades list stands for Happy Jack as of January 5, 2023:
- Top 35% of all discoverable projects – Coverfly
- Top 20 Fantasy Feature of the Month (December) – Coverfly
- Semifinalist – StoryPros International Screenplay Contest
- Semifinalist – The Wiki Screenplay Contest
- Quarterfinalist – Cynosure Screenwriting Awards
- Quarterfinalist – Portland Screenplay Awards
- Quarterfinalist – San Francisco International Screenwriting & Cinema Awards
- Honorable Mention – Changing Face International Film Festival
- Honorable Mention – Santa Barbara International Screenplay Awards
- Selected – Shockfest Film Festival
- Selected – Las Vegas International Film & Screenwriting Festival
As a reminder of what Happy Jack is about, here’s the logline: A misanthropic hermit with a special power to make people happy must confront humanity, greed and love in New Orleans after he is drawn out of hiding by a charlatan doctor. (Think disgruntled superhero Hancock meets the Southern charm of Big Fish)
Here’s the list for The Bad Newz, which I started submitting to contests months after Happy Jack and is still awaiting results from many of them:
- Top 29% of all discoverable projects – Coverfly
- Finalist – The Wiki Screenplay Contest
- Semifinalist – Your Script Produced! Season 3 (still in play to be named a Finalist on Jan. 11)
- Quarterfinalist – Los Angeles International Screenplay Awards
And here’s the logline for The Bad Newz: When two teenage brothers move to Newport News (aka Bad Newz), Virginia, in the late ’90s, they discover poverty is the monster no one can escape in this underserved, mixed race community. (Think the kids from Stranger Things in the world of Abbott Elementary)
The plan, of course, is to eventually graduate from contests to earn industry representation, but you have to start somewhere and I’m grateful these screenplays are earning recognition in competitive contests alongside great scripts from amazingly talented writers.
Today is a good day! After design delays, paper supply chain issues and worker shortages at the printer, my new (first!) book is finally here, in the flesh (or the pulp): Athlete Brands: How to Benefit from Your Name, Image & Likeness from Darden Business Publishing.
It feels like ages ago University of Virginia Darden School of Business Professor Kim Whitler and I wrote this together. However, I’m reminded today seeing this baby come into the world how much I love the work we put into it and the potential the book has to help student-athletes (even those will never go pro or even play high-level college sports) develop personal brands that will open doors and strengthen relationships. Now, the book is in their hands. I hope it serves many of them well!
The Darden School just issued a press release, with more details on the book including how to buy it on Amazon or the Darden Business Publishing website.
College athletes are competing on an entirely new playing field now that they can profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL). NIL can be a great opportunity for athletes, but only if they know how to take advantage of it.
Athlete Brands: How to Benefit from Your Name, Image & Likeness (UVA Darden Business Publishing, 2022), the new book co-authored by University of Virginia Darden School of Business Professor Kimberly Whitler and Jay Hodgkins, helps current and aspiring college athletes create a game plan to get the most out of their NIL. The book is available to order on Amazon and Darden Business Publishing.
The book presents a simple, step-by-step process in which student-athletes in any sport and at any level learn to manage their NIL to best advance their goals. Whitler and Hodgkins adapt proven brand management processes to help athletes:
- Define a vision for success and set goals that you can achieve through sport
- Design your athlete brand to align with your goals
- Activate your brand to create NIL value
- Monetize your brand through goal-aligned channels
“The chance to make money from your name, image and likeness is heady stuff for many young athletes,” said Whitler, a professor of marketing and former chief marketing officer who grew her career as a brand manager at Procter & Gamble. “But if these athletes don’t stop to first think about what they really want to achieve, chasing opportunities to monetize their NIL could detract from their athletic performance, academics and future professional opportunities. They need to design and activate a brand that works for them first, and then choose the right opportunities to monetize their NIL.”
Athlete Brands was developed in partnership with the UVA Athletics Department, but is written for amateur athletes everywhere. It includes examples of how other pro and student-athletes around the world have managed their NIL and are leveraging their brands to advance their careers.The Darden Report
“Write what you know.” It’s an old adage successful, veteran writers often impart to the next generation of scribes trying to break through. I’ve tried to follow it over the years in part — tying knowledge of a profession or place or certain sorts of people into my fiction, while exploring fantasy or near-future parts unknown.
But for my TV pilot script The Bad Newz, I took the cliched writerly nugget of wisdom 100% literally. The Bad Newz is a fictionalized account of life for teenagers in 1990s Newport News, Virginia, where I grew up. It draws entirely from my experiences and the experiences of friends. In fact, three of my best friends for going on three decades consulted with me on the script and I consider them co-creators. What we’ve come up with is a more multicultural Atlanta, or perhaps Stranger Things but set in the ’90s and the monster they can’t escape is poverty.
Aside from the fact that it feels cathartic to revisit the time and place that shaped me, it’s interesting — and very exciting — that swallowing the “write what you know” lesson whole resulted in The Bad Newz earning a Finalist nod in the very first screenwriting competition in which it was entered: The Wiki Screenplay Contest.
I’ve only entered The Bad Newz into a couple of small contests to get a sense of professional views on it. I’m still fine-tuning the script with my co-creators before unleashing it onto the contest circuit. But I am overwhelmingly happy and excited about the result in the Wiki contest. Fingers crossed that this is the start of The Bad Newz going places.
Here are all the results from the Wiki contest, including The Bad News and Happy Jack (read more below).
More Accolades for Happy Jack
Since The Wiki Screenplay Contest included TV and feature-length contest categories, I went ahead and entered Happy Jack as well. Lo and behold, Happy Jack came away with a Semifinalist recognition, it’s highest to date. For those keeping score at home, Happy Jack has earned honorable mention nods from the Santa Barbara International Screenplay Contest and Changing Face International Film Festival and now the Semifinalist award from Wiki.
Happy Jack is the reluctant superhero flick Hancock meets the mythic southern storytelling of Big Fish. When Jack Hazelwood, a misanthropic hermit with a special power to make people happy, is drawn out of hiding by a charlatan doctor, he’s forced to confront humanity, greed and love in New Orleans.
I’ve entered Happy Jack, my first feature-length screenplay into a few film and screenplay festival competitions, and the returns so far are encouraging! Happy Jack earned Honorable Mention selections at the Santa Barbara International Screenplay Awards and the Changing Face International Film Festival.
On the Changing Face International Film Festival awards page, it feels particularly great to be listed with writers from places like Australia, Brazil, Italy and Romania. The world is full of talented writers, so it’s an honor to place among peers from around the world.
So what does earning a pair of honorable mention awards mean for Happy Jack? As far as the script being purchased, probably not much. These awards do provide great exposure for writers hoping to be noticed by people in the industry looking to buy scripts. However, Happy Jack needs to get in the winner or finalist category before anyone’s going to come knocking on my door.
But for a screenplay-writing beginner like me, two honorable mention awards in the span of a week is a clear signal from experts that Happy Jack is a marketable script. Keep working, and it could sell. That’s not just me inferring. The award selection notice I received from Santa Barbara included the following line:
You should be encouraged to continue writing, as your scores for Happy Jack were quite strong in a very competitive field.
The commentary provided by the Santa Barbara judges sent a similar message of “good work, but keep working,” starting off:
Happy Jack is an inspirational drama with equal elements of mystery and romance. Post Katrina New Orleans sets a lively, yet unsettling tone for the action. The script serves our heroic healer well by painting a clear picture of his backstory but does not do enough to explain the catalyst of his otherworldly powers, nor the science behind them.
For now, I’ll wait to see how Happy Jack does in a few more competitions and collect more feedback, then hopefully have solid direction on how to smooth the rough edges then start pitching.
Way back in 2013-14, I wrote a novel manuscript called Happy Jack, which upon honest reflection, I had to admit fell short of what it needed to be to become a published novel.
Still, I adored the plot. I adored the protagonist and villain. I adored a few of the “scenes” — there were pages here and there that I still think are some of my most fun, energetic, creative writing. I had already been itching to try my hand at screenwriting, and it occurred to me with a novel’s worth of content and several very good “scenes” sketched out, Happy Jack was ripe for adaptation.
And now it’s written, edited, peer reviewed and ready to pitch.
Logline: A misanthropic hermit with a special power to make people happy is drawn out of hiding by a determined journalist and a charlatan doctor who force him to confront humanity, hurricanes and corruption in New Orleans.
Think of it as the reluctant superhero flick HANCOCK meets the fantastical southern storytelling of BIG FISH.
If you’re a member of The Black List, you can check out the script and all its details here.
Huge thanks go out to my good friend Chris Dunn, who has been an actor in the New York City stage scene for years and was a producer for the short film THE VILLAGER. He knows his way around a script and gave me some incredible notes to improve HAPPY JACK. Seriously, I can’t thank him enough.
Then it was time for a professional peer review. I hired a reader from The Black List, which in my novice screenwriter opinion looks like one of the better resources to get exposure for scripts. The verdict? Some very positive feedback, some less so. But a vote of confidence for the script’s potential and that it could get to production quality with some work. Not bad for a first try, and I’ll take it! Here’s a few excerpts from the reviewer:
Jack Hazelwood is a man with a gift. He can immediately tell exactly what someone needs for them to be happy. The downside is he is also compelled to do everything in his power to make that happen. It’s an interesting conflict for the protagonist of this story as there is just no way for him to humanly be able to fulfill everyone’s needs. Jack’s struggles with the fact that he is compelled to help everyone around him help to make Jack a compelling protagonist. Jack ends up being whisked away to New Orleans by Dr. Archambeau, a mysterious figure who promises to help Jack with his situation. Once in New Orleans, things get interesting. The best example of Jack’s innate ability to help people ends up being through his efforts to help Red Armstrong and Demetrious. The result of Jack’s efforts ends up being one of the most heartwarming aspects of the script. Jack also ends up helping a Haitian woman named Angelique, who is a sex addict. Every encounter between the two of them is very charged, and the relationship that blossoms between the two of them is arguably the most interesting aspect of the script.
It’s been a journey (design delays, printing delays thanks to supply chain madness in the paper industry), but my new (FIRST!) book is now available for presale on Amazon!
Printed copies of the book, Athlete Brands: How to Benefit from Your Name, Image & Likeness (Darden Business Publishing), co-authored with University of Virginia Darden School of Business marketing Professor Kimberly Whitler, will be available in September.
So what is Athlete Brands? If you’re a fan of college sports, you might be aware of landmark rule changes in the past year that now allow NCAA student-athletes to earn money and other benefits from their name, image and likeness (commonly referred to as NIL).
This is incredibly exciting for student-athletes, but Kim (a former chief marketing officer and a branding expert) realized NIL was fraught with risks for these young students. Earning NIL opportunities is all about an athlete’s personal brand and reputation. Managing a brand is hard work, but Kim had years of professional experience and academic research on how to do it. We put that knowledge to work in a format that would allow student-athletes to create intentional athlete brands that advance their goals. Here’s how we’re pitching it to college athletic directors and others helping athletes navigate the new NIL landscape:
College sports programs are competing on an entirely new playing field now that athletes can profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL). The lure of NIL can detract from athletes’ preparation and performance, distract from their studies, and even lead them away from your sports programs to where they believe the NIL “grass is greener.” Athletics directors can take action to reduce the risks.
Athlete Brands was written to help student-athletes see the big picture and focus on their best interests. It is the first book incorporating student-athlete, athletic department, coaching staff, academic, and marketing professional expertise to help athletes think strategically about how to build their brand and manage NIL in a way that doesn’t compromise their goals. Athlete Brands helps student-athletes create a game plan that will enhance their long-term value. As athletes master the four-step model, they create brands that will better align with the goals of your sports programs. The resulting reputations and relationships they build will power career success long after college.
If you’re interested in helping make this book a success, there are three ways you can help:
- If you know an aspiring or current student-athlete, tell them about this book. Better yet, buy it for them as a gift. It is for them – regardless of their sport, regardless of the level of competition.
- Write a review on Amazon! This is SO important to leverage the Amazon algorithms and get the book in front of more eyeballs. You don’t have to purchase the book to leave a review. Email me at hodgkinsjp(at)gmail.com, and I’ll send you the introduction and first chapter. That’ll give you a solid overview of our framework and enough to write a good-faith review.
- If you’re feeling really charitable and you are a supporter of a particular university’s sports programs, contact the university’s athletics foundation and make a donation earmarked for the foundation to buy copies to give to the student-athletes whose education and empowerment it is their mission to support.
That beautiful image above came as a surprise in my inbox earlier this month, when the fine folks at Thirty West Publishing (publishers of the audio story-focused e-zine Elevator Stories) let me know that they had nominated my short story “The Murals” as one of their two fiction submissions for the annual Best of the Net awards.
First off, it is really quite an honor and I’m very grateful. I’ve submitted my work to a number of writing awards, and even placed in a few, but it’s another thing for the editors of a publication — who read literally hundreds if not thousands of very, very good stories every year — to single out my work as among the best they published last year.
The feeling of gratitude and validation led me down a thought rabbit hole. Because I also — like so many fiction writers trying to cross the bridge from side hustle to career — put blood, sweat and tears into a novel manuscript last year. I’ve submitted it to several unpublished book contests, and it has placed in a few. I’ve sent it to many, many literary agents, with zero traction whatsoever.
I think the novel manuscript is good. My most honest beta readers who tell me when my work is ‘meh’ think it’s good. And so I’ve been frustrated by finding myself, yet again, stumped at the same point of the book publishing process. It’s enough, after five unpublished novels, to throw my hands up in the air and accept a fine life of writing thought leadership content. After all, what, ultimately, is the point of writing stories with no audience?
But that line of negative thinking is only focused on the audience I want — an audience of novel readers.
I wasn’t respecting or appreciating the audiences I had earned: The type of readers who breath life into a dizzying and diverse array of literary magazines, both online and print. Or the editors at those publications who might one day share my name or recommend me to an agent who can help make my novelist dreams come true. Or the young adult and college-age readers who will hopefully benefit from the upcoming book I co-authored guiding student-athletes on how to develop and manage their brands, now that they can profit from their name, image and likeness.
When I found out I had been nominated for Best of the Net, I felt immensely fulfilled. More than I expected. When I explored that feeling, it came down to the fact that I discovered a depth of appreciation for and gratitude to an audience of readers I had previously been viewing as a stepping stone on a march to a printed hard cover New York Times bestseller.
The lesson can probably be distilled down to a few tried-and-true cliches: Enjoy the journey. Stop and smell the roses. Take a moment to enjoy the view.
Yes, to all of those. It is immensely gratifying to have written a story that made an impact with readers.
Also as mentioned, and something that will certainly be the subject of many future posts when we get closer to the publication date, I’ve co-authored a book with University of Virginia Professor Kimberly Whitler that will be published spring 2022. Learn more about “The Athlete Brand: How to Benefit From Name, Image and Likeness.”
Lastly, The Vultures of Hogwaller — that unpublished novel manuscript I keep mentioning — advanced to the second stage of the 2021 CRAFT First Chapters Contest, which meant it finished among the Top 3% of submissions. Vultures was previously named a finalist — among the Top 5 for all entries — for the Spotlight First Novel Prize (read more here) and made the longlist for the Exeter Writing Prize (see here).
I’ve gone around the write novel -> query agents -> hear nothing -> get nowhere carousel before. So when I wrote The Vultures of Hogwaller, I decided to try some new things to amp up my pitch (and the appeal of my work) to agents. For the first time, I submitted an unpublished novel to various unpublished novel and writing award contents.
The results so far? Pretty good.
Vultures was named a finalist — among the Top 5 for all entries — for the Spotlight First Novel Prize. Read more here.
It also earned recognition on the longlist for the Exeter Writing Prize. See here.
I’ve entered a few other contests with winners to be announced later this summer and fall, so fingers crossed for more success. Honestly, I’m very confident that Vultures is a strong manuscript. The feedback from family, friends and those who barely know me but still volunteered to be beta readers has given me a lot of belief in this story. But a little recognition from industry professionals doesn’t hurt the old ego. And, more importantly, it won’t hurt with literary agents who will hopefully see the outside validation as enough reason to invest a bit of time reading my pages.
My thanks to the Spotlight First Novel Prize and Exeter Writing Prize! It’s an honor to be recognized alongside fellow authors who are out there, just like me, hustling for the opportunity to bring their creativity, blood, sweat and tears to readers.
Back in 2013 in the first weeks of my master’s in creative writing program at the University of Edinburgh, I started on a project called Happy Jack about a man with the power to know exactly what the people around him needed to be happy. The catch: He’s compelled to do whatever it takes to bring them happiness, often at great personal cost.
Everything in my mind then was NOVELNOVELNOVEL, so that’s how I wrote Happy Jack. I love the story. I think it’s actually the best plot I’ve ever devised. But it’s flawed as a novel — mostly due to my learning curve as a young writer.
The story continues to call to me to get it out in the world, but after spending the last several months writing and revising The Vultures of Hogwaller and investing energy to find an agent and get it published, I didn’t want to commit to another novel-sized effort. As it turns out, I read Save the Cat and prepared a Save the Cat beat sheet to adapt the manuscript into a screenplay back in 2017 before some “life” sprung up and waylaid my writing aspirations for a spell.
Hallelujah for the cloud, as all my beat sheet prep work was still online and my copy of Save the Cat was still on the shelf. Looking over my beat sheet, it was pretty good (go, 2017 Jay). I figured now was the time to give screenwriting a try. Less commitment than rewriting the entire novel while focusing on Vultures and I could learn a new form.
It went by pretty fast! Writing 115 pages of screenplay is a hell of a lot easier than 300+ pages of dense prose. I still need to give it a good edit, make sure those Save the Cat-modeled beats really sing, sharpen the dialogue, etc., etc., but here’s a look at the scene where Jack meets the our antogonist, Dr. Archambeau, near the end of Act 1 (Forgive the formatting! Screenplay format doesn’t copy over well):
EXT. SECLUDED DAUPHIN ISLAND BEACH – DAY
Jack is slouched in his beach chair by the van, exhausted. A ghost crab skitters near his feet.
I can’t keep this up. It’s always something. I’ve got to get further away.
The crab runs into its hole in the sand.
Yeah, exactly. Easy enough for you.
Jack looks up to see a man stumbling down the beach. He’s fat, short and ridiculously dressed in a searsucker suit, buckskin boots and a straw hat.
Can I help you?
My name is Dr. Claudius Beauregard Archambeau, and I knew your father in Vee-et-nam. I have an offer for you, Jack Hazelwood.
Dr. A hands Jack a business card.
INT. TOYOTA 4X4 VAN – DAY
Jack and Dr. A sit at a small table in the cramped cabin. Dr. A looks overheated and faint. Jack fiddles with the business card before setting it down.
Are you OK?
I have a number of conditions that contribute to my, how should I say, dashing figure. But presently, I believe a dodgy thyroid is responsible for my state of lassitude. A juice, perhaps?
Jack flips open a cooler and hands Dr. A a Capri Sun.
That’ll do. Tell me. Did your mother, sweet Joy, ever tell you how your father died?
Yeah. What do you know about it?
I was on that plane, Jack. The one that went down. I’m the only survivor.
I was saved by bar-tailed godwits.
What did you say?
Birds. Migrating birds. Birds mean land. I swam, how far I cannot say. The birds kept coming, leading me, to an island, somewhere in the South Pacific. I persevered. I learned to fish the reef. The colors of the fish, they were infinite. Octopi striped like zebras. Sea urchins pink as bubble gum and big as basketballs. Crabs in purple armor, like Samurai warriors. I ate them all. But they couldn’t satiate my loneliness. Thank God for the Japanese fisherman that finally found me.
Dr. A pauses and Jack snaps out of a hypnotized state.
Why didn’t my mom tell me about you?
Oh, I don’t think she wanted you to be haunted by your daddy’s ghost. When Joy died, I tried to find you, to offer my help. It was the least I could do after your daddy saved my life in the war. I didn’t know where to find you. Until there you were on my TV!
Look, it’s been real nice talking to you. But I’ve got a lot to do. The oil spill…
Is a monumental travesty and failure of mankind. But you haven’t heard my offer yet, Jack.’
There’s nothing I need. I’m happy with the way things are.
It looks to me like the way things are is killing you.
I’m needed here. I can’t go.
Maybe what would make you happy is a change of scenery. Learn to live in the real world again.
You don’t know what the real world would do to me…
I know what you are, Jack. You have a gift.
There are people in this world who believe in magic. You make people happy, Happy Jack. And you can learn to control it. I can teach you. Don’t waste your life out here, some maladroit hermit.
It’s safer here.
Come with me. Let me repay the debt I owe your father.
Where would we go?
The Big Easy. N’Awlins, my boy.
I’m excited to share that my short story “The Murals” was published this week by Elevator Stories, a really unique online fiction journal that publishes written and audio stories in theme-based issues. That’s right, they ask authors to record readings of their stories so you can listen to me do my best Morgan Freeman reading “The Murals” at a breezy length of 18 minutes … or save your ears and just read it.
I’m honored to be included among 10 fantastic stories in Level 2, Elevator Stories’ third release. And I’d also like to thank them for the amazing art they create to accompany their published stories (see above).
If you’re reading here, please click there and take a little time to listen or read through the issue. Thank you for supporting fiction and writers like me!