Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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NU film alumnus wins screenwriting contest

Even though Eric Diekhans received a master’s degree in film at Northwestern, he didn’t expect to become a screenwriter.

“I never realized I could write,” said Diekhans, who took up screenwriting only eight years ago.

Now he submits his screenplays to contests whenever he can. But entering the Chicago/Illinois Screenwriters Competition, held every two years, paid off — he won.

Diekhans, 44, is basking in the glow of his win. He has received publicity and interest from a major talent agency and was honored at an awards luncheon in downtown Chicago.

Diekhans’ winning screenplay, “Sunday River,” is the coming-of-age story of a New England pastor’s teenage daughter, Reed, in 1946. It was selected from 292 entries in the competition.

In the screenplay, Reed’s father encourages her to be a good influence on the rebellious new girl in town. But Reed ends up being the one who learns a lesson about sex, pregnancy, responsibility and life.

The contest, sponsored by the Chicago Film Office and the Illinois Film Office, awarded cash prizes to Diekhans and two other winners. The office also submitted the winners’ screenplays to studio producers and executives.

Founded in 1994, the competition aims to encourage and promote screenwriters in Illinois. Judges review the screenplays, rating them based on story, concept, grammar, marketability and other criteria, according to the Illinois Film Office.

Diekhans also received a semifinalist award for the Nicholl Fellowship in 2001, which was sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Diekhans is the co-founder of the Chicago Screenwriters group.

“I’ve entered a lot of contests in my day, ” Diekhans said. “You just have to get the right reader.”

He was inspired to become a screenwriter when reading Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” which says society discourages people from pursuing their artistic passions as careers.

Diekhans never took a screenwriting class in college. But now he considers it his profession.

“He’s a fine writer and getting better all the time,” said Paul McComas, Communication ’84, who studied film at NU with Diekhans. “I think (‘Sunday River’) is the best thing he’s written, and it would make one hell of a movie.”

Diekhans already has been contacted about his screenplay by the William Morris Agency, an entertainment talent agency. He has been approached by several people through the NU Alumni Association’s CareerNet.

While waiting to see what happens with “Sunday River,” Diekhans continues to work on three other screenplays: a “Hitchcockian” suspense thriller, a rewrite of a previous screenplay and a collaborative horror piece set in corporate America.

To find time for his writing, Diekhans works part time as a television producer for the Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries, a nonprofit organization.

Diekhans encourages others to persevere, and said the craft takes patience.

“I think the hardest thing is for people to just find time to write,” said Diekhans. “You don’t really get it until your sixth or seventh script.”

Reach Elizabeth Gibson at [email protected].

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NU film alumnus wins screenwriting contest