UCSB alumnus Branden Cahn recently placed second in the prestigious Samuel Goldwyn Writing competition.
Cahn’s screenplay — titled Burnt Bridges of Cartwright — was chosen from a pool of over 200 submissions. He was given a $7,500 award, while University of California Los Angeles student Meg Gifford received $15,000 for first-place.
Cahn, who graduated last Fall Quarter, said he was astounded that his dark horse of a dark comedy even placed in the competition.
“I didn’t expect to be in the top five,” Cahn said. “I found out while I was in South Africa doing volunteer work so it didn’t really hit me until I got back. And when I won second place at the awards ceremony, I was amazed.”
Established in 1955 by Samuel Goldwyn, Sr., the competition was originally held solely between UCLA students. However, Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. — the current president of the foundation — opened the competition up to all UC campuses 25 years ago. Past award winners include Francis Ford Coppola, Eric Roth, Allison Anders, Pamela Gray and Collin Higgins.
Film & media studies professor Paul Portugés said Cahn’s accomplishment speaks volumes about UCSB’s screenwriting program, which usually consists of a modest group of 10-15 students.
“Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. singled out UCSB for winning the award, since the rest of the top five were all from UCLA,” Portugés said. “We have a small undergraduate program and they have a large graduate program, so it’s nice to see that we’re competitive in big bad Hollywood.”
Although he graduated in the fall, Portugés said Cahn remained at UCSB to audit classes for the rest of the school year.
“He stuck around for the rest of the [academic] year, sitting in on my classes,” Portugés said. “He is a really talented writer and I’m glad that I could be such a mentor to him. I plan to have him come to some of my classes to present and to inspire people by example. His success can show others that you don’t have to be in LA to write good screenplays.”
Additionally, Cahn said the unexpected prize has caused him to reevaluate his career goals.
“I wasn’t even considering this as a career before I won,” Cahn said. “I was planning to go to LA to try to find work, but now that I’ve won, it has really opened up opportunities for me. I’ve only been back in the U.S. for a couple weeks so I’m dying to get out and meet with people and get the process going.”
Rorri Feinstein, Samuel Goldwyn Foundation Awards Coordinator, said the organization is famous for scouting nationally renowned screenwriters and directors.
“At our last tally, over 300 films, television series and made-for-television movies have been produced that were either written or directed by past winners,” Feinstein said. “And many of them are award winning. Some famous shows include “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Sex and the City,” “Big Love” and “Family Guy”.”
Now that the prize is a reality instead of a pipe dream, Cahn said he is reconsidering his initial plans of splurging.
“I think I’m probably just going to save it,” Cahn said. “I had all these ideas when I thought there was no way I was getting it, but now all I want to do is to try not to spend it.”