Bondi Screenplay, an annual international screenplay competition that runs – you’ve guessed it – out of Bondi, New South Wales – states clearly on its website that it ‘isn’t after cookie-cutter scripts that conform to some arbitrary standard. We seek a vast array of unique, fresh, original ideas whether they be from this beautiful sun drenched island, or from across the sea’.
With categories including the Grand Prize (which sees the winner get their script turned into a professional Audible production), Best Feature Screenplay, Best TV Pilot and Best Short Screenplay, entries are being encouraged now for this year’s competition, the guest judge for which is the Australian producer Kate Separovich, named in 2021 as one of Screen Producers Australia’s Ones to Watch.
‘Our mission is to discover, celebrate and promote the most unique and original stories from around the world, particularly Australian stories,’ says Bondi Screenplay’s Creative Director Brendan Gore. ‘Last year’s TV pilot category was dominated by amazingly talented Australian writers and we wish to promote their work and get it into Australian producer’s hands.’
One of those finalists was Wiradjuri Countryman and Australian South Sea Islander Joshua Yasserie, an animator who, with his creative partner Jon Rex Williams, made it to the finals of the competition with his script, Kingsland.
‘It’s the story of a 67-year-old First Nations character called Reg,’ Yasserie says. ‘It deals with issues like the Stolen Generation, childhood trauma and how we are living a life of duality between our own culture and Australian culture. My thinking was: how could I tell a story about a modern-day Aboriginal fella, which is something I don’t get to see much on TV?’
‘Reg is disconnected from his culture and doesn’t know where to go. We get to learn about some of the Dreamtime stories and some iconic landmarks. The idea for Reg was that he would be the Australian version of Homer Simpson – a representation of the Aussie dad. With the character designs, I gave him the Stubbies shorts and the good old Bonds singlet. I think there’s a new way to showcase what Australian identity can look like.’
Reg’s character and world were created by Yasserie during his Honours degree in Design and Animation at the University of Technology Sydney and further developed while completing a masters degree at AFTRS.
The collaboration with Williams, he says, works well, with Yasserie decribing himself as a ‘visual scriptwriter’ and Williams as the ‘actual’ scriptwriter. ‘Jon has been exceptional at allowing himself to be opened up to those First Nations processes in storytelling,’ he says.
That their script reached the finals of Bondi Screenplay was confirmation for both that their project was on the right track. ‘We’d both graduated and the months were passing with just little projects here and there,’ Yasserie says. ‘When the competition came up, we agreed to go for it.’
‘Being in the competition was a good way to confirm our ideas and what we were trying to do. It was one of the biggest things for us because it showed Kingsland could compete against other scripts for a mainstream audience. It’s a story designed for non-Indigenous people to understand Indigenous experiences.’
The momentum gathered by reaching those finals has continued, with the Kingsland script since receiving development funding as part of the ABC and Screen Australia’s Fresh Blood initiative. It’s one of ten scripts in the running and the challenge now is to prepare three short YouTube episodes for early 2024 ahead of three shows being picked to film a full pilot.
‘We’re going to try our best,’ Yasserie says. ‘We’ve just kept on hustling.’
The earlybird deadline for this year’s Bondi Screenplay competition is 30 November, with finalists announced mid-2024. There’s no limit to the number of projects that can be submitted and, with any luck, no limit to where those scripts and their creators will end up.
A full list of last season’s finalists and project synopses is available at the Bondi Screenplay website, where you’ll also find lots more information about the competition.