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Posted December 11, 2008 | comments Leave a comment

Winchester man finalist in screenwriting competition

By Ben Orcutt -- Daily Staff Writer

WINCHESTER -- While his wife and daughters are sleeping, Patrick Beltran is hard at work in the basement of the family's four-bedroom home on Wood Avenue, plying his craft as a screenwriter.

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Patrick Beltran sits in his home office in Winchester with his cat, Holmie, and his golden retriever, Charlie. Beltran and his partner, Lu Ugaz from Annandale, were finalists in the 2008 Virginia Screenwriting Competition. Rich Cooley/Daily

Beltran, 45, and co-writer Lu Ugaz were recently named as one of the 15 finalists in the 2008 Virginia Screenwriting Competition sponsored by the Virginia Film Office for their screenplay, "A Modest Proposal."

In 2005, Beltran won first place in the 20/20 screenwriting competition in California for his work, "Hound of Heaven." While he has had a measure of success, Beltran says he is still hopeful that one of his screenplays will be picked up and made into a movie.

"I would love to achieve that," he says. "I have spent a lot of years kind of working on the craft of writing and trying to get there. I recognize that it's a very difficult road and I may never have the opportunity to see my screenplays get made into a movie. I guess recently I've come to the conclusion that that's OK. I'm OK with it if it never happens. I'd be thrilled to death if it did happen. A lot of what I get out of it is just telling stories."

Beltran grew up in Falls Church and has lived in Winchester for the past eight years with his wife, Sara. They have three daughters, Maria, 22, Angela, 18, and Susan, 13.

In addition to being a family man, by day Beltran works as a business analyst for GTSI Co., a Herndon firm specializing in information technology solutions for the federal government.

However, it's his nighttime endeavor that's his passion as he writes screenplays in the cozy confines of his basement with Charlie, a golden retriever, and Holmie, an alley cat, keeping him company.

Beltran says this was the first time he and partner Ugaz, who is in Los Angeles on business, had entered the Virginia competition, which this year included 108 entries from state residents or students.

"It was particularly sweet because we actually struggled quite a bit with this screenplay," Beltran says. "The first draft, we essentially threw out. By the end of it, we just weren't sure. Is this any good? Did this capture what we were trying to do? They actually sent along with the letter that we got that said that we were finalists a sheet of some of the judges' comments and those comments were very gratifying."

"A Modest Proposal" is about "A klutzy children's author who wants to propose to his sophisticated girlfriend, hires a marketing consultant to help him craft a plan and ends up falling in love with her," according to a news release from the Virginia Film Office.

"This intelligent and interesting script has all the elements of a fine film," says one judge. "The premise is unique which always makes for a charming romance ... an excellent script."

Beltran says "Hound of Heaven" is based on the true story of British poet Francis Thompson, who lived in the late 1800s.

"It almost sold," Beltran says. "It came very close to selling, but in the end, it did not."

Undeterred, Beltran continues his quest, literally burning the midnight oil.

"When I'm in the groove, I will usually work from when my wife goes to bed probably steady two or three hours after that," he says. "Not every night, but many nights out of the week depending on what stage of writing I'm in because at certain stages, I'm just doing research, other stages I'm full into the actual writing. When I'm into it, it's pretty regular, probably five or six nights a week for two to three hours."

Beltran says his wife supports his late-night habit.

"My wife has been very supportive, especially during those times when I'm buying tickets to go out to California to pick up this one award or when I'm staying up late working during the middle of a screenplay," he says. "Yes, she has the patience of a saint and she would like nothing better to see me succeed on this, as well."

Beltran has been honing his craft for about a decade.

"It's been kind of a consuming passion for a while, which is one of the reasons I was attracted to the 'Hound of Heaven' story because it is inspired by the true story of Francis Thompson," Beltran says. "I definitely see it as an art form and I do feel driven to write, to tell stories. 'Hound of Heaven' is a period piece, kind of dark and gritty about a guy that writes poetry. It's not exactly blockbuster material, but I connected very deeply with that story and I needed to tell it, so yeah, it's very much an art form for me."

Like most things, becoming a successful screenwriter is a combination of hard work and getting a break.

"It's part preparedness," Beltran says. "You have to know the craft and you have to work hard at doing it. But it's also part blind luck. Being in the right place at the right time or having the right person see something at just the right moment. They talk about genius being 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. Screenwriting I think is kind of the same thing. It's probably 90 percent perspiration and 10 percent just luck ... It's kind of an elusive formula for many, many people. I'm still looking for it."

The competition is fierce, Beltran says, adding that no matter how good the script is, it still has to get in front of the right person.

"It's the same as a novel or a short story," he says. "You have to have an idea, a concept that will excite people, characters that kind of jump off the page and feel real. It helps if it doesn't cost too much to make."

"I think concept is king," Beltran adds. "Execution is critical. If the idea is good enough, you'll get somebody's attention. It'll make waves. But, one of the real problems is, it's very hard to get anybody to look at something. It really is, which is one of the good things about contests is, if you send something in to a contest and get some publicity from that for doing well, then that's one of the [guides] that people use."

Like most serious screenwriters, Beltran reads lots of screenplays and participates in online groups where writers' critique each other's works.

"If you've read enough screenplays, you can pretty much tell in the first 10 pages if this thing is gonna be any good or not," Beltran says. "I mean you can tell whether it's worth giving the rest of it a chance to look at it. I think it's true that that's the way they do it. ... They're looking for reasons to pass, to say no. Nobody gets fired in Hollywood for saying 'no.' They get fired if they say 'yes' and the movie bombs."

The goal, Beltran says, is to make the reader want to keep turning the page.

"You hope you can hit that," he says.

Beltran laughs when asked if he would give up his day job if his screenplays start selling.

"Well," he says, "let's just say that I'll be looking forward to having to make that decision."

To read excerpts from some of Beltran's screenplays, visit the Web site, www.WinningScripts.com and enter his name in the search box.

* Contact Ben Orcutt at borcutt@nvdaily.com

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