Duo’s decision to focus on screenplays pays off with $11,000 top prize

The husband-and-wife team of Beth and Gary Hoover have forsaken all others, so to speak, to concentrate on a screenwriting career in Chicago.

Their focus and determination has paid off by winning the grand prize in the American Screenwriting Competition* which included an $11,000 prize check for their romantic comedy, titled “Hitched.”

RUTH: What’s the story about?
GARY & BETH: Set in the dual worlds of reality television and L.A.’s fringe theater scene, Hitched tells the story of a fringe theatre actress who, desperate for work, takes money under the table to pose as a contestant on a low-rated reality show. It’s a story about actors struggling in an era of reality TV and about two soulmates who come together in the unlikeliest of ways. We’re very interested in the concept of fate and destiny, so we see Ellen in the two hands of Fate. On one hand her professional goals are taken away and on the other she’s handed a soul mate. Part of it is about a person who sees life through the lens of making it professionally, but loses sight of what really matters in life: being happy. Her love interest teaches her that one big lesson in life.

RUTH: Who would you like to see star in “Hitched?”
GARY & BETH: The lead demands a female actress who is game, a physical comedienne who’s not afraid of playing a woman pushing 40 and we came up with Sandra Bullock.

RUTH: If the script were produced, what kind of budget would it take?
GARY & BETH: We’ve been told $10 million if it’s produced as an independent. If it’s a studio picture, $30 million.

RUTH: What went through your mind when you heard you won?
GARY: We weren’t sure we heard the guy right when he phoned us. We had been named in the top 10 months ago. The contest people continued to communicate with the finalists and took a while to deliberate and make a choice. When the guy called us, he said, “I have good news,” but he told us that in such a way that it didn’t sound quite concrete.
BETH: Two hours later we looked at each other: “Did he really say we won?” A week later we saw the winners on their Web site and knew it real.

RUTH: $11,000 is a great cash prize. How are you spending it?
BETH: It will give us time to continue writing by helping us pay the rent without having a day job to do that. We’re working on other scripts simultaneously.
GARY: We pulled the plug on our clients a year ago. We’d been living a double life. People assumed what we did on the surface was what we did.

RUTH: Clients? What kind of business were you in?
GARY: Public relations — the Financial Relations Board ? when we came here in ’91. The company was absorbed several times and we struck out on our own with a boutique writing and marketing service that enabled us to pursue our screenplays.

RUTH: And last year you quit your jobs.
BETH: We decided we wanted to focus on screenwriting and not keep putting it on the back burner. We have other scripts in the drawer that we want to rewrite and polish. We recently did the final, final, final pass on “Hitched,” after more than 20 drafts.
GARY: It’s tough to have a writing job on top of a writing job. It takes so much energy.

RUTH: So you took the risk.
GARY: We said, let’s take one of our scripts and get it to the point where it’s really ready. We recently did the final final final pass on “Hitched” and now we’re tunneling into another screenplay.

RUTH: Will you enter these in contests, too?
BETH: We’re thinking about it. They’re the only avenue open to writers and why not pursue that. Winning the contest was a good channel to other meetings, besides the cash and software.
GARY: We don’t see our winning the American contest as an emblem or anything. We could find ourselves on the other side of another contest, wondering why that script won and ours didn’t. Subjectivity is certainly a factor in the judging process.

RUTH: You met and married while working on a newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia. How did you land in Chicago?
BETH: We had looked into living in New York but that wasn’t going to work. We honeymooned in San Francisco and felt is was so beautiful we couldn’t get any work done. We came to Chicago and loved it. So we quit our jobs and moved here, no friends, no relatives.
GARY: We love this place. And the diversity of weather certainly builds character.

Gary Hoover and Beth Hoover live in Lakeview and can be reached at 773/296-0480; Email, thehoovers@hhchicago.com.

*The American Screenwriting Competition is sponsored by Hollywood Scriptwriter magazine and Flat Shoe Entertainment, an L.A. film production company.