The finished product when a writer goes outside their comfort zone is usually junk. But for assistant professor Julian Hoxter, his product was “Cutterjunk.”
In September, “Cutterjunk” won the grand prize for Best Horror/Sci-fi film at the New York Screenplay Contest, an international event where Hoxter competed with hundreds of other writers. In addition to that, his screenplay was also announced Oct. 1 as the grand prize winner in Science Fiction at the Hollywood Screenplay Contest, one of the world’s top screenplay competitions.
“Given that this was really an experiment and a way of trying something new for me, I’ve been delighted. That’s been nine competitions that it’s been recognized in some way,” Hoxter said. “It’s always encouraging as a writer. We just live on people liking our work, right?”
Hoxter said that “Cutterjunk” is a science fiction film about Coopy Meakes, a young woman and indentured worker on a space station, trapped by her employers whom she owes time to.
“She has abandonment issues and slight agoraphobia,” said Gavin Murray, one of Hoxter’s former students. “But when she saves a fellow cutterjunk, which means white trash in space, she is forced into something she hasn’t dealt with in a long time; friendship. That and a space-class war.”
Murray, who now works alongside Hoxter and other former classmates in a writing circle, said he was a bit nervous at first to give feedback to someone who had had such an impact on his writing style.
“It was during the script readings that I was amazed that Julian was human and not a British screenwriting machine,” Murray said. “My favorite part was reminding him that the intergalactic battle and space whales were not the heart of his story, allowing him to refocus on where he knew he needed to be.”
Max Berwald, 23, cinema graduate and another former student who is also in the same writing circle, said he also enjoyed the script because of the themes it covers.
“I think it’s been well-received not just because it’s hugely entertaining, but also because it’s a moral sci-fi script,” Berwald said. “It’s also a timely tale of class struggle, where you see the 99 percent and the 1 percent go head-to-head. It makes you realize that we need more moral sci-fi.”
Hoxter said he drew some influences for the script from the TV show “Firefly” and the 1984 British comic book “The Ballad of Halo Jones.” He added that the screenplay has one or two references in name to the authors of both works as a subtle way to thank them.
“I’m a big fan of Joss Whedon’s show ‘Firefly’ so anyone who reads my script will see the traces,” Hoxter said. “It’s also my version, although in a completely different universe and completely different story, of Halo Jones. The idea of someone who is stuck in a world and wants to get out has always been a powerful idea for me.”
His assistant and former student, Ernest Houk, 23, said that as a professor, Hoxter has always put an emphasis on storytelling and helping students fine tune their work.
“He’s all about movies where everything has to do with the story,” Houk said. “He shows ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ (in class) which is a blockbuster kids movie because everything that happens in it, happens for a reason. It’s all about telling a story and it’s really about a character, even though this character is placed in an extraordinary world.”
Despite the awards and recognition, Hoxter said that the screenplay isn’t a typical science-fiction film, as it is character-driven and explores some themes such as bisexuality. The screenplay has done better in contests that are more interested in story rather than commercialism, which Hoxter added hasn’t surprised him.
“This is not a conventional movie. It’s sort of a big-budget indie movie, set in space; meaning nobody will buy it or make it,” Hoxter said. “I’m just realistic. I don’t think that Disney is going to buy a story about a bisexual, slangy space film.”
Hoxter added he does however believe that if in the right hands, the film could be commercially successful. He is currently adapting the screenplay into a novel.
“It would have to hit exactly the right person with exactly the right passion and if it did, it could work,” Hoxter said. “But if people are looking for the next Jason Statham movie, and I must admit on behalf of the country of my birth I apologize for Jason Statham, it wouldn’t get past them.”