Get To Know Sloan Student Grand Jury Prize Winner Laura Alsum

Last night at the swanky Dream Downtown in NYC’s Meatpacking District the film and science communities converged to honor our 2014 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Student Grand Jury Prize for Screenwriting winner Laura Alsum.

The prize recognizes the very best student screenplay in the nation that uses science and technology to tell an engaging story. Alsum will receive a $30,000 crash prize plus an additional $20,000 administered by TFI towards year-round support.

Currently studying screenwriting at UCLA, Alsum’s script titled Survival of the Fittest follows Charlie who after being diagnosed with a progressive neuromuscular disease must reinvent his persona at school as he no longer can be the school jock. He soon realizes that signing up for the science fair may be the outlet he needs to show everyone he can do more than just sports.

The story is a personal one for Alsum as she also has a neuromuscular disability. Born in Wisconsin and living most of her chilldhood in Colorado, Alsum says she’s always been the observer, so writing has been her outlet. “That has always been on my mind, to create different worlds and tell real stories,” she said last night.

But the spark to tell those stories didn’t become fully realized until she moved to Denver after graduating from Calvin College in Michigan and got involved with the Phamaly Theatre Company, a professional troupe consisting solely of people with disabilities. “I wrote for them and got to see all the amazing ways that we can tell our own stories, and that really struck me a lot,” she said. “I want to be an advocate for myself but also show everyone that we're hear and we have talents and tell our stories.” 

In 2010, Alsum took an online screenwriting class through the New York Film Academy and was a semi-finalist in that year’s Zoetrope Screenwriting Competition. In 2012, she moved to L.A. to begin her studies for the screenwriting MFA program at UCLA. As a first-year student, Survival of the Fittest won the school’s Student Showcase competition.

Does Alsum consider herself a role model? “I don’t know, not yet,” she answers with a grin. “It's hard to see yourself like that, but I hope to just be a voice and help other voices emerge and show people that we're just another part of humanity and there's nothing to be afraid of.”

[Photo: Laura Alsum; taken by Harrison Crown]