Smile Politely

From Pen To Lens

Recently, an email went out to area teachers of writing, theater, and film, detailing an exciting opportunity for students in grades Kindergarten through 12. The Champaign-Urbana Film Society (or CUFS) has invited local students to participate in its Pens To Lens Screenwriting Competition, to which students can submit their original screenplays for the opportunity to have their scripts made into short films by local filmmakers, complete with movie posters designed by local artists. 

According to the contest’s website, “Pens to Lens is more than just a writing competition. After the screenplay submission deadline, the submissions will be reviewed by writing judges, designers, and filmmakers. The writing judges will choose awards, the designers will make movie posters and character sketches based on chosen screenplays, and the filmmakers will choose screenplays to produce into actual short films.”

As if all this weren’t enough to make any young movie buff’s head explode, a gala screening event is planned for May 2013 at the Art Theater, where the community will be invited to see the finished films and celebrate the students and their work.


I spoke with Chris Lukeman, one of several founding board members of the Champaign Urbana Film Society, an organization started about a year and a half ago to, in Lukeman’s own words, “support and nurture film appreciation and film production in the community.”

Smile Politely: Tell me a little about the Pens To Lens contest. What was the impetus?

Chris Lukeman: This contest came about as a great way to support our mission, build goodwill and awareness of local filmmaking, and work together with a lot of great local arts organizations. The second it was brought up at a meeting, we were all 100% on board. The contest merges film appreciation with community outreach perfectly, and should be a really great experience for the kids.

Every filmmaker in the area remembers that little spark that got them interested in the medium. I personally hope that this contest, that seeing their work on the big screen or receiving a professional movie poster based on their script, inspires more kids and young adults to be interested in film production. We have such a wonderful, arts-supporting community, and I know we can build our already impressive, independent filmmaking scene into something nationally significant.

SP: What other efforts has CUFS undertaken to increase film appreciation in the community?

Lukeman: A few weeks ago, CUFS was able to bring Cory McAbee — an internationally recognized independent filmmaker from New York — to town to show his new movie and meet with the community and university students. As a part of that trip, he visited with a few grade school classes in Urbana and talked about being a filmmaker.

SP: Does CUFS regularly interact with local schools?

Lukeman: Apart from this, we haven’t really done very much with area schools, although high school students are welcome at our filmmaking workshops, and many filmmakers in the area have cast local children in their movies or commercials.

I would also like to mention that, while this contest is open to submissions from any K–12 student in the area, we are definitely looking for more area filmmakers to produce scripts, regardless of whether or not we have specifically contacted them.

SP: Is CUFS the sole participant in this venture, or do you have partners?

Lukeman: We couldn’t take on a project of this magnitude without the support of CUDO, the Champaign Urbana Design Organization, and Champaign Movie Makers, the area’s filmmaker networking group.


Any K–12 student in the Champaign County school district (including public, private, and home schools) may enter the competition. Each student may submit one entry, or students may work together on a single script. The details are explicitly laid out on the Pens To Lens website, which is a fantastic resource for any students wishing to enter the competition, and includes instructions on how to format screenplays for submission. The submission deadline, by the way, is February 28.

For more information on CUFS, including its origin and mission as well as other upcoming events, please check out their website.

It’s hard to imagine a more enriching or rewarding venture to celebrate the creativity of our area’s students and artists, and I look forward to following the progress of the event and reporting on its results, including the gala at the Art Theater.

Hats off to the Champaign-Urbana Film Society and its members for creating this unique opportunity. I can hardly wait to see what dreams may come.

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