Laura Alsum is a graduate student in screenwriting at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. She is also the 2014 recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Student Grand Jury Prize for Screenwriting for her screenplay “Survival of the Fittest.” The Sloan Prize is awarded to screenplays that explore issues of science or technology, and includes a $30,000 cash prize as well as an additional $20,000 to help develop the screenplay into a film. Winners are then invited to the Tribeca Film Festival in late April and mentored by industry professionals.
Born with a congenital muscle disease that weakens her ability to move, Alsum shares many of the struggles of her screenplay’s main character. “My screenplay was personal, so it was hard to write some scenes because of what had happened to me, making me emotional at times,” Alsum said. “It brings back a lot of experiences I had with my parents and teachers.”
In order to accurately represent scientific facts in the story, Alsum was paired with Jessica Lynch Alfaro, the associate director of the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics. Alfaro said she introduced Alsum to theory and research in her own field of study, helping her weave science accurately into the story. “Alsum was able to layer her screenplay with science in many ways, such as Charlie discovering the biology of his disease, and the roles of science in schools and (with) religion,” Alfaro said.