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Illinois State student wins national screenwriting award

Jessi Brutton, junior television production student at Illinois State

Many college students have experience writing lengthy term papers, but not all can say they wrote a full-length feature screenplay in just a few short months, let alone claim to have won a national award for it.

Jessi Brutton, a junior television production student at Illinois State University, received the award for first place in the feature-length student scriptwriting category for her original screenplay, Just Like Her at the 2017 Broadcaster Education Association’s Festival of Media Arts. The Festival is the world’s largest collegiate digital media and broadcast competition.

“As soon as I saw her first piece of a draft of dramatic writing in our advanced mass media writing class, I knew she had a special gift for crafting moving drama,” said Prof. McHale

This year, the Broadcaster Education Association received over 1,450 entries representing over 175 universities and colleges in categories such as scriptwriting, documentaries, interactive multimedia, and video.

“I’m honored that I have been given this award and that I have the chance to accept it in person and represent Illinois State University,” said Brutton. The award ceremony, where Brutton will accept her first-place award, takes place at the Broadcaster Education Association’s annual convention in Las Vegas in April.

Created for her Long Form Mass Media Writing class, which challenges students to craft a full-length screenplay, Brutton wrote Just Like Her, a science-fiction drama about a high-schooler who discovers she is an android created to replace a dead sibling. The story explores how people view personal identity, culture, social oppression and prejudice.

“I took the class because I was interested in writing screenplays,” said Brutton. “I was inspired by the show Black Mirror because I like the sci-fi theme that co-exists within the real world.” Black Mirror, Brutton’s inspiration, is a hit Netflix science-fiction series that examines how humanity and its use of technology could have dire consequences.
School of Communication Professor Dr. John McHale saw potential in Brutton early on.

“I’m honored that I have been given this award and that I have the chance to accept it in person and represent Illinois State University,” said Brutton.

“Jessi Brutton is a very special student to me as a teacher of film script writing. As soon as I saw her first piece of a draft of dramatic writing in our advanced mass media writing class, I knew she had a special gift for crafting moving drama.”
According to McHale, an accomplished scriptwriter himself, before 2008 there were no opportunities for Illinois State students to write full-length drama for course credit. With the implementation of Communication 351: Long Form Mass Media Writing, students like Brutton are now able to explore those opportunities.

“Jessi is the kind of student that makes my job an edifying joy. Jessi’s conscientious commitment raises the level of expectation and achievement for those students around her as well as faculty like myself,” said McHale. “I have unshakable confidence that Jessi will succeed at whatever she does in the future. Jessi would be a successful writer in Hollywood if she decides to make the short-term sacrifices necessary to build a career.”

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