Lucky for Dr. Wil Denson, Hollywood loves guys with beards and Ph.D.s.
That's what literary agent Caren Bohrman, a prominent figure in the Hollywood film industry, jokingly told the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire professor emeritus of theatre arts when he recently signed with her agency.
Joking aside, Denson caught the agent's attention -- and that of about 35 other agencies, producers and managers -- when his screenplay "Feral" in January was named the overall winner in trackingb.com's 2010 international Feature Script Contest. Denson's work was selected for the top honor from a field of about 1,000 competing entries by a panel of 15 film industry literary judges.
Denson's hopes after "Feral" won the tracking.com contest were that he'd "be signed by an 'effective' literary agent, that 'Feral' will be produced and that I'll be made one of the film production team," he said shortly before signing with Bohrman.
"The odds of production are daunting, but I have hopes," he said.
Denson went with Bohrman based on what he'd learned about her from others in the industry. Bohrman has sold numerous screenplays that have subsequently gotten produced, including the scripts for the films "The Fugitive," "Warlock," "Crazy/Beautiful," "Buckaroo Banzai" and "The United States of Leland."
"Ms. Bohrman was my first choice to represent me," Denson said. "She's generally known as a 'boutique' agent specializing in working intensely with a small number of writers. From what I've learned she is one of the best/better LA industry people/human beings. The organizer of [the trackingb.com contest] advised me from the very beginning that she was the one to hope for, the perfect match for me."
Denson retired in 1999 from UW-Eau Claire after 30 years on the university's theatre arts faculty. He taught acting, stage directing, theater literature and criticism, musical comedy, performance for the camera, playwriting and theater management. For years he was the director of University Theatre and Summer Theatre. During his time at UW-Eau Claire, many of his play scripts were published and produced.
Denson's writing continued following his retirement and expanded to include screenplays.
"Feral," about a man "beyond psychotic," can accurately be categorized as a thriller, Denson said.
"Some agents have also labeled it 'thriller/horror,'" Denson said. "I'm not clear on the distinction. I do want to make it clear that it is not a 'slasher film.'"
Denson, who said he constantly changes and rewrites his works that have not yet been published, estimated he began writing "Feral" about five years ago.
His "dream cast" would include Chris Cooper or Tommy Lee Jones in the lead, a county sheriff, with John Malcovich as Ray, the psychotic villain.
"It's very unusual for first-time screenwriters to score A-team actors, but I can dream," Denson said.
The trackingb.com honor is not the first screenwriting contest success for Denson. Earlier versions of "Feral" were a top-10 finisher in the 2007 Script Savvy competition and a semi-finalist in the Hollywood Nexus Screenwriting Contest. Another of Denson's screenplays, "Brantner," was a finalist several years ago in the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting Competition, a prestigious contest sponsored by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
As he waits to see whether his new agent will be the key to getting "Feral" produced for the big screen, Denson directs his attention to doing what he loves. While "Brantner" had success in the Nicholl Competition, it's never been produced, and he continues to refine it. He's also recently returned to playwriting. His one-act play, "It Ate Houston," was awarded second place in the Lourdes College Drama Society's 2010 One-Act Playwriting Competition and will premiere in Lourdes College's Festival of One Acts this spring.
A new piece, called "Going Long," also is in the works. Whether it's a play or a film script and what it's about, however, Denson is not yet willing to share.
"I hesitate to say more about it at this point except I think it's a good idea," Denson said.