It’s “Nell” meets “Dances With Wolves.” Or maybe not.
However you describe it, the point is that 25-year-old Chrysanthy Balis’ first screenplay, “The Wheat Field,” landed in the laps of director Steven Spielberg and actor Michael Douglas. And they liked it.
They liked Balis’ story, that of a timid frontierswoman who meets a girl raised by wolves, so much that they recently gave her first place in the prestigious Diane Thomas Screenwriting Awards, held annually as part of UCLA Extension’s continuing education writing program.
“I’m a little numb, still,” said Balis, of Studio City, who works as an assistant to an actress.
“People keep telling me, ‘You don’t know what this means.’ ” People also tell her she needs an agent.
A Toluca Lake woman, Kate Robbins, tied for third place for her script “Insatiable,” a mystery/thriller set in Milwaukee--"the center of the universe for lawn art,” she says--about a veteran cop who becomes embroiled in a complicated romance that threatens to destroy him.
Four other UCLA Extension screenwriting students received honorable mention; about 83 scripts were submitted for consideration in the contest.
Past winners have gone on to write successful screenplays. The award is named after former writing program participant Diane Thomas, whose career was just budding (“Romancing the Stone”) when she was killed in a car accident.
Douglas, who starred in “Romancing the Stone,” and Spielberg have served as judges since the contest began nine years ago.
Balis, a Baltimore native, got the idea for her script after reading a book in college about women who had supposedly been raised by wolves. Coincidentally, her employer, actress Mary McDonnell, starred in Kevin Costner’s megahit, “Dances With Wolves.”
McDonnell encouraged Balis to write, and she enrolled at UCLA Extension. Balis and Robbins both said the individual attention given their work by instructors--who are working screenwriters--benefited them tremendously.
And the exposure doesn’t hurt, both said.