On a fall afternoon two months ago, Tobin Addington sat down at his computer in his Brooklyn apartment to watch the ceremony for the Page International Screenwriting Awards. The Bonner native and Hellgate High School grad had submitted an original script to the contest, which honors outstanding screenwriting from around the world and is judged by a long list of Hollywood professionals, including writers from films like Monsters, Inc. and television shows like "Pretty Little Liars."
Finding out how his script fared required Addington to click "play" and watch a video on the website where the awards for each category were revealed one at a time. His script's Horror/Thriller category came and went with no mention of him. But, like a film connoisseur who needs to know how it all ends, Addington stayed glued to the computer screen. As a final envelope appeared and the Grand Prize winner was unveiled, he found himself staring at his own name: Tobin Addington, The Unraveling.
"I just sat there and stared at it," Addington says. "I don't think I realized it was my name."
It was his wife, Libby, also a Hellgate High School grad, whom the 34-year-old called first. At work in her Manhattan office, Libby asked, "What'd you win?"
What Addington had won was a $25,000 first prize for his script, which was selected among 5,100 entered from 69 different countries. The award was the exclamation point on what had turned out to be a thriller year for the Columbia screenwriting grad, who works as a professor of film studies at Ramapo College in suburban New Jersey.
Weeks earlier he had garnered the Horror/Thriller nod from the Slamdance Film Festival Screenplay Competition, a little brother of sorts to Sundance. The Unraveling seems to have spun a new path for him.
It's a psychological thriller that Addington describes as the horror movie that comes after today's horror movie. Romy, the main character, deals with the emotional terror of having survived a home invasion that kills her parents. It's a movie that grasps the power of fear, but, Addington says, its aim is cerebral, not physical.
"In the past five or six years I had been writing a variety of things and not very successfully," Addington says. "From political satire to indie dramas to screwball comedies, I started to realize that no one could remember me for one thing. So, I wrote this script as a bit of this-is-who-I-am exercise."
But the 18 months leading up to Addington's wins were perhaps the darkest of his life. Addington had suffered a cerebral aneurism. He had been treated successfully, but as he and Libby waited for their first child to arrive, Addington's vision doubled and migraine headaches became a regular occurrence.
"I feel like I could have stepped back from the creative work and given up that stress in my life," Addington says. "But for me, I think that it's not that I want to write, it's that I need to write."
Writing and watching. It's something Libby says Addington did even when he had one good eye after his treatment for the aneurism.
"I remember him sitting on the couch watching filmsstudying them with as much keen observation as ever—with one hand covering his bad eye," Libby recalls. "Nothing was going to stop him."
Following his awards in the fall, he signed with managers Marti Blumenthal and Joan Scott, who are working to get The Unraveling in front of producers.
A house in the Hollywood Hills isn't necessarily on the mind of the boy who grew up at the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers—nor is a penthouse on the Upper West Side.
"The more I have written the more I've found myself writing about Montana and the West and about the people and the places that I grew up with," he says.
Addington remembers fondly of growing up in Bonner, in a family that championed creativity. He went to his first play at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse at 3 months old. By the time he could walk and talk he was involved in Missoula Children's Theatre. There was no second guessing what was to come, he says.
"The afternoon I picked up our family's camcorder when I was 12, I knew what I wanted to do," he says. "I made a claymation short. I did a stop motion of my GI Joes taking over my sister's doll house. Something in me clicked. Something about that... I just honestly have never turned back."