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Chris Rogers (far right) is shown with the cast of “Paper Girls” in Los Angeles.

WINCHESTER — Before he wrote Cameron Howe in Halt and Catch Fire or Mac Coyle from Paper Girls, Christopher C. Rogers was just a kid from Whittier Acres with a knack for writing.

He still remembers when Madlon Laster, a teacher at Daniel Morgan Middle School, praised a report he wrote about Willa Cather’s My Antonia in sixth grade. Before graduating from Handley in 2001, he was a writer/director of the Junior Variety Show and senior play, though he was “fired” from the play after missing too many rehearsals because of cross-country practice. Nonetheless, Rogers has many fond memories of Winchester and is excited to return as the keynote speaker for the Young Screenwriters Conference at Shenandoah University on April 1.

“I fully cried at graduation,” Rogers said in an email interview. “In terms of living in Winchester, I was born there and my parents lived there until about 5 years ago. I had an awesome community of friends over in Whittier Acres and we all went to Frederick Douglas/Virginia Avenue, then Daniel Morgan and Handley together. I loved running through town early in the morning at like 5 a.m. before people woke up and probably saw every corner of it that way. I loved Apple Blossom. I loved fall. I miss the mountains. It was a very idyllic place to grow up.”

Rogers and his writing partner Christopher Cantwell created and produced the AMC series Halt and Catch Fire, which aired from 2014 to 2017. It was named one of the best shows of the 21st Century by the BBC in 2021. He also served as co-showrunner and executive producer of Amazon’s TV series Paper Girls, an adaptation of the graphic novel by Brian K. Vaughan.

Now married with two children and living in Los Angeles, Rogers graduated from the University of Mary Washington in 2005.

“Screenwriting is definitely a hard thing to break into because, No.1, there are so many people who would happily do it for free, and No. 2, there is no sure-thing way to become a screenwriter, by which I mean you can get a master’s in it and somebody hiring you is no more likely than if you just get lucky with a good script,” Rogers said. “Sticking with it requires a lot of faith given the odds, so I think my naivety was helpful as well in that I basically moved to LA with $800 in my bank account and one suitcase and no car. It would have been too embarrassing to come home so soon once I realized how long the odds were.”

Reading a lot of scripts is one of the ways Rogers internalized the format and began his screenwriting career. He had written many scripts before he got what he calls a lucky break when AMC read the one that became Halt and Catch Fire.

Although Rogers’ family left Winchester, he keeps in touch with a few friends here.

“Getting to see some of them again after the pandemic and craziness of the last five years is a part of this conference I'm thrilled about,” he said.

Aspiring writers in grades 8-12 and their teachers will have the opportunity to meet Rogers at the April 1 event at Shenandoah University, which is being coordinated by several local organizations including Project Write and the Shenandoah Valley Writing Project. The event is planned in coordination with optional activities as part of the Alamo Drafthouse Virginia Emerging Filmmakers Festival.

Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Marion Park Lewis Foundation, and the Nora Roberts Foundation made it possible to offer admission to the conference for $15 this year.

Tessa Morrell, a James Wood graduate majoring in film studies at the Savannah College of Art and Design, attended the conference for the first time as a high school freshman. “It was the first time my eyes were really opened to the film world,” she said.

In addition to hearing Rogers speak, participants will have the opportunity to participate in breakout sessions for scriptwriting, documentaries, virtual reality, and esports.

“One of the things I love about the Young Screenwriters Festival is that it puts industry professionals in touch with aspiring filmmakers and it is something that I don’t know exists anywhere else,” said Rhonda Lancaster, President of Project Write.

“I can honestly say I don’t know where I would be right now without the conference,” Morrell said.

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