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In the midnight hour

March 11, 2015

A few months ago I signed up to an interesting-sounding competition, the NYC Short Screenplay Challenge, which gives screenwriters up to four assignments to write in four 48-hour periods, assigning them a genre, location and object to weave into five-page screenplays. It sounded simple enough, albeit within a very tight timescale, and I looked forward to the challenge.

Of course, when you sign up to something on paper, a few weeks in advance, everything sounds simple.

I didn’t bank on the first challenge landing on the same weekend as the London Screenwriters Festival, during which time I was spending up to ten hours a day immersed in creative writing lectures, seminars and talks (sorry, I think they’re the same thing) and really didn’t have the headspace to write a five page screenplay (nor, for that matter, a desk, staying as I was in my brother’s flat and attempting to balance a glass of wine, a laptop and a Pret sandwich for my tea on his bed). Despite the circumstances, however, I created my first entry, as well as some lasting relationships with other Festival-goers who were also participating in the Challenge.

My first challenge went as follows:

  • Genre: Suspense
  • Location: A running track
  • Object:  A steak knife

I really enjoyed this challenge. Mainly because it was the first one, and I didn’t yet know that I would get more and more stressed each consecutive round, with increasingly less time. I’ve never written anything ‘suspenseful’ before, nor with as little dialogue. I was off!!

Everyone progressed to the second round regardless of how well they did, but this time I felt more pressure. I scored 14 points in the first round, out of a possible 15. This meant I had to do well. The parameters were:

  • Genre: Romantic comedy
  • Location: A graveyard
  • Object: A popsicle

What kind of weirdo would set a romantic comedy in a graveyard? And hello, I’m not American, what the hell is a popsicle and why is it in my graveyard?

In addition, how is it fair that this particular weekend falls between me leaving my old job and starting another, leaving me approximately 12 hours inbetween throwing out my old wardrobe and re-mortgaging the boat to fund my weekly train ticket to create something vaguely entertaining. I ended up abandoning my first idea, panicking and going for something completely different in the final three hours, hating it, cracking open a bottle of wine, deciding it was ok, sweating a lot, until I finally had something I thought was passable.

The challenge is New York based, and runs from midnight Friday, to Midnight Sunday. As we’re a few hours ahead, the challenge for UK writers started at 6am on Saturday morning and finished at 6am on the following Monday morning. My first all-nighter (well, 3am) was pulled during Challenge two, making my first London Monday morning commute quite an experience.

Amazingly, I got through. Challenge 3 awaited:

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Location:  A public library
  • Object: Prescription medicine bottle

My favourite by far. Maybe it says something odd about my psyche but I instantly thought of two old biddies setting up a drug deal in their local library, siphoning off their nursing home fellows’ prescription drugs to two young hoodlums. It wrote itself, and was the only one I enjoyed. Ironically it did the worst of all the challenges, but I scraped through to the final round. The final round!!!

‪So there I was, awaiting my final challenge, and trying not to worry too much about the fact that I had planned a cocktail night on the Saturday evening, and had a four hour choir rehearsal on the Sunday (hangover permitting). Plus a trip to a ski shop to buy new gloves. I got:

  • Genre: Open
  • Location: A zoo
  • Object: A hidden camera

A myriad of ideas sprang to mind. The location and object seemed to work really well together – there could be so many reasons to why a hidden camera would be in a zoo. I sat by the fire on Saturday morning and drew an impressive mind map of ideas, getting thoroughly carried away with coloured pencils and squiggly lines. Most of my ideas revolved around undercover reporters and the birth of an endangered species at the zoo. Then I decided that it was all hopelessly unoriginal and uninspiring, and sat in a funk for a while, before deciding that, if I didn’t know what I wanted to write, I might as well list some ideas that I really didn’t want to write. The first involved talking animals.

I then devised a script in which talking animals foiled a plot by an undercover reporter to film the live birth of a new baby panda at the zoo. Ta dah!

It took a while to finesse, and I wasn’t convinced it was my best work, but during the course of my research I discovered that a baby panda weighs only 100 grams when born, and that the twitter bird is called Larry, so all in all it was an educational weekend, plus I got a really nice pair of gloves.

Two days after submitting my entry, however, I felt a bit depressed, deciding I hadn’t done my best, and it was highly unlikely I would have placed. Then I read a few entries on the forums and realised everyone else felt this way, so decided just to shut up about it. So much so that I nearly forgot about when the results came out, and only realised the evening before – hence a sleepless, anxiety-ridden night in which I dreamt that the results were being announced at the top of a rather steep mountain (I wasn’t even wearing my cosy gloves), and during which I would keep waking up (heart beating stupidly fast, I do rather hope for the sake of my health I never actually get nominated for a serious award) before the results were announced.

At 4am my phone beeped, signifying the results were in. I skim-read the email in the darkness of my bedroom, eyes blurred from lack of sleep and snow-induced nightmares, and realised I wasn’t on it. I wasn’t in the top ten. Gutted.

And then my eyes adjusted and I stopped crying, and realised I had come third. Third!! I was pleased.

Of course I had to check about nineteen times that it was true, including on the main website, Twitter, Facebook, and anywhere I could seek validation. It was true – I was $250 richer, had some lovely free software to boot, and had beaten 498 other people to get there. Through talking animals.

Writing’s a funny old game.

I have subsequently signed up for the next competition (these people know how to do their marketing), which is a longer challenge, producing 12-page screenplays over a week-long period, which should be slightly less stressful and will feel like a luxury after condensing everything into five pages up until now. It has been a great exercise in discipline, and has forced me to write outside of my usual genre, and in a different format. And it has enabled me to test just how sleep deprived I can get, but still function. There’s still time to enter if you fancy competing, and if you wish to read my scribblings, here they are.

Round : Last legs

Round 2: In the land of the dead

Round 3: Alternative medicine

Final: Pandamonium

From → Blog, Film, Script

  1. Third? THIRD? You beauty Davies!!! Just brilliant news! All I can say is you are totes amazeballs!!!! Wow!!! Best news of the week! 😻

  2. You are such a clever bean! 😀 You should be so proud! Onwards to the next success xx

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