Last week I took part in the NYC Midnight Screenwriting Challenge. I’ve never written a screenplay before. A few months ago, the gazillion edits on my novel were wearing me down, so I figured a different style of writing using prompts I had to stick to might extend me outside my comfort zone and get my creativity working again. The NYC Midnight Screenwriting Challenge certainly did that.
Once you sign up, you pay the entry fee and wait. There is an early bird fee and you can have it reduced by tweeting. This year the start date was the 21st of April and the competition closed on the 29th (American EST). At the beginning of the competition you are assigned a heat number, genre, subject, and character, which means you can’t prepare in advance. The countdown begins and you can check on the clock at any time.
I was in heat 7. The prompts were romantic comedy, starting a new job, a mechanic.
My jaw just about dropped to the floor when I read my prompts. I suck at romance and I don’t think there’s a funny bone in my entire body. I had zero ideas for the first five days. Nothing I did helped, including watching romantic comedies on Netflix and researching the current dating scene (it sounds horrendous and I am so glad I married before internet dating really took off).
Whenever I opened up Scrivener to write, my brain shut down. I stared at a blank page for hours. Panicking, knowing I had less half the time remaining to write something, I did what any good writer would do; I went on a ridiculous internet binge. Funny parody videos that had nothing to do with romance and social media filled my time. I lost another day.
However, the binge had paid off and something had caught my eye . An idea blossomed – albeit it a crappy one – but it was a start. I ended up writing the worst screenplay imaginable. It was a page too long, so I got Mr Alpha to read through it and tell me what I could remove, what worked, and what didn’t, despite not being an expert on romantic comedies or screenplays either. I edited it, checked the formatting was correct, and sent it off with a few hours to spare.
It was an absolutely awful process, but I discovered that even with the worst prompt imaginable – for me personally – I was able to produce something readable and meet the deadline. That in itself is an accomplishment. I am under no illusion that I have any chance of making the next round, but I did what I set out to do and challenged myself more than if I’d been given any other category to write in.
If you participated in the challenge, or are thinking about it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Likewise, if anyone has written a decent script, I’m always open to some pointers.