A couple of months ago, I entered a screenplay writing competition on a whim. They give you a genre and a topic, then you have a week to write a script of 15 pages or less. I didn’t decide to register until the very last minute. While I was looking at the competition’s web site, trying to make a decision about whether I wanted to pay the entry fee, Declan randomly pulled a book about film writing off of the shelf and brought it to me. (It was one of 300-400 books he could have grabbed from that part of the room, so it did seem oddly coincidental). Kismet! Serendipity! I was meant to do it!
Besides, the point wasn’t to try and win. It was just to write something in a format I’d never tried before and see how it went. If I was any good, maybe I’d try it for real later on, because I’m perplexed by the poor writing in a lot of movies these days. Maybe big budget films have too many editors, so by the time they get to the final copy, no one remembers what the movie was supposed to be about. I’m even starting to suspect that some big-budget films begin with a thumbnail sketch of the plot (the logline), plug in as many special effects as they can muster, and then build the script from the inside out. The result is a story that connects the way fence would, if its posts were dropped from a 30,000 feet. At minimum, they leave out the thing I need the most if I am to give a hang about a movie: character development.
I spent a little bit of time learning about screenplay formatting and reading the scripts of some movies I like. A few days later, I got my assignment. My genre: Thriller. My topic: A witness. My response: Gag! For the first six days of the seven that I had to complete the task, I didn’t write a word. The night before the script was due, I was kicking myself for throwing away entry fee money.
But then I sucked it up for a few hours, and just kept typing. I called upon the Zen writing habit that I used to be so good about nurturing in my 20s. I would open up Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones, and pick her prompts to start writing and just keep my hand moving, turning off my editor and trying to find that place where writing became meditation.
I eked out a script about a pregnant vigilante in one afternoon. It was probably more suspense-like or creepy than thrilling, but I managed to finish it and turn it in before the deadline. I found out that I’m comfortable writing screenplays. And I do think that if it had a real strength, it was character development.
While I’d love to say my script magically went on to win, it didn’t. And I was even too self-conscious to participate in the discussion board critiques. But I actually came in third in my “heat,” missing the final by only one place and landing my logline in the public archives with contact information for any producer who might be interested. I’m happy with that outcome. Now, in my daydreams, someone comes along and offers me money to take that story and turn it into a feature-length script, or I come up with a new idea that helps me find an agent.
Today I watched a spider crawl into the coin slot of a parking meter, and I wondered what it would be like to live inside of a thick glass bubble that echoed with mechanical ticks and buzzes. Yesterday, Declan drew the Andromeda Galaxy on the fence out back and held a series of semi-private conversations with it. “You’re so pretty,” he told the long white smudge. Then he got into his Cozy Coupe and waved goodbye. “See you later, Andromeda.”
So maybe my celluloid dreams aren’t so unrealistic. After all, it is possible to befriend an entire galaxy, just as long as no one tells you that you can’t.