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My Foray into Competitive Screenwriting

October 7, 2009

Recently, I’ve been putting a lot of energy into writing a lot more.  I joined a wonderful screenwriting group in Charlottesville known as CAOS (Charlottesville Area of Screenwriters) and have not only been writing my own scripts but have had the additional pleasure of reading other people’s scripts.  The latter being quite beneficial to my growth as a good script writer.  And through this group, I learned of an online screenwriting competition called The Creative Screenwriting Cyberspace Open that occurs as part of The Screenwriting Expo held out in California.

The first round of the event required people to write a 3-5 page scene over a weekend that fulfilled the requirements of a prompt.  The first prompt:

“Your PROTAGONIST is in a jam. He (or she) had been relying on deception in order to further his objective, but his ENEMY has figured out the ruse. Write the scene in which your protagonist’s LOVE INTEREST confronts him with this information acquired from the enemy – while staging it in a tricky or dangerous situation.”

What I ended up writing was a dialogue that occurred between a male ‘angel’  and a female ‘demon.’  The male ‘angel’ had been posing as a demon to destroy a real demon who had been ‘disrupting the balance of the worlds’ so to speak.  The woman finds out, gets peeved and we have our situation.  This is all very unoriginal and bland and yada yada, but what I did add something fun, which was actually the original inspiration for the piece.  Flying imps with jugs that fill with red liquid.  Here is an excerpt from the scene:

Angela’s eyes narrow.  On her right shoulder a mass the size of a fist forms pushing out through the skin.  Damian’s eyes move from Angela’s face to her shoulder.

DAMIAN:  But you have to believe me.  I was after Jeremiah only.

ANGELA:  How can I believe you?

The mass on Angela’s shoulder detaches and takes the form of an imp with wings.  Still the size of a fist, the imp grasps an empty glass jug tightly to its stomach and floats to the ceiling.  The jug begins to fill with a thick red fluid.

I had a decent ending to the script as well, having the angel lose his wings for his sins and the demon lose her horns due to her mercy, bringing the two ‘celestial’ beings down to a mortal level.  After sending the scene into the contest, I was then emailed a score out of a hundred with Judge’s notes.

Structure Score: 24
Dialogue Score: 23
Style Score: 24
Originality Score: 23
Judge’s Comments: A wild and trippy (nay, drippy) scene full of vivid imagery and creepiness. Solid tension from beginning to end. Writer might consider streamlining description to pick up the pace of the read. Condense the images to their essence, or at least break up the thicker paragraphs into more easily digestible chunks. Solid scene. Nice work.

The first round went really well, and one of the best things about it was actually getting the feedback.  It was nice to get such nice words from someone who knows what they are talking about.  My score of 94 was good enough to get me into the 2nd round which turned out to be quite a feat, as an article in the California Chronicle stated that over 2,000 entries were submitted.  Only 131 entries were selected for the second round, which means only the top 6.5% made it through!

For the second round, our time was more than halfed.  We had only 16 hours to write our 3-5 page scene, from 5pm on Oct. 1st till 9am the next day using this prompt:

Your PROTAGONIST’S allies have turned on him (or her.) His reputation is now in tatters, largely due to his own screw-up — which has been magnified and broadcast by the ANTAGONIST. Write the scene in which the protagonist tries to win the allies back. The scene should include a heartfelt mea culpa. You may use any setting, era or characters in addition to the ones indicated, as needed.

For this round, I spoofed off steroids in baseball and had a clown apologize to a Clown federation for using laughing gas on an audience to increase his laugh count.  I had fun with the idea, and finished a scene that I was quite proud of for having such a short timeframe.  I put a lot of work into it and even felt it was better than my first round script.

An excerpt:

Lobo reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a brush and a can of black shoe polish.

LOBO:  Which is why I now take full responsibility of my actions, and voluntarily remove myself from the institution of clowning.

Lobo trembles as he dips the brush into the polish, and then applies the black gunk to his red nose.

LOBO:  I, Lobo the Clown, strip myself of my title and askfor the forgiveness of the federation.

Lobo’s eyes are red and wet, as he completes blacking out his nose.  Gerald whispers in the ear of a PLUMP CLOWN dressed in a neon orange outfit.  The plump clown chuckles, jiggling his mass.

The Judging for my second round piece went as follows:

Structure Score: 23
Dialogue Score: 22
Style Score: 23
Originality Score: 23
Judge’s Comments: Well done. Watch out for expository dialogue.

This judge was much more brief than the previous one, but still gave me really good scores.  I am very excited to have gotten both scores in the 90s; however, I am doubtful that my score of 91 will be good enough to make it into the 3rd and final round.  The final round will be the top ten scene writers writing a scene in just an hour and a half.  Out of those, the top 3 will be performed live at the Screenwriting expo and judged by a live audience!  And the winner will receive $3,000!

Instrumental to my participation in this contest were my girlfriend Teresa and best buddy Mark.  They were both English Majors in College and helped sort out my poor grammar and word choice; they were also key motivators and confidence boosters!  Thanks a lot!

-Z

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. A. Webb permalink
    October 7, 2009 5:40 pm

    I also got a 91 on the second round, and feel the same as you do about possibility of going on to the next round. Man, it was tough! I really love where you went with the second premise.

    • zachkeifer permalink
      October 8, 2009 2:53 am

      Yeah, I mean I think they may have been grading harder this round, but I’m sure a number of people were able to get in the mid 90s. And it certainly was tough, but the feeling of accomplishment at the end made it all worth it. Congrats to you and your successful run in the contest, lets hope they set the cutoff at 91.

  2. danielle permalink
    October 11, 2009 5:02 am

    Zach – way to go! What an awesome achievement and an interesting read. I can see you and tree now: http://www.slashfilm.com/2009/09/15/paramounts-official-paranormal-activity-movie-trailer/

    • zachkeifer permalink
      October 11, 2009 4:17 pm

      Thanks Danielle! Haha, and yeah it is only a matter of time before Teresa and I hit the silver screen.

  3. A. Webb permalink
    October 13, 2009 2:50 pm

    I went hunting for the results this morning, and found it here: http://coverageink.blogspot.com/2009/10/cscs-open-announces-finalists.html As of this very moment, it’s not posted on the official site.

    So, we fell a wee bit short, but 91 is no small feat. Next year, we’ll be back with our pencils super sharpened.

    • zachkeifer permalink
      October 13, 2009 3:17 pm

      Great find, and I appreciate you sharing. There is a person in my local screenwriting group that actually made it to the third round, so I know she’ll be glad to see my email with the list. And I’m just gonna make the sweeping generalization that 91 was top half of the quarterfinalists, which would put us in the top 3.5% of 2,000+ entries. Not bad at all.

  4. A. Webb permalink
    October 15, 2009 4:56 pm

    Not bad indeed! Congrats to your screenwriting group…you must have one heckuva great group to have two members do so well in this contest!

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