As I am a sucker for a ridiculous pyramid scheme-like writing competitions, I’ve entered NYC Midnight’s Screen Writing Challenge. While less intense on a day-to-day level than #29PlaysLater, the stakes are definitely stacked due to the humungous number of entrants. For round 1, you get sent a brief for a screen play and 12 days to nail it. My brief is:
Character: A CALL CENTRE EMPLOYEE
This is one of 48 briefs sent to writers around the world (though mainly US, CA and UK) with the following instructions:
Genre, Subject, and Character Assignments
Feel free to interpret your genre, subject, and character assignment in uniquely creative ways…we’re looking for interesting and inventive screenplays. But also know that we won’t be able to accept submissions that are completely off of the assignments you are given. For example; if your assigned genre is drama, a screenplay that reads as an outright comedy will most likely be disqualified. If your screenplay contains predominant elements of your assigned genre, you should be fine. Also, if your assigned subject or character make little or no appearance in the screenplay and have no impact on the story, then it will also most likely be disqualified. Remember that the subject must be integral to the plot of the story and the character must be relevant in the story (though it doesn’t have to be the main character).
So naturally I’ve been up at 6am every morning since the brief arrived in my inbox, full of futile angst about what I’m going to produce. Probably a big steaming turd, if I’m honest. I’ve always been terrible at writing to spec (ask any collaborator who has ever had the misfortune to have a sobbing phone call from me at midnight) and had a tendency to rebel against any kind of authority. This seems to be getting worse as I get older, resulting in work like ‘Twenty-Nine Play Slater‘. It’s petty but it keeps me entertained. So it will be a big steaming turd that I will loving polish and feel immense affection for. This morning had an epiphany and think I have an idea I actually like. Sure I will bore you all more with that later.
But I’m in pensive mood today (Happy Bank Holiday btw!) I’ve bundled all the plays I can find into a Google Drive from #29PlaysLater and been having a read. It’s not a terrible fail over the whole month, but you can definitely see that they were written in 24 hours, usually at 3am on a ‘school night’ without any kind of forethought or planning. If you want you can also find some of the work scattered around this blog – I’d suggest the truly terrible ‘Moose Murders‘. The brief was to write the worst play possible including not changing any spelling mistakes. So after a quick Google I turned up the other ‘Moose Murders‘, as self-monickered mystery farce, lost to the annals of time after flopping on Broadway in the 1920s. And there are some howling spelling mistakes in there too. Refuse a tired dyslexic the ability to use spellcheck and you’re always going to turn up gold. Look for the line about “pie”.
I’d avoid the agonisingly teenage ‘Just for One Day’, written in the aftermath of Bowie’s death with a brief to write about meeting your heroes. It’s way too honest, if you know me, and excruciatingly banal if you don’t. I’m all for vulnerability in art but… well… This is the equivalent of standing in a shopping centre in your underwear shouting ‘look at me, feel my pain’ before throwing yourself in the ornamental water feature. Also ‘Happy’. It’s basically just sadomasochistic porn involving a vicar. That was a long, dark night of the soul. But you know, if you like that sort of thing, go for it. There’s also an expressionist dance scene. Like all good adult fiction.
I keep dwelling on the fact that it’s weird; picking up something which you were quite good at, and finding that you’re not any more. You feel like by just blowing the cobwebs away and it will all come as easily as it used to. I’ve definitely got the bug again. In the gap, left by the sad demise of my comedy partnership, Burgis & Mann, there’s a burning need to communicate. I just have no idea what. I miss the certainty I had in my 20s that I had something to say to the world, and that it was worth saying.
I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by friends and family who continue to support and inspire me at every turn, and just when I think the well has finally run dry someone or something appears and it’s a trigger. I’m off again, out the slips churning out something mediocre. And I’m fine with that. It’s better than the big gaping maw of nothingness I navel-gazed into for nearly a decade.
If you want to see what a talented writer can do with an intensive challenge like #29PlaysLater, you have to check out the inimitable A J Dehany’s offering. Personal favourite is the ‘Handel Hendrix‘ piece, while his ‘Hundreds of Sparrows‘ is being performed later this year. Mainly because it’s annoying inventive and articulate.
Still hoping to get some of the work recorded as radio plays or podcasts, which would be awesome but given we’re all busy, beautiful people, who knows. That and I’m notoriously bad at ever getting round to edit recordings. Which is why I have JQ in my life. It must be. I mean what else is he good for? (War? Absolutely nothing?)