A mixed week in my screenwriting journey, but first a story from my murky, troubled past. I don’t believe I have gone public with this story before…
I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember the bone chilling fear and the adrenaline rush as my human survival system kicked in.
The room was dark. It appeared to be spinning slowly. The painfully loud music was being used to disorientate us, to make us question whether oblivion may be preferable. There were three of us trapped in there. But we all knew that shortly there would be only two. We were too far away from help, too isolated. I remember catching the eye of one of the others across the dark, spinning room, seeing the white fear on his face. But there was more than fear, the instinct of a killer now lay behind those eyes and I knew that he would do anything to avoid being the next victim. Anything.
That screeching loud music, I don’t know how long it continued. Minutes? Hours? Days? Your concept of time is warped when your survival is at stake. But I knew I spent the entire time praying for refuge. Lord, if you are up there, please give me refuge.
Eventually, somewhere in that building, perhaps even in the same room, a switch was flicked and the music ceased. Joy and fear. Joy for my poor, destroyed senses. Fear because I knew a victim was about to be taken. Suddenly, an opportunity presented itself.
It is a moment I think about often, even today.
The other one, the one with the white fear and killer instinct, I never even found out his name. He had lost his concentration for a split second. But that is all it takes. I remember hurling myself across the room… It felt like slow motion… In order to survive, I must do this… I must take this opportunity for refuge, however temporary it may prove to be…
…and that is how I made it to the final of ‘Musical Chairs’ at my friend Simons 11th birthday party. Needless to say, I did not win the final. Simons mother was in charge of the record player and so obviously the music stopped just as he passed the single remaining chair. It was corrupt. I repeatedly whined to my mother about this ‘Flagrant Nepotism’ for the rest of the evening and most of the following day, until she turned to my father and said ‘Do you think we gave him too much potassium as a toddler?’.
But I had made the final. I had ‘placed’. And for second place I received a marvellous ‘Choose Your Own Ending’ teenage novel, which was marvellous because I was only ten. I took that as deserved, if overdue, recognition for my advanced language skills. Surely my sublime mathematical skills would soon be recognised too.
And that was the last time I ‘placed’ at anything. Three decades have passed since.
But then last week, I received an email from The Screenwriters Network to say I had made the quarter final of their short film script competition. They even sent me a picture of a ‘quarter final laurel’. And now I understand why so many screenwriters on twitter post pictures of laurels.
My placing was surprising because the closest thing I had to a short film was a 60 page script about a man undergoing a meltdown during government imposed lockdown. So I had to cut a pretty tight 60 page script down to 30 pages. And the thing was, every scene is structurally needed, so rather than cut entire scenes, I had to ‘SQUEEZE’ every scene down to it’s barest parts. By the time I’d finished cutting, it was like reading double concentrate orange squash.
So placing with this script was a very pleasing step on my screenwriter journey.
Then, to counter that happy moment, a disappointing moment in finding out that my entry into the Channel 4 Screenwriting Competition had not made it to the shortlist stage. However, I’m fairly sure that of the 3000 entries they receive, only 1.3% make the shortlist. So according to my sublime mathematical skills, I am amongst the remaining 174.1% that did not make the shortlist. So that makes me feel better.
And anyway, the Channel 4 Screenwriting competition is a very different beast to other competitions. To achieve the standard required to get onto that course, you need to take a very long running jump. I think of it as the Olympics of screenwriting.
An Olympic pole vaulter doesn’t take up the pole vault at 16 and then go to the Olympics at 17. He starts at the age of 14 and focusses on continual improvement for every day of every year. He continually improves his run up, his plant, his take off, his pole bend, his straighten and his clearance. Then, with an added slice of luck with injuries and coach selection, by age 24 he MAY be good enough to vault over a bar 19 feet in the air (higher than the average two storey house) and qualify for the Olympics.
I started entering Channel 4 at the age of 43 (last year), I’m attempting to improve with every single script I write. My structure, my dialogue, my characters, imagery, pace… I’ll read books, read scripts, watch every Tarantino interview on YouTube and watch everything on All4. Eventually, by the age of 53 I MAY be of the sufficient standard to be ‘In the conversation’ for a Channel 4 shortlisting. And then I’ll need a huge slice of luck on top.
Of course, there will be writers gifted enough to get on at their first attempt, writers with incredible stories and the skills to do them justice. But for the rest of us, I reckon it’s about playing the long game.
Hopefully, in the meantime I will have squirmed my way into the industry through success in other competitions or on other courses. And then I can make so much money selling my scripts that I can BUY Channel 4, enter myself into the competition and put MYSELF onto the short list. And everyone will look up at me and say ‘Lo! His scripts are too good for this planet, we must build a new planet! A planet worthy of his mid-points and intriguing B stories! Boweth down before Him!’
…ooh, came over all funny then.
See you next month, by which time I’ll know if my recently upgraded TV pilot has won me a jpeg laurel to post on Twitter. Ciao!