Screaming goats and screenplays


Looking back I’m not sure what I was thinking when I entered the NYCMidnight short screenplay competition.  I didn’t (and don’t) expect to advance very far, since I’d never written a screenplay before.  I think I just like contests too much.

Strange competition.  Every participant is placed in a group, and each group is assigned a specific genre, setting and object.  Then you’ve got 48 hours to write a 5-page screenplay.  Mine: horror, a petting zoo, a bottle of vodka.

Went back and forth with Abbe on Saturday as we drove to Philadelphia for the weekend, throwing out ridiculous ideas.  Abbe’s ideas were all focused on mass terror, and mine were all extended dialogue scenes, because I love dialogue.  But everything kind of seemed stupid, what with the petting zoo.  (My favorite of Abbe’s ideas — the petting zoo is a video game, and when a kid loses an animal in the game, someone comes to the house and kills him in real life.  Why?  “People are freaks,” is what I think she said.)

What I came up with was weird, creepy, oblique, and included a few random T.S. Eliot lines because why not?  Ended up with a lot of bleating, not a lot of talking.  Lots and lots of bleating, though.  So much bleating.  I just couldn’t see a scary five-minute film with tons of dialogue.  And even the dialogue I included doesn’t make a lot of sense because it’s so frustratingly oblique.

It’s as if I’m writing for a specific kind of judge, someone who loves ambiguity and being frustrated.  I’m sure that judge exists somewhere, but I have a horrible feeling it’s me.  I am that judge.

Anyway, I like the competition in some ways.  The forum idea is a great way to keep people coming to the site and make the participants feel more invested, and there does seem to be a genuine commitment to being supportive.   I like the prompt idea, I think, and the deadline is so brutally short that it creates a weekend of complete chaos for the writer.  Which is always fun.  (And something to think about with the launch of the new magazine — an ongoing competition like this.)

About the author

Tom Howard

Tom Howard is the author of Fierce Pretty Things (Indiana University Press, 2019).

He received his MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Fierce Pretty Things won the 2018 Blue Light Books Fiction Prize, and his individual stories have won the Ninth Letter Literary Award in Fiction, the Indiana Review Fiction Prize, the Robert and Adele Schiff Award for Fiction, the Carve Magazine Prose & Poetry Contest, the Tobias Wolff Award in Fiction, the Innovative Short Fiction Prize, the Willow Springs Ficiton Prize, the Rash Award in Fiction, and the Robert J. DeMott Award for Short Prose.

He lives with his wife in Arlington, Virginia.

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By Tom Howard


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