Monday, January 19, 2009
Sometimes You Win...
In June of 2008, I had one of those crazy bugs that bites the writer, taking them by surprise, and took on a project unlike any I had done before. I wrote a screenplay.
I first became interested in the art of script writing when one of my best buddies, Kam Parker, wrote one in Asheville, NC. I admit when she asked me to read it, I had some reservations. I had never read a screenplay (although I’d read plays) and feared that I wouldn’t care for the style. And seeing as she is one of my best friends, there’s always, “What if I don’t like it?” I had nothing to fear. It was a page-turner. I couldn’t put it down. Even better, Leigh read it and she is picky, picky, picky about anything fictional. She loved it, too. The bug had gotten under my skin.
In June, Leigh suggested offhandedly, after listening to me talk about fishing on the phone, “Why don’t you write a screenplay about fishing with your friends?” Let’s see, because who will be interested in that? Nobody is going to produce a movie about a bunch of butches who love to go fishing? Loyalty and friendship are too sentimental for this century? Who cares?
Turns out, I cared. For once I didn’t think about the audience, the producers (or publishers), the sentimentality of truths I hold to be self-evident. I wanted to do something for me. I wanted to write a screenplay about what I love, what I believe in. Along the way, I gave up worrying about the fact that gay plays don’t make any money, can’t find a market, etc, etc, ad nauseum. They don’t call it a screen play for nothing. And they don’t call us gay for nothing either. I determined to be gay while I played with my writing.
First I checked out the internet for contests or calls for gay screenplays. I mean, we watch movies, too. It’s the 21st century, after all! Somebody has to make gay movies. I’ve seen ‘em myself. And sure enough, I stumbled across a contest called the One in Ten Screenplay contest. They accepted 300 entries from around the world, and the deadline was Sept. 1. I admit “around the world” gave me pause. But only momentarily. This gave me the deadline I needed to get serious.
I got together with Kam in a Dallas motel room where essentially we locked ourselves in until we came up with the basic tenets, plot, and lots of dialogue. I knew what I wanted to do and say, and she knew how to make it work. We scribbled hard for a week. I titled it “Men Only.” Then I went home and worked some more. I worked all summer with many calls and emails to Kam. We exchanged screenplays and edited for each other. I sent “Men Only” out to my friends and took almost all of their advice. Leigh read it over and over. “Cut, cut, cut,” she’d say until I reminded her we weren’t to the filming part yet. But cut I did. And finally, I liked what it said. I liked my characters and what was happening in the story. It seemed like a decent story to me. And it was funny, I thought. But it just didn’t look right on the page.
In a last minute frenzy I called a writing teacher and playwright here in Fayetteville. His name is Bob Ford and he has seen his plays produced in great cities all over the U.S. But the really remarkable thing about him is his willingness to help just about anyone with their creativity. He does so much for the Fayetteville theater community with a gracious generosity. I knew him because I took his screenwriting course when I first moved here. I went to his plays and had watched him work. He knew this stuff and I knew he could help me, if he would.
He did. All the way from Mexico, where he was on vacation, he took the screenplay, scanned over it, and told me immediately, in one single page, what it should look like. In short, he taught me screenplay-ese in a one-page lesson. Although it was easy to read his directions, it was much harder to follow them. I rewrote the whole damn thing. Again. But when I finished this time, it looked and felt right. I put my all into it and that’s the best anyone can do. I sent it in before the deadline.
There was a long wait. Of course, you don’t really wait for these things. You go on with your life, which for me meant writing and teaching and working and feeding the dogs and chickens. As November 15 approached, I began to get nervous. So many times I told myself not to worry about it. Win or lose, I’d done a good thing, a brave thing. I had been true to my dreams. So I tried not to wish too hard.
On Monday, November 10, I got a letter from the contest director which listed the top 25 writers. I couldn’t believe my eyes! There it was: “Men Only by Mendy Knott from Fayetteville, AK!” Okay, so they got the state wrong, but they spelled my name right. As far as I was concerned this was success! In that list were screenplay writers from England, France, Las Vegas, Hollywood, New York. And then there was me, from Fayetteville, Alaska. I did let them know, just in case I made it any further, that the abbreviation for Arkansas is AR.
The day before the final notice for the top 3 was announced, I got a note from Mike Dean the coordinator letting me know, that indeed I had gotten second place in the contest! Now you can go to Scriptdoodle’s One in Ten Screenplay and see my name for your very own self. It’s worth a look. I won $500 and the privilege of having these “connected” people shop my play for me for 6 months. From February to July, they will send “Men Only” out to dozens of producers, directors, agents and the like. My plan had worked! I got a toe in the door my first try. I am amazed, grateful, happy. I thank Kam and Leigh and all those who read and believed in me and my play. I am quite gay about my play.
The main thing I learned is to be true to yourself. Listen when people give you advice on how to write. Listen to yourself about what to write. Keep coming back to your own experience. Believe. Then work, work, work. Ask questions. Get a book or two on the subject. Use the internet to research your dream. Use all the tools at your disposal. There are more than you think. Once you’ve put the work out there, move on to the next thing. Don’t wait. There isn’t time to wait. There are more ideas and dreams to realize than can ever be done in a lifetime. So get started. Because sometimes...sometimes, you really do win.