> Behind the Scenes with Christopher Schrader
Christopher Schrader (Chicago, IL, USA) speaks about
his experience in the
Short Screenplay Challenge 2011. His scripts,
The Candy Thief,
One Last Mess, and Pandora, helped him take home 1st place out of over
Congratulations on winning the 8th
Annual Screenwriter’s Challenge out of over 400 writers. Why
did you enter the Screenwriter’s Challenge 2011 and what were
you hoping to get out of it?
Christopher: Sometimes it's really helpful to take a break from whatever
you're in the middle of working on and focus on something else
entirely. With this competition, I know that whatever I'm
assigned is going to be completely different from my other
projects. Creatively, that's really beneficial. It's like
exercising muscles you haven't paid attention to in a while. My
biggest obstacle as a writer has always been just getting out of
my own way and facing that blank page. With the deadlines in
this competition, there's very little time to second-guess or
talk yourself out of something. You just start writing and it's
encouraging to see what you can accomplish in a situation where
you can't make any excuses.
Have you competed in past Screenwriter’s Challenge competitions?
If so, how was your experience with the new format changes (3
challenges as opposed to 2), in addition to the new character
Christopher: I've participated in the last two competitions. I thought the
addition of the character element this year might be really
restrictive, but it actually helped me zero in on an appropriate
story pretty quickly in each round. In previous years, it was
fairly easy to let my mind wander and just keep brainstorming
endless scenarios that fit within the required genre. This time,
it felt more natural to start with the specified character and
then build the story from there. I also liked the addition of a
third round. It definitely felt like there was more of a
progression in terms of difficulty this year.
NYC MIDNIGHT: How did
you get started as a screenwriter? Where are you now in your
writing career and what are your goals?
Christopher: I've always been in love with storytelling and sort of obsessed
with phonetics. Currently, the majority of the work I'm doing is
for my own projects – short films, web series, etc. I've also
focused quite a bit on developing feature scripts, but lately
I've been turning my attention towards television since it's
more of a writer's medium. I have an idea for two pilot scripts
and a couple of spec ideas as well, so I think my next step will
be fleshing those out.
NYC MIDNIGHT: Do you
write on a regular basis? What is your general approach for
writing a screenplay, from idea to final draft?
Christopher: I try to write every day, whether it's clicking or not - and
usually it's not. 90% of the time things aren't coming together
and I feel like I'm banging my head against a wall. The 10% of
the time it is working makes it all worth it, though. I never
write “discovery drafts” where you just sit down, start writing,
and see where it goes. I tend to write very detailed treatments.
When I actually start working on the first draft of something,
it feels more like I'm cutting and pasting because I've already
done all of the heavy lifting in my treatment.
NYC MIDNIGHT: You received
the assignments of Romantic Comedy / Candy / A dancer, Sci-Fi /
A long line / A janitor, and Sci-Fi / A Deadline / An Architect.
Were you happy or disappointed with your assignments? Is Sci-Fi
a genre you write often or was this the first experience?
Christopher: I think the immediate reaction to any of the requirements is
usually, “Right, how am I going to make this work?” Sci-fi is
definitely not a genre I consider myself particularly
well-versed in. I'm a fan of Doctor Who and I grew up with Star
Trek, but that's sort of where it ends. For my first sci-fi
script, I thought back to what I remembered about some Kurt
Vonnegut stories I'd read when I was younger and that sort of
inspired me. When I received sci-fi again in the final round I
thought, “Man, someone really doesn't want me to win this year!”
NYC MIDNIGHT: What was
the most difficult aspect of the competition for you, the page
limits, the deadlines, or the Genre, Subject, and Character
assignments? Which challenge proved the most difficult (1st
Challenge: 8 days, 12 pages, 2nd Challenge: 3 days, 8 pages or
3rd Challenge: 24 Hours, 5 pages)?
Christopher: 5 pages in 24 hours was definitely the most challenging. Of the
three scripts I wrote, Pandora was the one I was least satisfied
with. I think it's because I had to scrap another idea I'd been
working on and then I only had 3 or 4 hours to write something
new. It was an interesting way to determine what the bare
essentials of that story were and how to communicate information
efficiently, but I think if I were to revisit that one at some
point I'd start by opening it up a little bit.
NYC MIDNIGHT: Have you
done any rewrites on any of your entries and do you have any
plans for the scripts?
Christopher: I haven't gone back to any of them yet, but I think I would like
to do something with that original final round script that I
abandoned. It involved time travel and the Martin Luther King
Jr. assassination. It was pretty dark and had a couple of
interesting twists, but it was way too much story for just five
pages and it also required a certain level of sensitivity. 24
hours just wasn't enough time for that one.
We provided a dedicated review forum where writers
could share their stories from the competition with each
other and provide/receive feedback. Did you participate in the
forums and/or get a chance to check out some of the stories that
were posted? If so, what were some of your favorites?
Christopher: I participated a little bit and I did check out some of the
other scripts that were posted. There was one called Spitballing
from the first round that I really liked. It had a really
distinct voice. Safe as Houses and Sunset were also really good.
And Behind Closed Doors was a cool entry from the second round.
It was a really great group this year.
NYC MIDNIGHT: Do you have any feature length scripts completed?
Christopher: I have one that I just started revising. It's about a Batman-esque
vigilante, but it's told from the point-of-view of the private
eye who's been hired to figure out his identity. I also have
another one that's more of an action/comedy about about a kid
who accidentally murders the nephew of a powerful mobster and
all the craziness that ensues over the next 24 hours. I wrote it
a few years ago, but I'm getting ready to take another pass at
NYC MIDNIGHT: Do you have
any ongoing projects that you are currently working on?
Christopher: You can see a couple of short films that I wrote & directed at
27thLetterProductions.com. We're also getting ready to shoot a
web series that's in the vein of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and
Veronica Mars that we hope to have up next year. I also write a
weekly webcomic called Ed Mann Walking that I think is just
starting to find its legs.
NYC MIDNIGHT: What would be your single most important piece of
advice to give someone looking to improve their screenwriting?
Christopher: I'm in no position to give anyone advice, but I think the one
thing I'm constantly reminding myself is that you just have to
keep writing. As often as you can. After you understand format
and structure, there really isn't any other book or seminar with
a secret formula that's suddenly going to make everything click.
NYC MIDNIGHT: Will you be back to defend your title in 2012?
Christopher: After three straight years, I think I might take a break – but
this definitely won't be my last NYC Midnight competition!
Screenplays by Christopher Schrader
'The Candy Thief' by
Christopher Schrader LOGLINE - To win the affection of
the pretty ballerina in his middle school's talent show, Jim
makes his way towards a secret room containing the ultimate
prize. (Romantic Comedy)
Last Mess' by Christopher Schrader LOGLINE - On his
last day of work, an elderly janitor comes to terms with his
forced retirement - and the technology that's replacing him.
'Pandora' by Christopher
Schrader LOGLINE - The clock is ticking as a frustrated
architect scrambles to finish the blueprints for a high-tech,
clairvoyant prison. (Sci-Fi)