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Articles > 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 400 writers.



NYC MIDNIGHT: 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 element?
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.

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.

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.

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!”

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.

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.

NYC MIDNIGHT: 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 it.

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 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)

'One 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. (Sci-Fi)

'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)



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