If you follow FiLMLab at all, you know that we haven’t been around terribly long–a mere four years, including this one. But this year’s contest is by far the most challenging. In the first two years, we asked that you utilize the annual Willamette Writers Conference theme in your short script (“Fresh Brewed” and “New Frontiers”). It made sense as the winner would see their short film debuted during the August event when they took advantage of their free, three day pass. We switched it up in 2013 requiring a location prompt instead: the script had to be able to be filmed at the Willamette Writers House. This year, however, we really mixed it up with three prompts: Character (Bug Eyed Bill), Prop (a lock) and Dialogue (“I understand the urge.”). The character prompt is by far the most challenging (who or what is Bug Eyed Bill?!) and for that I have only one thing to say: blame it on Eric Witchey.
It’s okay. He won’t mind.
You see, Eric is a really smart guy. Really smart. A frequent lecturer at writing conferences around the world, I first became acquainted with him in 2009 at the WWC and it was there he introduced the standing room only class to the ABCs of story (explained in detail in the attached video), and the 5 Minute Exercise. It went something like this:
- start with a gender (character will come)
- pick a setting
- give your gender (character) a problem
- write for five minutes without stopping
As you know, figuring out your character can take a lot more than five minutes (!), so he’s simplified it for you. Male or female? Flip a coin and move on. Setting? Don’t spend more than a few seconds: backyard garden, junkyard, spooky house–whatever comes to your mind–pick one. Problem: music too loud, teeth falling out, the leprechauns are advancing; you tell me.
Right now, write for five minutes without stopping!
The point is not to write well, but to exercise your creativity. Imagination is a muscle that must be flexed and fed to get stronger. Do that exercise every day for a week and you’ll find some of those crappy pages aren’t so crappy. You could actually develop them into a screenplay or short story. And when you consider this is where “Bat Baby & Bigfoot Versus The Blood Trucking Vampires,” came from (and that Eric got paid for it), Bug Eyed Bill starts to make more sense.
There are fourteen days left in the FiLMLaB contest. Although Eric’s April 7th lecture at the Old Church will be too late to help with this story problem, if you’re struggling with the prompts try the 5 Minute Exercise for a few days and see what it unlocks. Try Bug Eyed Bill as a character and the lock as the problem, or Bug Eyed Bill as the problem and see where that takes you. Write for five minutes then leave it alone. Do it again the next day and see what new ideas your imagination comes up with.
The greater the limitations the more we are forced to exercise our creativity. The whole point of FiLMLaB is to experiment, to test and strengthen your writing. If you’re a finalist, you will have a chance to rewrite your script with a professional screenwriting mentor before it goes off to final judging. That alone is worth the price of admission. And if you win, well, that’s when the lab opens its door and welcomes you to the grand experiment: collaboration on the production of your script with a professional film crew.
“At FiLMLaB, the experiment is you.” And Bug Eyed Bill.
But at least its not Blood Trucking Vampires.
(Eric Witchey will be a guest of Willamette Writers on April 7, at the Old Church and on April 18th when he teaches his class, Building Story From Attitude. If you want to see him before the FiLMLaB Contest closes, check his website for upcoming workshops in March.)