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Screenwriting Expo’s CS Open, Round 1

September 21, 2009

As some readers have noted, it’s been a while since I actually wrote something movie-industry related, other than the 100 Year of VFX video a few weeks back. You know the drill — busy, working, blah-de-blah. But I have been writing a lot in the meantime, just not stuff here.

Anthony and I have been churning out screenplays and treatments, which unfortunately I can’t share here because we’re hoping to get them sold. So there hasn’t been much to report or post about in terms of filmmaking content…


I’ve finally got some stuff completed such that it’s ready to show and talk about. I’ve got a few actual shorts coming in the next week or so, but for now I want to talk about some recent writing.

Every year, Creative Screenwriting Magazine hosts a Screenwriting Expo. The Expo is another post in itself, and one I probably shouldn’t write until after I’ve attended the thing (which I’m not planning to do this year). But as part of the Expo they hold a competition called the “CS Open.” It’s cheap to enter, so we did.

The competition is sort of like a 48 Hour Film project, but for screenwriting. In each of three rounds, entrants are given a premise for a 3-5 page scene that could conceivably take place somewhere within the bounds of a feature film. The challenge is then to write that scene within the increasingly difficult time constraints.

Round one, which took place this weekend, delivers the prompt on Friday evening and the scenes must be submitted Monday morning. Round two, which takes place next week, will deliver the prompt in the evening and the scenes must be delivered the following morning. Round three, which takes place during the Expo, gives only a 90-minute window from premise to delivery. Each round involves a whittling-down of the entrants until only three are left. The winning script gets $3000.

As I would say when I was considering becoming a sperm donor, it’s not bad money for something I was going to do anyway.

Anthony and I took advantage of their allowing writing partners to enter, and we entered twice in order to double our chances in this first round. We each conceived a scene, wrote a first version of it, and then traded for revisions.[1]

Since these scenes are not actually from film projects we’re looking to produce, I feel comfortable sharing them and talking about our choices. By no means are these the only, or even necessarily best choices, but they’re the ones we made and we have the opportunity to examine them.

So here’s the Round 1 premise:

Your PROTAGONIST is in a jam. He (or she) had been relying on deception in order to further his objective, but his ENEMY has figured out the ruse. Write the scene in which your protagonist’s LOVE INTEREST confronts him with this information acquired from the enemy – while staging it in a tricky or dangerous situation.

I guess there are two ways to view a prompt that vague — either as a challenge or an opportunity. But I’m not gonna lie to you — we saw it as a challenge.

The idea of writing a 3-5 page scene seems simple in principle, but it means asking a lot of questions in order to make it feel organic and part of a greater whole. Who are these characters? What’s the tricky or dangerous situation and how did they get into it in the first place? What is the overall setting and tone of the story? What’s the genre? What’s the next scene going to be and how does this one lead into it?

In other words, we realized that to write an effective 3-5 page scene, we actually had to have at least a rudimentary conception of the entire movie. This was a somewhat taller order than we had anticipated, but three grand is a nice carrot to chase, so we gave it our best shot.

Tomorrow, I’ll post the first of our two entries for you folks to check out, and then talk about how it got to be what it is over the course of the weekend.

  1. This is how we’ve been doing it with our feature scripts, as well. Having a second set of eyes means immediate revisions, as opposed to having to take time to distance yourself from your work when flying solo.

From → writing

  1. looking forward to seeing the results!

  2. Kylee permalink

    Isn’t it funny how different people’s perspectives are? I entered too yet I found the challenge that sprung from the premise to be caused by how specific it was, rather than it being too vague.

  3. Karl permalink

    I entered and was pleased to receive a score of 94/100. It seems the cut-off point was 93… and 130 went through due to there being many ties, more than the stipulated 100. My 2nd Round entry is a bold one, as it includes a FLASHBACK… but ticked all the boxes. So it all comes down to taste. My entry had action and a religious edge to it. The following day a real life relinquary visited my Cathedral a stones throw from where i live. Hit the news bigtime! I cried when i wrote it so really I couldn’t put more than blood sweat and tears in! 3 pages… of purging my soul.

  4. Howard Green permalink

    Hey Michael,

    I participated in the spring ’10 CS open for the first time and unfortunately fell short with an 85/100, but received what I took as positive feedback for the writing itself. As a relatively new screenwriter with only one completed feature script under my belt I was not too disappointed in the results. Anyway, I’ll be launching my own screenwriting and general production/professional blog soon and would like to start establishing some creative blog links. I run a screenwriters group in San Francisco and would love to connect with you. Cheers, Howard Green

  5. I just found you blog while googling CS open and I’ll be back a lot. Great info on here.

    I just did the spring’10 CS open as well and fell a little short. It’s true what you say about taking the scene from a larger context. That’s what I did and it was one of the criticisms I received.

    As a new screenwriter I found the constraints very helpful to my creativity as I was forced to really think about how to hit every parameter with the characters I chose. I was able to take familiar characters and make them do things they would never do and give them the absolute freedom to do whatever felt right for the scene.

    I can now switch things around again and put those characters back into the the larger context that they came from and make my screenplay better. So I lost in the contest but I won with my growth as a writer.

    I’m still going to wake up tommorow morning and do the second part of the contest for those reasons. I know I can’t enter but I can just put it on my facebook and no matter how horrible it may become my mom will tell me it’s great 🙂

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