The Great Experiment

This is to be the record of an experiment.  The experimenters are myself and my writing partner, best friend, and better half Abigail Sparrow.  The basic idea is that in the course of a weekend, starting from scratch, we’re going to write a movie.

Lots of great films were written in a short period of time.  A quick and not at all fact-checked internet search tells me that “The Breakfast Club,” “Taxi Driver,” “Cabin in the Woods,” “Rocky,” “Tyrannosaur,” “Groundhog Day,” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” were all written in under a week.  We don’t have any expectations that our little experiment will yield such brilliant or iconic results, but the point is that it’s more than doable.

Our plan is to work from 6pm on Friday March 10th until 6am on Monday March 13th.  That’s 60 hours.  An average screenplay is between 20k and 30k words.  Let’s say ours ends up being 30k — which it won’t, but let’s overestimate for the sake of roundness.  That’s 500 words an hour, a more than achievable target.  If we slept for half that time, which we won’t, that’s 1000 words an hour — still completely doable.  Of course that doesn’t factor in thinking and planning, but part of this experiment is to keep thinking and planning to a minimum.

We know movies pretty well, and we’re fairly adept storytellers.  We met in theatre school at NYU, and we’ve written several plays and screenplays both together and individually.  Abigail has a degree in screenwriting from Chapman University, and my first novel was published by Penguin Press last year.  Now obviously none of this is proof that we’re any good — it’s just to note that we’re not incompetent or inexperienced, and that we’re going into this with a reasonably clear idea of what the weekend will look like.

The result will be, by the nature of the experiment, a formulaic screenplay.  But that’s part of what’s interesting about it.  Especially as young artists, we’re taught to shy away from formula.  But formula storytelling has given the world, to name just a few, Star Wars, Casablanca, The Princess Bride, and every sports movie ever made.

Lots of extraordinary pieces of writing have taken years, even decades, to craft.  Ulysses and Finnegans Wake weren’t written in a weekend.  The Call of the Wild was, though, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and most of what defined the Golden Age of Science Fiction.  The point is that good writing, or at least good stories, don’t have to be agonized over for years.

This is even more true of movies.  Probably more than any other artistic discipline, the film industry moves fast.  (I recognize that here and throughout I’m leaving myself wide open to angry, patronizing, and/or pedantic comments.  That’s something I can totally live with.)

Which brings us to our experiment.  We don’t have a story in mind.  In fact, we’re setting up the experiment specifically so that we can’t have a story in mind before we start.  On Friday at 6pm, we’re going to pick a genre out of a hat.  We have four broad genres — Comedy, Action, Thriller, and Teen — that we’ll pick from, and we’ve divided each of these four into an additional four (e.g., “Comedy — Buddy,” or “Action — Sci-fi”).  So in all there are sixteen possible types of movies we can end up writing.

From there we’ll look at representative titles in the genre, boil them down to stock characters and plot points, throw those into a hat, and draw again.  We’ll then organize that into the basis for our script, and keep you posted on how the whole thing goes.

We both have other projects that we’re working on in the meantime, though, which we have to finish before any such shenanigans can ensue — so, that’s all for now!

-F

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