PETERBOROUGH — Four aspiring writers discussed their first stab at screenwriting during a pre-Monadnock International Film Festival screenwriting panel at Harlow's Pub Saturday morning.
ConVal High School students Liam Healey, 17, of Antrim, Elyssa Harrington, 17, of Peterborough, Jill Pierson, 15, of Francestown and Keene High School student Brittany Mena, 16, of Keene shared their process, inspirations and the challenges they faced writing a screenplay for the first time.
"I would say the biggest challenge was finding a middle to my story. Because I knew the beginning, I knew the end, but I just couldn't find something to happen in the middle of it. So I would just be in pre-calculus and I would be, 'oh my God, I have an idea.' And suddenly I would be forgetting what the equation was on the board," Mena said.
Healey said he drew inspiration from an old rural legend he learned as a Boy Scout.
Once a year his troop camps at a cabin in Walpole. Halfway up the dirt road to reach the cabin is "a small shack-like red house that legend has it a family a long time ago, maybe in the early '70s, a family of hippies — mother, father and newborn baby — decide to get away from it all and live there," Healey said.
The legend ends badly for the family, he said.
"What we do with the new guys in our troop when we bring them up there for the first time is we tell them that story to freak them out and it's fantastic," Healey said. "I wanted to give my own adaptation of that story, my own version."
Later in the morning the teens read their scripts at a reading event at the Peterborough Town House.
Award-winning filmmaker Aaron Wiederspahn of Nelson taught the class as part of a new educational component of the Keene-based Monadnock International Film Festival, which he helped found.
Wiederspahn met with the ConVal students over 18 weeks and the Keene students for nine weeks, guiding them through the process of taking an idea and crafting a short screenplay. The students elected to take the course, which was held during open study periods and was not for school credit.
A total of 35 students participated, but only 18 screenwriters made it to the finish line and submitted a final draft of their short script to Wiederspahn.
"It became like Survivor," Wiederspahn joked. "It was really exciting to watch the group. … You start to really see who's really passionate about writing because that's the writer's life, you find a way."
As part of the film festival, the screenplays are being judged by a panel of industry insiders and the writer of the screenplay deemed the best will be awarded a $1,000 cash prize and screenwriting software. All of the young writers are also receiving free passes to the film festival, which starts Friday and runs through Sunday.
The winning screenplay will be announced at the festival's closing ceremony at the Colonial Theatre in Keene Sunday night.
Wiederspahn is the program director of the Monadnock International Film Festival and owner of either/or films
In October at the Portsmouth-based N.H. Film Festival, Wiederspahn was awarded N.H. Filmmaker of the Year and Best New Hampshire Film for his latest film, Only Daughter, which was shot entirely in New Hampshire over 10 days in 20 locations with a $20,000 budget. The movie's star, Morganna Ekkens of Keene, won Best New Hampshire Film Performance.
The second annual Monadnock International Film Festival is being held in Keene April 10-12. A full schedule of film festival events is online at www.moniff.org.