My experience of winning The LSF Alien Competition… In the 15 ‘Save-The-Cat’ Beats. By Kendall Castor-Perry

Opening Image: Ping… and something unspeakably alien drips from the savage grin of the xenomorph in the leading image… This is surely going to be an interesting email….

Theme Stated: You – yes, you – can:

>> Write and have your ALIEN script produced DURING LSF!

Set-Up: Writer and Director Dirk Magg, the creator of some of the best ALIEN radio plays … will produce ONE audio drama based on the classic horror/action/sci-fi franchise during a session at the London Screenwriters’ Festival.

Catalyst: And we could use YOUR script.

My script?  My… script?

Debate: Make it cool. Make it terrifying. Make it exciting. Make it ALIEN.

How in all the hells of the Outer Rim am I going to compete with the seasoned writers who also just got that mission brief?  The Create50 squad count among their number many folk who have actually had science fiction stories accepted for publication.  I am just a hack.  An amateur.

But I do love Alien; Ridley Scott is my kind of movie god.

Break Into Two: We are going to be looking for something shockingly original, but still grounded in the Alien Universe. Don’t lean exclusively on familiar movie quotes and winks to the audience. Blow our minds.

Well, I guess it better be good then.  Here goes…

B Story: Actually, there’s only room for one story since:

It cannot be longer than three pages (not including the title page). Any script that spills onto page 4 will be discarded unread.

So, what can I bring to the world of Alien?  Maybe there is something extra-terrestrial in my story canon that I can plunder…

  • Alien bugs that bite you and then swap their mind with yours? Nope, already done that in ‘Bite’.
  • Peaceful aliens hiding in plain sight in suburban Washington State, who turn on their neighbours when the artesian spring providing an essential nutrient is capped by a cash-strapped local council? Unfinished, and the aliens are not quite as ugly as a xenomorph.
  • Massive, vile, powerful alien, last of its species, looking for revenge on those that exterminated its race, slowly regenerating in a field outside medieval West Minster Abbey in 1349, sending out spores (“The Devil’s Breath”) to infect humans whose rotting corpses it will use to assemble a new composite body? That’s more like it.

Spores… Yay, thanks, ‘Preincarnation’, maybe all that work on you wasn’t wasted after all…

Fun and Games: I’ll just read those rules one more time… wait a moment…

Every script must start with this line of dialogue that is spoken by a computer / AI ‘Self-destruct initiated… Three minutes to detonation…”

I knew it!  A rule designed to constrain my otherwise-unbounded creativity!  How can I possibly write something like that with such a restrictive ticking time bomb… wait… technology has moved on in the world of Alien since the quasi-Victorian engineering of the Nostromo.  If an iPhone can have a back-door, so can a Weyland-Yutani colony.  I’ll just have one of my characters switch that self-destruct sucker off and write the story I wanted to in the first place.  As you were.

… writes … writes … writes … and click ‘send’…

Midpoint: You will be happy to know YOUR script for ALIEN. WOOOO!

Um, what does that mean, Chris?

Sorry yes! HA! Yes your script will be the one we use on Friday night.

Fan-friggin’-tastic!  And then comes the realization that it was what screenwriting theorists call a ‘False Victory’:

The bad news is we need a re-draft to make it more Radio facing

But… but… you said Dirk was going to do that, I distinctly remember reading:

‘Don’t write a radio play, write a movie. Write visually and we can bring those visuals to life with sound.”

Tumbleweeds… Oh, all right, back to the Final Draft Drawing Board.  How do we do this?

Attached is a script Dirk wrote for his as a guide.

Ah, I get it.  On radio, nobody can see you scream – only hear you.  Almost the opposite of writing for the screen; this is all noise.  Noises made by people’s mouths (dialogue) and noises made by everything else (FX).

… rewrites … rewrites … rewrites … and click ‘send’…

Bad Guys Close In: Who are the bad guys?  Well, primarily a guy named ‘Bob’.  Ever since the first season of Twin Peaks aired I have been nervous about guys named Bob.  In this case, LSF’s Bob Schultz, who read my radio-facing draft and said: I have one tiny specific note and one general one.

Oh, what, now I’m getting NOTES…?

All Is Lost: Just a smidge. Don’t rewrite everything. Just a little more swagger and a little less exposition if possible.

A little less exposition?  This is science fiction!  It’s ALL exposition, mutter, mutter… rewrites … rewrites … rewrites … and click ‘send’…

Dark Night Of The Soul: The producer has asked for one more thing. Could you write me a one-liner describing the location?

It’s… a… space… ship.  Pulls… teeth…  When do you want it done?

Um. Yesterday? Can you have it done in the morning?

ECU: HANDS OF CLOCK SPIN ROUND… and click ‘send’…

Break Into Three: (Also known as The Eureka! Moment)

Fantastic. Thanks Kendall!

I’ve done it.  Must… keep… quiet…

Finale: It’s ten days later… the scene: a queue of excited punters standing outside the Tuke Cinema at LSF18 for the late-night Alien session.  I’m chatting with bellow Bang2Writer Mark Renshaw, who is convinced he’ll spot who’s won the competition from the broad grin on their face.  I nod sagely in agreement and flip my grin switch to the off position.

We filter into the Cinema.  Sit down.  Chris announces… It’s Me!  Shrieks of congratulation (well, that’s what it sounded like) from the hundreds of people in the audience who didn’t win.

We meet our delightful crew, crammed onto the scrap of space in front of the screen like thespian Revels.  And then it’s time.  My words – MY WORDS – flow from proper actors Mark Arnold (he was in Blade Runner 2049!) and Nina Rubesa, into little Roland digital recorders that are cowering behind the pop screen, their tiny microphone elements shivering at the waxing goriness of my tale.

And then the audience resist the temptation to drift into hypersleep as the raw base material is painstakingly transmuted into precious audio by the diligent yet strangely silent Simon Reglar.  Dirk, who master-classed us through the role of producer as he guided the actors, now delights us with amusing anecdotes from an illustrious career producing radio entertainment.

Then, the lights go dim…  Jerry Goldsmith’s two-note, hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck motif…  cannon fire, and the resultant screaming of shredded xenomorphs in the acoustic distance…

“Control room of rescue and evacuation vehicle ‘Lompoc’… two-person crew: Captain Cullinan, Technical Adviser Trier… investigating AI distress message from colony planet LVH1138…”

My words.  MY WORDS…

Final Image: Rapturous, richly deserved applause for all involved… It’s late.  We’re all tired and emotional, especially Chris, who looks whiter than the extra-white 96-brightness printer paper I print my script drafts onto.

Many people mill round.  I hug, shake hands and smile graciously as appropriate.  At least, I hope it was appropriate.

And go home.  Long day.  Thanks Chris, Bob, Lucy, Dirk and everyone who made that fleeting fragment of the universe of Alien such a joy to experience.  Let me know when you want the feature-length screenplay, Ridley…

About Kendall Castor-Perry
Kendall’s a physicist by training, an analog silicon solution architect by profession, and a sci-fi fan by inclination.  For nearly four decades, he’s been chasing electronic signals through circuits and systems, wringing out the information they are trying to hide, battling with the monsters lurking within murky forests of transistors, chips and diodes.  Think of him as the Van Helsing of electronic design.

In his precious fragments of spare time, he writes short stories, novels and feature screenplays in the sci-fi, technothriller and horror spaces.  His time-twisty feature script ‘Preincarnation’ won the SF & Fantasy category of the 2016-2017 Fresh Voices Screenplay Contest; his short stories feature in both Volume 1 and Volume 2 of Twisted50.  You’ll find him on LinkedIn as himself, on Twitter as @TheFilterGuy.  His words… they’re out there somewhere on the ‘What-If?’ to ‘What-the-Hell?’ continuum…

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