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Entries won't be read, but words count in 'Script Frenzy'

The Baltimore Sun

No doubt you've been to the movies and, after two hours, said something like, "I could have done better."

Here's a chance to back up that statement with some furious key-stroking under a severe deadline -- June 30.

"Script Frenzy" is the latest brainchild of Chris Baty of Oakland, Calif. It's a competition -- although there are no writing judges -- to finish a 20,000-word script by the end of the month.

"If you love movies, you should write a movie," Baty said.

That's been the basic logic behind November's National Novel Writing Month, or Nanowrimo, which Baty has shepherded for eight years. If you like novels, he posited, write one, rapidly, with a 50,000-word count as the goal. Last November 80,000 adults signed up and nearly 13,000 were "winners," which meant they hit the word-count goal by deadline.

This is Script Frenzy's inaugural year, and more than 7,300 would-be screenwriters and playwrights have signed up. Baty noted that the number far outpaces Nano- wrimo's first year, when 21 people got involved.

Baty boasts, probably accurately, that Script Frenzy is "the largest screenwriting event in the history of planet Earth." To be winners, participants need only to post their completed scripts. The Script Frenzy staff verifies the word count and issues a paperless certificate. No one judges, reviews or even reads the works.

Diane Dobson Barton of Humboldt, Kan., is a Nanowrimo veteran and decided to jump into Script Frenzy for the writing practice, if nothing else. She's never tried to write a movie before.

"I'm winging it," said Barton. She signed up to be the Script Frenzy "liaison" for Kansas and is in contact with about 35 other Script Frenzy writers.

Barton's script, currently with a word count in the low thousands, concerns an 18-year-old woman facing a conflict with her conservative, home-schooling family. For levity, there are a new man in her life and an oddball aunt.

"The format is so different from a novel," Barton said. "It's a challenge."

Proper use of a script format is an issue, so participants are encouraged to go to and take a look at some basic instructions and examples. Scripts are mostly dialogue, of course, and there are rules about how to present settings, action and characters' names.

"It seems to involve a lot of CAPS," said Baty, who acknowledges his lack of experience with the form. Fortunately, the Script Frenzy staff includes an award-winning playwright and a graduate of the film program at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In the movie business, script lengths typically are discussed in terms of pages, not words. But because paper size isn't uniform around the world and Script Frenzy has participants abroad, Baty and company decided to set a word goal. The scripts of American Beauty and American Pie, very different movies, came to about 20,000 words, he said. The word count includes all the words on a page, not just the dialogue.

Unlike the novel-writing challenge, participants in Script Frenzy can sign up with a partner, a "commando writing unit," Baty said. Teams are common in real-life scriptwriting.

Participation in Script Frenzy is well dispersed, from 50 states and 20 foreign countries. Surprisingly, only 99 people from the Los Angeles area signed up.

"We thought we would basically have all of metropolitan Los Angeles involved," said Baty, who is 33 and author of No Plot? No Problem. "Maybe they think our rules aren't exacting enough."

But that's just how Baty wants it.

"If you're enthusiastic and you have easy access to coffee and sugar, then really this is the event for you," he said.

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