Could you write a scene in seven minutes? We hope you’ll try it after watching this video with aspiring screenwriter Ashlee Stormo! Ashlee was inspired by another seven-minute scene challenge by Emily Carmichael for Vanity Fair. Ashlee used YOUR prompts to start things off. See where she ended up in just seven minutes!
“Hey, screenwriters! Thank you for submitting names, genres, and plot points - I randomly drew a few to write a scene in 7 minutes! Would you try this challenge?”
"Hello friends! My name is Ashlee Stormo, and this week I have partnered with SoCreate to do a super fun challenge video where I am trying to write a scene in just seven minutes.
You might have seen me asking you for a genre, and a character, and a plot point on their Instagram stories recently, and that’s what it’s for. I got this idea from Vanity Fair, but they do it with real working professional screenwriters, but I thought that’s probably a great way to practice writing something quickly.
I’m going to be timing myself over here. Whenever I’m talking to you, I’m allowed to pause it. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed plot points and names over on Instagram. The name that I drew was “Annalise,” the genre is “Road Trip Movie,” the plot point is “Eight-Year-Old Burns a Barn,” and then since it is an eight-year-old that burns a barn, and it is a road trip movie, I thought that I could probably use another character, so I pulled Shanna. I think that’s how this person would want it pronounced. Sorry if it’s not. But Shanna is going to be our other supporting character.
So, I’ve got my stopwatch, and I will start now.
I think that Annalise should be sheepish because I want to start this scene as she just burnt down the barn, but the audience doesn’t know that yet. So you’re pulled in, and you’re like, why is she crying? So if this is a road trip, in my mind, these people are fleeing the scene of the crime. Thelma and Louise, we can look at movies that are similar to what we’re writing, and in Thelma and Louise, they are also on a road trip. And it’s kind of like a coming of age. But they’re also escaping something that they did that was horrible. So that’s kind of the vibe I’m going with. Do you help someone cover it up, or do you help someone come clean and go the cops?
I want the aunt to be kind of off-kilter. And she reacts poorly because she’s not a very responsible adult. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking, why would you not just call the firefighters if you lit a barn on fire? Like, it’s a kid. You could easily get out of trouble as a kid because you’re a minor. And this is only escalating by Shanna fleeing from the scene and not being responsible and not calling firefighters. So, in my mind, it needs to be something more major that she’s done. So, I’m thinking of like, last year I heard of these kids who started a wildfire. So, maybe this barn burning inspired a wildfire and Shanna is freaking out and trying to contact Annalise’s parents because maybe she was inebriated when this happened and she wasn’t paying as much attention as she should have been, so she’s like, oh my god, I’m going to get in trouble because I was in charge of this kid.
So, that’s where I’m trying to go with it now because I’m trying to like lock this all in and make it make more sense, and give the character a better motive for why the adult is acting so poorly. As I’m getting more into it, I’m wondering, in my mind at first Annalise was six or seven or eight, six to eight, but I think that it would be a lot more interesting if she was a little bit older so that we could explore more themes of her being like, “well, Shanna, you were the one in charge, where were you? I couldn’t find you when it went up in fire!”
I want this to be set somewhere in the 90s probably because you couldn’t have just called. Kids have phones now. The kids that I nanny have phones. So it would have to be in a situation where she didn’t have access to a phone. Otherwise, she could have called 911.
And I think me realizing what age she is, when I’m almost five minutes into a seven-minute scene, really goes to show that for me it’s really important to plot and plan characters out. I know a lot of people like to just write off the cuff, and that’s great. But I much prefer to have structure, because if I knew that she was more 10, and she could have adult conversations, then I would have been able to use those themes earlier on in this timed exercise. So, I’m going to have Annalise be like, “It’s not my fault, it’s your fault! You’re the one who’s in charge!”
Seven minutes. We’re at seven minutes now. Seven minutes and three seconds.
As I continued writing, I decided that I kind of think it would be really interesting if Shanna and Annalise were parallels of one another. So I want Annalise to be a very buttoned-up, conservative, serious little girl. And I want Shanna to be a disheveled, very irresponsible young adult. I think that would make the story very fun because, again, coming back to the coming of age, road trip kind of theme, then you can kind of explore that they could take things from one another. Classic. We love it.
Um, what I have so far is truly terrible.
Jus to try to get as many people as possible, I pulled two more things, two more plot points to include. We’re going to pretend that a studio exec sent me some notes and was like, “Oh, we need to include this plot point because of an advertiser that wants their product included in the script,” for funding purposes. So, we’re going to add in a “Penny in a Bottle,” that’s a plot point, and then “Weed Found in a Family Reunion.” So, I’m going to go in, and I’m going to add these plot points.
Annalise has heard before from her parents that Shanna isn’t really that responsible. Shanna is going to be like, “Well, why would they think that I was irresponsible?” And I want to Annalise to say, “They told me about the reunion.” And then I’m going to have a flashback where there’s this family reunion, and they’re all very uptight, kind of like Annalise, but then Shanna is having recreational fun.
Ok, I’m at two minutes and 55 seconds. Now I need to add in a “Penny in a Bottle.” A penny in a bottle … a penny in a bottle. I’m really not sure how to add this in here. Why do people have pennies in bottles? Hmmm. A penny in a bottle. Oh! We’ll make it a swear jar. We’ll make it a swear jar because Annalise is super buttoned up. I was thinking penny in a bottle, floating it downriver, but that just doesn’t fit in here when we’re in a car. So I’m going to go in and add in a swear jar. Ok, I actually feel kind of smart about how to tie in a penny in a bottle!
Ok, I could probably spend three hours editing this and making it fantastic. “Fantastic,” as much as a novice’s thing could get. But I actually really like this! I could actually see myself using this as a full-fledged script. I love road trip movies because it allows you to move the story into more and more bizarre places. So, if I was going to continue with this, I would probably put them in more and more ridiculous situations, and kind of pull on their themes of Annalise is too buttoned-up, and Shanna is too irresponsible.
I think this is a really good exercise in, just sit down, just write, don’t be precious about your work. Get it on the page, and then you can go back, and you can edit it. And you always have time to write. At least, every week. You could just not watch an episode of “The Office,” whether it’s seven minutes or 13 in my case.
Thank you so much for watching. Make sure you’re following SoCreate and all of their amazing resources that they have for free for screenwriters, and I’ll be back at you soon!"