Given the month, it seems appropriate to announce that screenwriting student Andrew Messersmith’s screenplay May is for Mayhem was selected as a finalist in this year’s LA Comedy Fest. Andrew has been developing the screenplay under the tutelage of NYFA instructors as well as student feedback. One of his teachers, Gil McDonald had this to say about Andrew and his development of May is for Mayhem.
For a first time feature writer combining elements of Neo Nazis, Martians, Yeti’s, and 1980’s Arnold Schwarzenegger inspired characters and one-liners, I feared he would become overwhelmed. But Andrew was fearless and used the challenge to fuel his creativity.
There was a no-holds-barred approach to the meticulous execution of his script. I couldn’t be more proud of the way it turned out. It is no wonder to me that his work is garnering attention from festivals. I believe this is the start to something very special for Andrew.
I’m always inspired to see students reach their full potential. When I see real potential in students, I often seek out three positive traits: Passion, Persistence, and Punctuality. Andrew has them all. The best thing I could say about him is that he’s a consummate professional, and I wish him the very best of luck with his burgeoning career. ~ Gil McDonald
The feeling of was mutual for Andrew. He credits his finished product on the environment and advice from the faculty and students at the New York Film Academy. Here is what Andrew had to say about his experience in NYFA’s Screenwriting Program.
May is for Mayhem. It all started as a joke; which is kind of fitting given the nature of my first feature script. I had to write a full treatment as a final project for my Feature Screenplay class. Months of developing different ideas had gone by, but none of them were anywhere near being close to what I wanted. I thought, “Hell with it. If I’m going to write something it might as well be me being myself on the page.” So, three hours before it was due I sat down and knocked out 8 pages of pure me. When I presented it in class everyone laughed. Well, everyone except for the instructor. That’s how I knew it was something worth developing. I love making people angry with humor — I get a twisted kick out of it.
The next year I had Feature Screenplay II and my new instructor, Andrew Shearer, was a big supporter of May is for Mayhem. I have always loved action movies and today they…well they could be better. There are a few exceptions, of course. But let’s be honest, the standards nowadays are pretty low. This lack of great action films is what partially inspired me to become a filmmaker. I want to make films about great characters that get wrapped up in all this chaos. You know, a lot like how life likes to randomly dump a colossal mountain of hate on you at the worst possible moment. But the biggest thing missing in action films today are strong characters. That’s what I really focused on with this script: character. Mr. Mayhem isn’t just some invincible commando who gets the chick in the end. He’s a major screw up who must overcome his massive failure before getting the chick in the end. And there are aliens. Lots of aliens.
Anyways…writing action is tough because it’s really easy to get wrapped up in all the action and deviate from the characters and their personal conflicts. Andrew Shearer really helped me keep my focus on the character. I should also note that, since this is also a comedy, I discovered that it’s really difficult to keep the comedy tied in with the characters and the plot; as opposed to just making random jokes that are funny but ultimately have nothing to do with the story. My fellow classmates were a great help when it came to testing and sculpting the style of humor. So a big shout out to Gabi Zogall, Chris Dias, Ryan Lopez, Luca Brinciotti, Art Vargas, and Massiel Corderita.
Feature Screenplay II ends right when you finish the first half of the script. Feature Screenplay III is meant to help you finish it. The only thing is, Screenplay III is an elective. I encourage anyone who is writing a feature screenplay to take this class like I did. Not just because it forces you to keep writing, but also because it’s a great opportunity to continue getting some feedback and guidance from a good instructor and experienced screenwriter. I had Gil McDonald for Feature Screenplay III, and I couldn’t be more thankful for his help. In addition to finishing my script, I got a lot of great tips on how to stay focused. Gil is all about having a system and being organized. “Look at your treatment and your beat-sheet. You made them for a reason.” That’s what he used to say and he couldn’t be more right. You think you have it all in your head but really you do need to have all of your notes next to you when you write. Gil helped me stay organized and his support for my script really pushed me to finish it.
Back in Screenplay II, Andrew Shearer had strongly encouraged me to send a final draft to the LA Comedy Festival. They have a screenwriting competition that gets screenplays a lot of attention. The fact that he encouraged me to do this gave me a lot of confidence in my script. Soon enough, I sent it off when it was done. A few months had gone by and I was getting a lot of rejection letters from other festivals I had submitted one of my films to. I was beginning to think that my script would probably suffer the same fate. One late night I was staring at my white board. It had a list of all the festivals I had entered and every name had a big “X” and the word “DECLINED” written in red next to it. It was not a great night. Right before going to bed I decided to give my gmail one last quick look and there it was: an email from the LA Comedy Festival. I thought, “alright let’s get this over with.” But the first thing I saw was “Congratulations.” I had a little freak out and couldn’t believe it. I read that email probably ten times before I accepted it. My script, May is for Mayhem, was a finalist at the LA Comedy Festival screenwriting competition! The first thing I did was email Andrew and Gil to share the good news.
I didn’t really get a chance to attend the festival. I was booked on some shoots practically everyday but I manage to go to the kick-off party and keep the awards night open. To be honest, I’m not a party guy. But I needed to grab my All-Access Passes and they were serving free drinks. I got a few sips before I managed to drop my hard lemonade at the event and break the bottle all over the floor, effectively embarrassing myself in front of many industry professionals. That was around the time I grabbed my complimentary All-Access Passes and snuck out before someone asked me my name. The awards night was happening at the same time as the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight. I really wanted to watch the fight but I also didn’t want to miss out on possibly winning and not being there. Sadly, my fate that night was much like Manny Pacquio’s: I didn’t win. But it was announced at the festival that normally there were three screenplay finalists, this season there were EIGHT. Apparently there was also much debate over who should’ve won. Sufficed to say I was up against some pretty tough competition. Nonetheless, it was an honor to be selected as a finalist. Especially since May is for Mayhem was the first feature screenplay I have ever written, and I submitted the first draft.
Though I did not win I am very grateful for how far I came with this screenplay. I am also very thankful for Andrew Shearer, Gil McDonald and my fellow classmates for all their help and support. This script wouldn’t be what it is without those guys. Right now I’m still reworking Mayhem and exploring the option of getting it made into a graphic novel. With any luck, it might build a fan base from that and hopefully from there it might one day get picked up and made into a movie. That would be incredible! I’d like to encourage anyone who is aspiring to become a screenwriter or filmmaker to keep your ideas alive; no matter how long it takes! If you’re passionate about an idea, then don’t stop building it. In the end, nothing else will make you happier and being a regretful, sad person sucks. I accomplished a lot with this script in a short amount of time and I’d like to keep that going. After all, where would the world be without.. MAYHEM?!