There’s no way to express the shock and enjoyment of receiving much love from many people regarding the recent Spotlight on New England First Prize Award for my screenplay Fight or Play Basketball in the Rhode Island International Film Festival screenwriting competition.
There are many, many great screenwriters who put in a lot of hours working hard on their scripts to enter this festival. From my understanding there were 433 total screenplays entered, then 31 semi-finalists announced and from that pool of 31 was divided into categories based on length and genre. From the 31, 10 scripts were then chosen as finalists who each won an award, passes to next year’s festival and a worthy gift packet specialized for screenwriters (including the awesome Final Draft 9 program). My buddy Duncan Putney, also from Rhode Island, won Grand Prize for his script Rogue Island in our category and Fight or Basketball won First Prize. A full list of winners is below.
Fight or Play Basketball script was eligible and selected for the Spotlight on New England feature length category because the story takes place in the state of Rhode Island. Locations like Twin River Casino in Lincoln, New York System restaurant on Smith Hill, the campus of the elite Providence College, Camille’s Restaurant on Federal Hill, a high school basketball game featuring North Providence vs. East Greenwich, an outdoor park on the Pawtucket / Providence line etc. In short, I wrote what I know. I know Rhode Island.
This story came from a place of being a fan. A fan of Sylvester Stallone. You see, I originally started writing Fight or Play Basketball in the 4am hour as what I was literally calling ROCKY 7. This shows you that I was somewhat tired, somewhat delusional and somewhat just having fun. Writers, like all people, are “allowed” some fun too. This also shows that I was and am heavily influenced by Stallone and the Rocky movies.
I actually took it upon myself to look up and find Stallone’s management and inquire “what it would take” for me to have the rights and/or permission to write ROCKY 7 on spec (speculation). Stallone’s management actually was nice enough to return my phone call and the basic one word answer was “money”.
So there went ROCKY 7. (At the time, I was unaware of the CREED project, which is, more or less, ROCKY 7 at this point.)
However, I was already emotionally invested in my story. With a few swipes of the keyboard, “Rocky” became Sweet Sugar Brown, a former heavyweight contender, who lost his shot at the title in a highly disputed draw. An old school brawler and knockout artist turned lovable and boisterous gruff. Think George Foreman on a bad day.
Sweet Sugar is hounded by Paveli “Punch” Pagora, a light heavyweight from Slovenia, who wants to be trained by the big man in Providence, meaning Sweet Sugar. When these two guys meet for the first time, there is instant chemistry, kind of like Luke and Yoda if Yoda was a very large black man with no tolerance for an “immigrant” from Eastern Europe like Punch.
Just as we are learning the dynamic of these two guys, we discover a beautiful middle aged lady up against the ropes in her own way. Janet Trap is a single mom to her teenage son and hard as nails when it comes to working hard and providing. When Janet is almost mugged, Punch and Sweet Sugar happen to be leaving Sweet’s gym and rescue her. This sets up a love triangle between Janet and her two would-be suitors. Ultimately, Janet is more interested in what is best for her son.
This brings us to Jack Scratch, the focal point of Fight or Play Basketball. Jack is a high school basketball star, who is on the verge of a college scholarship. The world is soon to be his oyster, having earned that scholarship through his gifts on the basketball court. Seeing a need for his mom to have some fun, Jack takes the ball into his own hands and checks out Sweet Sugar and Punch at Sweet’s gym. Yet, something odd happens.
Jack finds himself enamored by the sweet science. He also finds that subconscious need for a father figure lurking somewhere in that gym. It may be Sugar or it may be Punch, but someone will be the guiding force that Jack needs. This upsets Coach Steele, Jack’s high school basketball coach, who senses that Jack is throwing away his future and letting down his teammates by risking injury in boxing. It also pisses off Jack’s mom, who says her son is not a fighter. She doesn’t want him to lose his future either.
Punch and Sweet have their own problems and both men fight these challenges nobly. Janet finds herself torn between them and enjoys their attention while at the same time wanting her son to stay away from boxing. These are good men, but boxing is not a good sport, according to Janet. At least not for her son, not now.
Punch and Sweet both try to protect Jack from the underside of the city, and the sport they love, which includes an underground fight racket, while still realizing the kid does have potential. He could really be something, in the sport of boxing, if he were to put his mind, body and soul into it.
A college girl named Sandy is a slight diversion for Jack and she sees potential in him and likes his raw energy, and his cute confidence that hides behind a layer of awkwardness around her. Sandy is another good reason to keep playing basketball, because a college scholarship for basketball would get him in her “class” so to speak.
Under Punch’s supervision, Jack enters the Ocean State Teen Amateur Boxing Tournament and faces Bobby Studd in the finals, who is trained by Sweet Sugar. However, the big fight is on the same day as the big game in basketball.
Jack realizes sometimes in life, you have to do what’s best for yourself. You have to choose who to let down. You have to follow your heart and your passion. But what if you have two passions that conflict with each other? What do you do then?
Ultimately, Jack must weight his options and choose for himself. Fight or Play Basketball.
To me, it is a very high honor to receive this award, given the amount of entries and the high criteria to place so high. On a personal level, I can say that this script in some ways did “write itself” because the characters of Janet, Punch, Sweet Sugar Brown, Jack, Coach Steele and the many multi-cultural and age variant supporting characters really came out of somewhere, but not from a manipulated or orchestrated “index card struggle” of a process, Syd Field and Robert McKee be damned (screenwriter humor).
In short, I’ve written many screenplays that I’ve tried to push as feature films myself. Maybe those scripts weren’t and still aren’t quite ready. I am confident when the time comes, all these scripts, including Wrestling With Sanity and Chris and the Coffee Girl, will come to fruition and be fully produced. My current project of Distance from Avalon has good mojo to it, as is evidenced by our teaser and also by its predecessor sister project Disregard the Vampire – a Mike Messier Documentary. For those who have followed my work, the upswings and the down times, you know that I never quit, even despite myself. Never surrender.
So to receive a surprising accolade for Fight or Play Basketball is a certain charm, a certain awareness that perhaps this underdog of a script, overlooked by its own creator is truly the “youngest child” that will bring attention to the whole family. I am mixing metaphors at this point. It’s 3:37 am.
In any event, this is a big deal for me and I appreciate all the support for those that have stood by me. I’d like to thank my writing group Writers of Wickenden (Raeshelle Cooke, Mark Keller, Carl Dupre and co-founder Court Fisk among other guests). Mary DeBerry, Anne Murray, Anne Mulhall and Creusa Michellazo who have supported me for several years and my new buddies like David Gere, Tommy DeNucci, Sam Eilertsen, and Jonathon Delponte at Woodhaven Media who have encouraged me to raise my game in the last 18 months.
I’d like to thank my film teachers Barry Primus, Tom Kane, Steve Fierberg, Howard Fine, and Larry Moss among others and my parents and family who have supported me in many ways with special notice to Nadine Messier for her great graphic design work for many of my projects. And to thank all my friends “in person” like Jose Guns Alves, Mauro Canepa, Lawrence O’ Leary, David Graziano, Scorpio, and Mary Paolino and “on social media” like Sandy Fogell and Roger Dale Snyder and who sometimes overlap and sometimes don’t but are always appreciated. I have many friends and I’d like to thank them all, some going back to elementary school even.
I’d like to thank the Actors I’ve worked with both as an Actor and an Acting Coach and all my collaborators like Tim Labonte on different projects, both the ones completed and the ones “in development”. Never surrender. Thanks to Tony Demings and The Brooklyn Coffee and Tea House and all the Coffee Houses throughout the state that tolerate me writing for several hours on end. Finally, thanks to the Rhode Island International Film Festival and their organizers George Marshall and Shawn Quirk, associates and crew. It’s hard work to put together a festival of RIIFF’s magnitude and I really appreciate it.
Although writing may be seen as a singular activity, life is not. And without life, there is no writer and there is no screenplay. Therefore, the script is only as good as the people that share the magic of life with the writer. I would then say writing, by definition, is a sum of the parts, and the community I share within Rhode Island and New England share this award with me. Fight or Play Basketball.
From the RIIFF Screenplay Competition Press Release:
“What an amazing year for storytelling and our screenplay competition. This year’s entries were compelling and engaging, and were scored on criteria that included character, dialogue, setting, plot and technique,” added Quirk. “We reviewed the largest entry base in competition’s history – 431 submissions — making for difficult decision-making on the part of our international group of judges.”
“After extensive and careful deliberation, prize winners were chosen in six distinct categories: Best Screenplay, Best International, Vortex Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror, Best LGBTQ, Spotlight on New England and Best Short Screenplay,” Quirk noted.
“Our sincere congratulations to this year’s winners,” stated George T. Marshall. “This competition has introduced us to some of the world’s brightest and most talented writers in the craft.”
THE 2015 PRIZE WINNERS:
BEST SCREENPLAY GRAND PRIZE
Grand Prize: Galapagos Written by: Lukas Hassel, New York, NY
First Place: Welcome to Camelot Written by: Rachel Goldberg, Burbank, CA.
INTERNATIONAL SCREENPLAY Grand Prize: The Searcher Written by: Can Kutay, Turkey
First Place: True Religion Written by: Kara Smith, London, UK
VORTEX HORROR/SCI-FI SCREENPLAY
Grand Prize: Stem Written by: Iqbal Ahmed, Los Angeles, CA
BARREN BRANCHES LGBTQ SCREENPLAY
Grand Prize: Halle Written by: Ben Hatt, Los Angeles, CA
SPOTLIGHT ON NEW ENGLAND
Grand Prize: Rogue Island Written by: Duncan Putney, Providence, RI
First Prize: Fight or Play Basketball Written by: Mike Messier, Providence, RI
Grand Prize: The Red Chair Written by: Alyssa Rallo Bennett, New York, NY
First Place: Doretha’s Blues Written by: Channing Godfrey Peoples, Los Angeles, CA
Prizes awarded to the winners of the screenplay competition (which vary with the specific screenplay category) include: a free year of screenplay promotion services to the winners, through ScreenwriterShowcase.com; 1 Script Listing and 1 Magazine Listing from InkTip; a 1-year Writers Database membership from Script Pipeline; Final Draft software featuring Final Draft Screenwriting Suites; and Passes to the 2016 FLICKERS: Rhode Island International Film Festival and the ScriptBiz™ Screenwriter’s Workshop.
Producers/ film financiers interested in optioning, producing or funding Fight or Play Basketball, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Thank you Providence” – from the song “Thank You” by Alanis Morissette
- Mike Messier, November 2, 2015