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ConVal student wins screenwriting prize

Elyssa Harrington took home top honors — and a $1,000 scholarship — at the Monadnock International Film Festival

  • ConVal senior Elyssa Harrington won a $1,000 scholarship and a screenwriting software from the Monadnock International Film Festival in April
  • ConVal senior Elyssa Harrington won a $1,000 scholarship and a screenwriting software from the Monadnock International Film Festival in April
  • ConVal senior Elyssa Harrington won a $1,000 scholarship and a screenwriting software from the Monadnock International Film Festival in April

Elyssa Harrington wasn’t sure what to expect when she signed on for an 18-week seminar on screenwriting near the start of her senior year at ConVal High School. All she knew was that she likes to write, that filmmaker Aaron Wiederspahn would be leading the sessions, that they’d be held during a free block... and no grades would be handed out.

“It’s great to do something just for fun, that you’re not being graded on,” Harrington said recently, sitting in a quiet corner of the school’s library. “Aaron was really cool. He wasn’t an instructor. He was more like a friend, a guiding figure. He told how he’d work through problems when he was writing.”

Harrington, 17, who lives in Peterborough, said the group started with about 20 students. Five or six of them stuck with the program, which met twice a week for 45-minute periods, to produce a final script. Four of the ConVal screenwriters were finalists in a scholarship contest that was part of the recent Monadnock International Film Festival, and Harrington’s script, titled “A Can of Sardines and A Can of Beer,” was chosen as the winner.

She received a $1,000 scholarship and her own copy of Final Draft screenwriting software, the professional program that Wiederspahn had students use.

Her screenplay started off as “a quirky romance, about a Satanic milkman,” said Harrington. The story evolved as she wrote, telling the story of a relationship between Steven and Margaret, two characters who are quite different.

“He’s a pagan; he raises goats — there’s some symbolism,” Harrington said. “The woman, Margaret, she’s very religious. There’s a homeless man on a bench, too. That’s a depiction of God.”

The eight-page script concludes with a scene of Steven and Margaret together, sitting holding hands on his couch.

“At the end they are together, but it’s left very open-ended,” Harrington said.

She said she has no plans to actually perform the play, although she enjoyed reading all the scripts that the students produced.

“I’m definitely not an actor,” she said. “I just like to write. This would need a little more work.”

Harrington said she learned a lot during the screenwriting seminars, which were a new program this year sponsored by MonIFF, which was in its second year of operation.

The students started the program by talking about movies they liked with Wiederspahn, whose most recent feature film “Only Daughter” was named best New Hampshire film at last year’s N.H. Film Festival, where Wiederspahn was named filmmaker of the year. They shared ideas with each other, read scripts and learned ways to structure their stories. They also practiced writing scenes quickly, reading them aloud and critiquing them.

Harrington said her initial drafts were all handwritten, but she really enjoyed it when they got to use the Final Draft program.

“We were able to figure out how to make them look really professional,” she said about the screenplays.

Harrington said she may pass the Final Draft software that she won on to one of her fellow screenwriters and classmate, Liam Healey.

“His script was really good,” she said.

As for the $1,000 scholarship, Harrington’s not yet sure how she’ll use it.

“I may be planning to get residency in Massachusetts and go to college down there,” she said. “I’m interested in early childhood education, or I’d maybe like to be an art teacher.”

Whatever she does, she plans to continue to write on the side.

“That’s something I’ll always love to do,” she said. “I have a lot of ideas built up.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or

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