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The Northern Virginia International Film Festival or “NOVA” showcases independent films and screenplays from across the world.

Successful screenwriters come from a variety of surprising places. For example, famed director and writer Quentin Tarantino got his start by writing “My Best Friend’s Birthday” while working at a video rental store. West Virginia University pharmacy grad student Joseph Fama finds himself in a similar situation, writing an award winning screenplay while spending his days working in hospital rotations.

Fama has written a short screenplay titled “Townhouse of Doom.” The screenplay has won many accolades at different film festivals. It has just been announced as a finalist for Best Comedy Screenplay Under 20 Pages at the Northern Virginia International Film Festival.

“Townhouse of Doom” follows a man who stars on a cooking show. Unfortunately, he isn’t very good at cooking. He receives an invitation to go to a house and finds it has a monster inside. With the exception of the main character, most of the cast consists of puppets.

“I’ve been writing for a really long time since high school,” Fama said. “I started working on this screenplay my first year of pharmacy school, about four years ago.”

A big challenge writing “Townhouse of Doom” was finding time to sit down and actually write. Working toward a doctorate in pharmacology is a big time sink, so Fama had to write in the little spare time he had.

Inspiration for his story was drawn from long nights spent binge-watching low budget horror films on Netflix. Fama would critique the films as he watched them, thinking about what he could add to make them funnier.

“I would think ‘oh, I don’t like how traditional monsters looked,’ so I decided it would be funny to make a screenplay where the monster was a puppet,” Fama said.

A lot of the humor is based around the mostly puppet cast of the screenplay.

“I think (the comedy) is because it’s so unique, so different than other stuff,” Fama said. “There are a lot of great writers out there, but I think it’s because it’s different and unique. You’re making a horror comedy with puppets.”

“Townhouse of Doom” has a lot of twists and turns in the plot according to Fama.

Writing the lauded screenplay was an ongoing process. After writing the first version of the screenplay, Fama handed it out to friends. As he received feedback he made edits, ramping up the humor and fixing parts that didn’t work so well. Reaching the 15 page final product took a long time.

Some aspects of writing were more difficult than others for Fama.

“I come up with these great endings and these great beginnings,” Fama said. “It’s getting the characters from the beginning to the end while keeping it interesting, that’s tough.”

For Fama, writing in humor is the easiest part.

Moving forward, Fama is planning to crowdfund his movie to get it produced. He is also planning to continue work on another screenplay of his, titled “Donating in Vein.” The screenplay won third place at the Downbeach Film Festival in Atlantic City.

Fama hopes other WVU students take advantage of the Northern Virginia International Film Festival. He feels it is a great event that offers amateur writers a launching point into the spotlight.