WINDBER — Five days and a 102-page completed script later, two writers have been "paroled" from the Grand Midway Hotel.
Chris Mancuso and Brian J. Cano were "freed" Saturday by their jailer — creative mind and owner of the Windber landmark, Blair Murphy, the man behind the "Writer's Jail."
Chained up and locked up in the unheated hotel, Mancuso and Cano were forced to do what they had been struggling with for some time — writing, and only writing. Both men are seasoned writers, directors and actors from Staten Island, N.Y., but had been struggling to find the time and focus of late to apply their craft.
Enter Murphy, his Grand Midway and his creative solutions to creative problems.
"They served their sentence with flying colors," Murphy said.
The writers finished the week with a 102-page completed script.
"At 3:23 a.m. (Saturday), I got to type 'the end,'" Mancuso said. "It was such a great feeling. I'm feeling pretty triumphant."
Besides co-starring in the show "Scared!" with Mancuso, Cano is the tech manager for the SyFy Channel's show "Haunted Collector." The two are longtime friends of Murphy, who bought the Grand Midway in 2001 after working for several years in the film industry.
The writers interacted and sought ideas from friends and fans throughout the week on the Grand Midway Hotel's Facebook page, which received more than 100 comments and more than 1,000 "likes" for the project. Fans also suggested rewards for the writers, along with punishments.
Cano said he and Mancuso had been talking about this idea for years with Murphy, being locked away in the creepy, cold, former hotel, kind of like Jack Nicholson's character in "The Shining," but without anyone getting killed.
"We got to see, as writers, if we could do what we set out to do," Cano said.
The writers encountered made-up characters like the Mysterious Russian, Chuck the Calligrapher and Rob the Plagiarizer. They also dealt with the stench of dead fish for a time, thanks to a punishment suggested by Facebook fans.
"This social experiment, the first of its kind, I'd call it a fantastic success," Cano said.
The writers were in such good spirits, Cano didn't even mind the parking ticket he found on his car after his "parole" Saturday.
"That was kind of ironic, I think," Cano said.
Because of the time and effort that went into this, Murphy said it will be a while before he tries another Writer's Jail.
"We'll see," Murphy said. "More will come of it."