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Monday, August 11, 2008

From The Comments Section

Regarding my post How to Succeed at Failing the Quik n Easy Way, a Rouge Waver wrote this:

Hi Julie,

I have read for major contests. Yes it takes 1 to 3 pages to eliminate a script. But most of these scripts are from first timers.

They are learning how to write a script. Give them a break.

So maybe you should judge them on whether they have the potential to become good writer one day.
Some writers should quit right now while others should continue and they will make it.

It's like "amateur sports", some will make it into the big league while others will pack up and go home.

Do I have a point?

Forget about finding the next Tarantino or August or Steven Zaillian for now.

If that writer shows some strong potential, he or she should advance.

Bluecat advanced scripts that were flawed by brimming with potential.

Anonymous, I concur that many entries are written by first-timers or those who would appear to be quite inexperienced. I have read for other competitions as well. I am bound and determined to make winning The Silver Screenwriting competition a meaningful accomplishment. I have heard from others who run or have run screenwriting competitions in the past that I have to lower the bar somewhat; that it's just too hard to find a really great writer in what amounts to a haystack of submissions. There are many who think that they are way better than they are, way earlier in the game and that winning a competition is a quick and easy way to kick the door down in Hollywood.

I may be old-fashioned, stubborn or deluded, but I refuse to lower the bar to include brimming with potential and a pat on the head. I have seen too many great writers in my time to do that. I know they are out there.

Of course I am looking for potential, but more than that, I am looking for an undiscovered writer, a diamond that's not all that rough. I am looking for a grand prize winner whom I can send out to 3 meetings with 3 managers with pride. It's my reputation on the line when I award the top winners of this competition. I want those who place in the Silver Screenwriting Competition to know that it is a meaningful accomplishment. You weren't the best of the worst, you were the best of the best. The worst get weeded out right away. And so do the lazy and the mediocre.

Because we do not yet have the manpower to return notes for every script, something I'd like to shoot for next year, the writers who did not advance in the first round really have no idea why. So my post, tongue-in-cheek though it may be, contains some hints as to why you may not have advanced. I can't email every entrant who didn't use sluglines and say hey, dude, use sluglines.

I am looking for the next Steve Zaillian or John August - I'm looking for a writer who did the work to deserve winning this competition. I'm looking for voice, originality, talent and discipline. And therein lies my point: if you cannot use sluglines, if you cannot write a decent action line, if you have a lot of typos or formatting issues - you are not yet ready to come off the porch and play with the big dogs. Period. Making these kinds of silly mistakes in my list of examples is inexcusable in a world where books and blogs on screenwriting are everywhere you look. A complete and total beginner should not, in my opinion, enter a competition so early on. Give it a minute. Read other scripts. Do the work. Your super neato idea may not be as neato as you think and your experience level, potential or not, will get in the way of really rocking a script.

At The Script Department, we take writers from all walks of life and from all ability levels and without personal judgment, help them improve. That you tried is good enough. What you do with your notes is your prerogative. We reward effort with honesty and encouragement.

But at The Silver Screenwriting Competition, I want the best of the best. I will not reward mediocrity. It's not fair to the good writers who also entered the competition. If I reward potential rather than someone who has nailed it, then what does winning or even placing mean?

What I have not mentioned, and it's clear I should have, are the scripts entered in the competition that I am loving. LOVING some of these entries. It's been tough to weed the great out from the truly great. I am impressed by the level of some of these submissions. Bad writing can be entertainingly funny and easy to poke fun at. Good writing blows my socks off. It's just that in this context, I can't yet speak of this or that writer or script. It ain't over til the fat lady sings.

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Anonymous said...

Damn! Steven Zaillian beats me to it. He's adapting A Thousand Splendid Suns. Guess I have to win Silver Screenwriting first :)

Julie Gray said...

Dear Anonymous, I'm too tired (see earlier post re 4:30am) to detect whether you are being sincere or sarcastic so - cupcake for you.

Maybe I'm naive, maybe in a year or three I'll have a competition that awards effort cloaked as talent, but for now, I'm stickin' to my guns.

Anonymous said...

Happy to receive cupcake from you, Julie. I'm being sincere since I'm a big fan of Zaillian and A Thousand Sun. And I'm in your competition. No sarcasm here.

Henry B said...

Maybe this is the inappropriate place to ask this, but with your service, do you read/comment/coverage on short film scripts or do you strictly deal with features only? I ask because I'm writing a short film with the intent to direct to use as my "calling card," so to speak. But then I wonder if that wasn't a waste of time (other than the writing itself, of course) and I should just concentrate on a full feature script (which btw is my intent for my short script to be part of). So what's your advice and do you read short film scripts or is too much trouble?

Anonymous said...

I broke in by placing in a contest (no, I'm not telling you which one) and I find the "reward potential" argument really perplexing. Reps were interested in meeting with me because they could rely on that contest's readers to act as gatekeepers, separating the wheat from the chaff. If you reward potential instead of rewarding great writing, what does that do besides make those with "potential" feel good about themselves? It diminishes the brand of the contest, it diminishes the value of placing, it makes reps and producers a lot less interested in reading those who do well in that contest.

So, as someone who was helped along by a contest, I say: be tough, readers. Be at least as tough as the reps reading the top scripts are going to be. (Or they won't read your top scripts next year.)

Anthony Peterson said...

Julie, stick to your guns. I would rather be rejected for the right reasons than accepted for the wrong ones. Otherwise we're all just playing games.

meg said...

As a beginner who hasn't submitted to a screenwriting contest yet I have to agree with your aims. When I finally get to the point where I do submit I want it to mean something.

E.C. Henry said...


Has any of the undiscovered contest winners that got your prized vote of approval gone on to get a script sale off the script you helped get some buzz with your recomendation?

The proof is in the puddin.' (Sorry no cupcake reference this time)

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Julie Gray said...

EC - this is the first year of the Silver Screenwriting Competition so for us - no, nobody has made a sale based on their win. In other competitions writers have gotten repped and in the case of Nicholls had films produced - Alison Anders comes to mind. But you do have to put things into perpective, E.C., in Hollywood, having placed well in a competition does not generally equal a SALE but rather an opening of doors. Meaning meetings. Introductions. Etc.

Luzid said...

What Anthony said, doubled.

Désirée said...

I agree with you Julie.

I have always had my scripts rejected. And correctly. If they had been winners because of my future potential I would not have developed as a writer because I would have thought that I was the best already.

And if a contest will have any value for future winners, quality scrips have to be presented for the producers.

PJ McIlvaine said...

Down with mediocrity!