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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Aftermath

It has been fun sharing the experience, good and bad, of running the Silver Screenwriting competition with Rouge Wavers. I hope it has also been informative and interesting to read about.

I'm so happy it's over. It has taken hours and weeks out of my life for the past several months. And it's not quite over. Now I need to get the prizes to every one, and in particular, arrange for Hilary Graham's fabulous trip to LA. There are a lot of individuals whose schedules I have to now coordinate. And all of this is in addition to all the other stuff I do; table reads, reader classes, private consulting, administrating my readers, paying my readers, making all of our clients happy. And posting on the Rouge Wave daily. Calgon, take me away.

I am interviewing two assistants this week and glory hallelujah, not a moment too soon. And these are former studio assistants so wow, I will be the nicest boss ever by comparison. I will be a cupcake walk.

But I digress. The competition. It was like giving birth - right now I am so drained, I feel like I WILL NEVER DO IT AGAIN. But I know that come next spring, I will forget the tough parts and remember the cool parts and do it again with the same enthusiasm.

The best part: calling the semi-finalists and then calling the winners. To hear their joy and excitement made me smile all over. What a great feeling.

The worst part: getting a handful of emails from disgruntled entrants asking WHY THE HELL they didn't place and accusing me of a variety of sins ranging from stupidity to unfairness to not taking risks.

What I did not expect: how tough it was to learn to administrate the electronic script submission system we used which was prone to glitches and hiccups.

Gut instinct that proved true: when we finally just had all the scripts printed on paper so we could stack them up, flip through them one by one and sort of feel the weight of them in our hands. We wanted to be a totally paperless competition, and initially we were, but in the end game, I really liked having the physical scripts in front of me.

Weird Fact: I still have dozens and dozens of the scripts stacked up in my house. It's like Grey Gardens over here. I kind of like it. I feel like a librarian.

Genre Breakdown Fact Sheet:

Freebird (teen coming-of-age comedy)
De-Haunters (comedy/horror)
Orchard (horror)
Blood Snow (drama)
Influence (horror)
Snilderholden’s Jungle (family)
Sleeping with the Lutefisk (black comedy)
Unsigned: The Feature (comedy)

The myth: That we or any competition rewarded certain genres more than others. If message board regulars want to run statistics and create some kind of mystique around the genres selected, they can, I guess.

The truth: Only bottom-line for the winning scripts: effing entertaining, chock full o' voice and in the case of the top 3 winners - a lot of commercial potential. Meaning, quite competitive on the market as is, right now.

Number of fun, funny, companionable discussions we had about scripts: A LOT. Very fun to discuss a script's merits in a round-table setting. And very cool to see the points upon which we agreed.

Number of discussions that got a little intense because we disagreed about a particular script: More than I would have imagined. But ultimately, majority rules. None of us were ego-invested and we learned that at a certain point, subjectivity comes into it. There was one script in particular that I really loved that did not make the top round. My peers did not feel the same way I did about the script. Oh. Well.

What we ate when we judged together: Stella Artois and home cooked food. No candy, no Red Bull, no take-out. I like to cook, what can I say. And it was a good and fun excuse to do so.

How satisfying it is to toss a script into a cardboard box (good or bad) with finality: VERY.

What I am very proud of: That with the exception of the qf announcement, we met our announcement deadlines more than on time - we were early. I keep my ear to the rail of what writers are talking about and I noticed several other competitions that pushed their announcement dates again and again. I put myself and my judges and readers through the WRINGER so that didn't happen to us. I figure that you paid to be in the competition and we owe you our best. Maybe I am naive, maybe when we get thousands of scripts I'll see that it's not so easy. But I like to imagine the best possible outcome in everything I do.

What I would do differently next year: We still haven't done our post mortem but I would rather have fewer deadline dates. I'm not sure if I liked the initial paperless thing. I have to weigh the pleasure I take in the actual, physical weight of a script against environmental concerns. I would like to announce a little earlier in the year so that our winner comes out to LA smack dab in the middle of spec season. This time of year is fine but a little earlier is better.

If any Wavers have any suggestions or a wish list for the perfect competition, please email me HERE. This is a competition BY readers FOR writers and while we can't take every suggestion, I'd be interested in knowing how we can serve you better.

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Anonymous said...

Hum... I think you ran a pretty flawless competition there. Not sure how you handle it when the entries come in in thousands? Whatever your solution is, don't become Bluecat. I heard they hire readers for $10 a pop. If that's true, I don't know if I want to enter Bluecat next year.

Julie Gray said...

Yes, things will get more complicated when the number of scripts is significantly higher. So I shouldn't be too cocky; we had it relatively easy. But I also am a firm believer in aiming high. Well, $10 a pop for a competition reader is, unfortunately, the going rate. For newbie readers it's a way to cut their teeth. Blue Cat is not at all unique in this pay rate. It's what we paid too. The difference for us is that we used experienced readers who were loyal enough and cool enough to take that rate when they normally get six times as much. We didn't use any inexperienced readers. I am currently nursing a fantasy that next year we can also include like one paragraph of explanatory notes with each script. But that presents an administrative nightmare. And guess who will be in charge of that? Yours truly.And I don't get paid for my time at all. So...I'll think about that one. I need to find a coding or excel whiz who might be interested in trading script notes for creating a system for us that all the readers can share so they can quickly type up a quick paragraph as they judge each script. We'll see. Don't want to bite off too much and then turn into a Cat Lady wreck and have to push announcement dates. It's about finding balance between what is reasonably possible for Jim and I and what works best for the entrants.

Emily Blake said...

I'm sorry people yelled at you because they didn't win. They are idiots.

Anonymous said...

Hey Emily,

We did not yell and I have placed in QF and SF in other contests. Just lost in this contest. I will apply again.

In this screenwriting business we have guys that enjoy movies like "The Matrix" with tons of action and a "hot" heroine/actress. There is nothing wrong with that.

And then there are ladies who like movies like "Thelma and Louise" and "Atonement" and "The Notebook" and "Moulin Rouge". I am a guy and I love those movies.

Since I'm paying some money to enter a contest, I have the right to speak my mind or file a complaint.

Once again, I was not yelling.

$40 or $50 is hard to come by for some single parents, that's our grocery money, so I have to be careful.

I am working hard to make it as a screenwriter and sometimes I find some contests confusing.

But Julie's contest so far is well-managed and professional.


Dave Shepherd said...

Two things I think would be interesting:

1. Loglines for the finalists/winning scripts. I don't know if that's possible for legal issues or what have you. But I think it'd be neat.

2. Small bios on the finalists/winning writers. Something to the effect of _____ graduated from _____ with a degree in ______, has been writing for x years, favorite screenplay (not movie) is ______.

I just think it'd be interesting to see the different backgrounds. Plus, if the writers aren't first timers, then it shows those who are that you do have to put the time in to become good, there's no such thing as an over-night success.

Julie Gray said...

LOVE that suggestion, Dave!!

Luzid said...

Adding to Dave's excellent suggestions (especially the loglines): even if feedback can't be given with each script, how about a simple rating system with categories?

That would help those who didn't place to at least see where we stack up. When you don't place, you don't know if it's just barely or not-even-close.

Subjectivity in judging would remain, but there would be a better sense of, well, closure.

Julie Gray said...

That's a great question, Anthony! Post it on the RWII :)

Anonymous said...

Is your winner, Hilary Graham, the same woman who competed on "On The Lot"? If so, here's her bio:

"Hilary Weisman Graham is an Emmy-nominated broadcast television producer and independent filmmaker. She has written, directed and produced two feature films, and numerous shorts. Her two features, "Life's Too Good" (1994) and "I Love My Movie" (1999), have screened at film festivals and museums on three continents. "I Love My Movie" aired on WGBH (PBS in Boston) in 1999 and 2000 and has garnered several awards, including a Silver Medal for Comedy at the Worldfest Houston. Her television credits include producing and editing for WMUR-TV's nightly half-hour program "Chronicle", the nationally syndicated television show "Wild Web" (CBS/Eyemark), as well as freelance work for The Discovery Health Channel, “Access Hollywood”, A&E, and PBS's "Zoom”. She is also a member of the juried NH State Council on the Arts’ Artist Roster."

If so, how on earth does she fit in these contest rules?

"No applicant may have earned money or other consideration as a screenwriter for theatrical films or television, or for the sale of, or sale of an option to, any original story, treatment, screenplay or teleplay for more than $8,000. Applicants may not have received a screenwriting fellowship or prize which includes a “first look” clause, an option or any other quid pro quo involving the writer's work."

Were the 500 amateurs competing against a pro?