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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thanks For Asking

There have been a flurry of outraged emails directed at myself and at the Silver Screenwriting Competition from, as far as I can tell, about two people, who have questioned the legitimacy of the Grand Prize winner, Hilary Graham due to her past experience and bio. The Outraged Emailers have asked that the Script Department Advisory Board chime in on our decision to award Hilary the Grand Prize. They have accused me of bias, of not vetting our top finalists carefully enough and of leaving my Sunday paper on the lawn for three and a half days last week until the sprinkler turned it to mulch. Mea culpa!

I am here to admit, red-faced that we have been caught out. There was bias in our decision-making. You got us. We admit all. We chose the best script.

Let me put this to bed with finality:

All submissions were read blind. Meaning we had no idea who the writers were and it didn't matter. We made our decisions based on the strength of the scripts only. Gender, location, juggling ability or pet preferences were not taken into consideration.

As part of the judging process when we got to the very top, top scripts, we of course used the same Google technology that the Outraged Emailers apparently have access to as well. And we were aware that Hilary has a pretty accomplished bio when it comes to producing and directing. So we had a decision to make.

FREEBIRD was, by far, unanimously recognized by our judges as the best script and yet Hilary has had more experience and accomplishments in producing and directing than others in the same consideration pile. We scoured the rules. We discussed it. We talked to a couple of our Advisory Board members. And we collectively decided that Hilary should not be disqualified or discriminated against because she's produced and directed in the past. The letter of the law states that she cannot have earned $8,000 for her writing. We have verified that she has not.

Our objective this year and in ensuing years is to find great scripts and reward the writer(s) with experiences and connections that can help take their writing to the next level. If we discriminate against anyone who has made a short film, produced or directed anything ever, we would then set in motion that this competition is ONLY for people at the very early stages of their writing careers.

There are always writers more connected, more experienced and more talented than you. What are you going to do about that? Be outraged and claim unfairness? Or take that as your cue to motivate and kick some serious behind on your way to success? We leave that up to you. But we do not discriminate at the Silver Screenwriting Competition, based on where you are on the curve. Don't get me wrong - we are biased. Biased toward good scripts.

End transmission.

Now get back to work.

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Dave Shepherd said...

I don't see why it's such a big deal if she's produced and directed before.

The thing is, the reward has a higher value to those who are better writers. If you're a horrible writer, you can take all the meetings you want and it's not going to make a difference.

Ergo, the reward should go to the person best suited to take advantage of it -- in this case, that'd be the best writer.

Now I'll get back to work.

Margaux Outhred said...

Thanks, Julie for posting this. As a judge for the SSC it's good clarification that, indeed, FREEBIRD, was simply a winning script, regardless of the writer's past work. (and she still fits within our rules, so, kudos to Hilary for writing a great script!! )

For those writers wondering what makes FREEBIRD so special, it was a terrific read. This script was the first one of MANY that I read that actually felt like I was reading/watching a movie, instead of reading a script. This script has the ability to pop off the page and come to life right before your eyes. Conceptually, it's not incredibily high concept, I'll say that. But, the characters are rich, the world has full dimensions, and I was entirely swept up in the ride of FREEBIRD.
The Script Department, and Julie Gray, has done a wonderful job being a company that supports and helps writers, giving tough notes and cupcakes....all with integrity. I am 100% confident that the Silver Screenwriting Competition was conducted with that same level of integrity.
We scoured the rules, as Julie said, to make sure that Hilary was still eligible, and SHE IS.
Congrats to Hilary on a terrific script. And congrats to all our finalists...we are looking forward to sending your scripts to our industry connections and trying to break more than just one writer this year. (Which is MORE than we promised, for all of you rule sticklers!!)
It's a long road to become a screenwriter, and maybe Hilary has taken a few more steps down it than others, but, she's still a writer that will benefit from this contest, and we can't wait to see where FREEBIRD takes her in the months to come!!
(And when it's your turn to shine, Mr. Angry Rule Master, we will support you with the same enthusiasm that we support Hilary.)

naomi said...

Congrats to Hilary.
And to the complainers-- how do you think people build careers? They work, improve, and keep trying until they make it. Overnight success is a myth, in this or any other business. Every successful screenwriter I've ever spoken with had a string of "smaller" accomplishments that got them noticed, opened doors, paid the bills while they continued to persevere. To complain about someone achieving something that you yourself strive for is just silly.

Anthony Peterson said...

Fair enough. I've fixed many directors mistakes in post production (wheres that cutaway? You've crossed the line! Have you even heard of continuity?).
These experiences are useful, but only a head start. You still have to sit down and write the damn thing.

Christina said...

I agree with Dave - the reward has a higher value to someone who is writing scripts that don't need a lot of work. The last thing you want to do is a select a (maybe higher concept?) script that still needs work and then send the writer to meet people when they're not ready to deliver. That just frustrates both sides at the table. I've been not ready at the table, and it's not much fun.

I just Googled the woman - she's got a great bio. She's ready.

Christian M. Howell said...

I actually find that I didn't want to win for some reason. I'm kind of jaded though because the facilitator of my writing group won Blue Cat's Sundance Lab this year with a script that didn't even place last year. The kicker: he didn't change a word.

I'm sure to your standards and sensibilities you picked the best script. Congrats to her.

I guess my thing would be to ask to read the winning scripts. You can never get your hands on those and they will be invaluable wouldn't they?

Julie Gray said...

Christian, the winning scripts do not belong to the Silver Screenwriting Competition to give to you or make public. The writers own the rights to their own work, not us. And because all 8 of the top winners are now going to get their work sent out to various managers who have requested them, it would be a very dumb move let the scripts be circulating out in the public. Of course it would be valuable to read them. With the writer's permission. Best thing to do is to read produced scripts.

E.C. Henry said...

Sorry you have to go through all this b.s. Julie. Even if you're bias, the whole thing is someone somewhere gets some well desirved EXPOSURE. Sour losers abound. Sad but true. Thanks for sponsoring the competition. Hopefully someone will reap the ultimate benefit out of this, and get their script made into a movie.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA