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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Competition Criteria

Dear Rouge Wave:

Love your blog, it's a raft of rationality, creativity, and intelligence amidst a sea of screenwriting blather...

But I'm not sure if the screenwriting contest is worth entering.

Because the finalists and winners in these contest are virtually never commercially viable.

I know there are (rare) exceptions, but the scripts that do well almost always seem to be "small" family dramas, period pieces about obscure historical figures, and quirky indie dramas.
None of which will have CAA or the major studios knocking at my door.

So, my question is...Will your contest be any different? More specifically, will marketplace viability be an important criterion?

-Skeptical in Saskatoon

Dear Skeptical:

Not sure if you read the interview just a couple of days ago with Brian Schornak of Back Lot Productions. SUNSHINE CLEANING - a very quirky indie - won a competition, was produced and had a wide release. So quirky indie scripts can do very well.

The criteria for judging scripts at the Silver Screenwriting Competition are simple: We are looking for talented writers with unique voices, entertaining and original scripts executed beautifully. Ergo, a potential career that lies ahead. That is why the prize, outside of some fun things like an iPhone and MacBook Air, is a trip to LA to meet with managers and an A-list writer.

Competition-winning scripts that meet those criteria will absolutely have CAA or ICM knocking on your door. Voice and talent are the holy grail, my friend. When you say commercially viable, I'm not sure what you really mean - over and over again we see funky scripts (JUNO, LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and SUNSHINE CLEANING, to name a few) that were totally commercially viable. If we got a big action thriller at the Silver Screenwriting Competition that met the criteria I mentioned a moment ago, it would climb up the ladder very quickly and yes, would be even more attractive than a quirky drama - to some buyers. But any script that has won a competition is something that attracts agents and managers because, as Brian said in his interview, this is an automatic sorting system. Of thousands of scripts submitted, this writer has proven that he or she is in the top 1% in originality, execution and voice - regardless of the genre or "commercial viability."

If there's one thing I know for sure about Hollywood, it's that agents, managers and producers are always looking for fresh, new writers. That I can say for a fact. New writers with new voices and unique stories are HOT. Everybody wants to say they discovered you.

But screenwriting is not a sprint, it is a marathon. If you enter a competition and win (or at least place in the top five), you have just been anointed, validated and confirmed with talent. You have a script that can get you the attention you need to get meetings and get noticed. If your criteria for entering a competition is that the script should then get you immediately repped and sold - well, you might be thinking in sprint mentality. The point is to build a fan base and to get out there and noticed as a promising writer. There is no silver bullet. You still have to have the goods - ongoing.

And there's so much at play. If you go through the list of writers who have won competitions for the past five years say, and researched each one and found out which one subsequently sold that script or subsequently sold a script or subsequently was repped without selling any script and is getting open assignment work, you'd probably see a relatively small number. Why? Because now we come into some variables: Did the writer make the good decisions necessary to leverage that win into meetings? Did that writer have a body of work to back up that win? Did or does the writer live in Los Angeles and get out there to meetings? Did the writer follow up the winning script with another, even better script?

There are a lot of variables; and, like a lunar eclipse, things have to line up just so for a win to really get the writer the traction they need to build a career.

Let me say it again: There is NO silver bullet, quick fix or easy way in. A competition win is hugely validating and energizing. But it now gives the writer a new set of challenges. Can you leverage the win? Can you write something that great again? And again? Can you get into meetings and be good in a room?

Winning a competition is a great way to get your foot in the door and then kick some serious ass. It elevates you from the teeming masses - and they are teeming - make no mistake. But you're the one who has to do the ass kicking. Is there more great writing where that came from?

Winning a competition means you have just arrived at a whole new base camp as you continue to climb this mountain. But nobody but you can affect those other variables of more good scripts to back up your win and potential career. Nobody but you can be good in a room. Nobody but you can have other great ideas on deck.

Saying that competition-winning scripts are quirky, small and not "commercially viable" is definitely an inaccurate generalization. Writers who look askance at competitions with that as their reasoning are, in my view, copping out. There's no free lunch. If you have the chops to win a competition, you have to be responsible to use that experience to move on up from there. Let me say this loud and clear: Good writing is good writing. And the cream always rises to the top.

At The Silver Screenwriting Competition our goal is to reward the winning screenwriter with an opportunity to do just that. Move on up. Come on out, meet some influential people, create relationships and pitch your heart out. In addition, we follow up with all of the winning writers - where's your rewrite? How are you spending your time? Have you sent thank you notes? What are you writing now? We don't give you your prizes and walk away - we are an integral part of paving a path for you. But you have to have the goods to walk that path. And by goods I mean chops, determination, good strategic decision making and more great ideas and scripts in your old kit bag.

Whether you choose to enter The Silver Screenwriting Competition or any other competition is up to you. Is it worth it a shot? Is it worth the possibility of setting up a whole new base camp, one much closer to the peak? To me the answer is self-evident.

The deadline for the Silver Screenwriting Competition is coming up fast, by the way. May 1. So if you'd like to have a shot at taking your nascent career and turning into a real one, polish up your draft and submit ASAP.

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Margaux said...

Great answer...and also, great question. I can understand how some writers think contests aren't that helpful for getting a script sold right away.

We have an upcoming blog entry from a working screenwriter, Josh Zetumer, who says that new writers shouldn't be writing scripts to sell, they should be writing scripts to get agents.

The Silver Screenwriting is the only contest I know of that works to help the writer build relationships with representation, and you're right Julie, then, if the stars align, a sale down the road is much more possible.

Trina0623 said...

Another important reason to enter a contest is whether they give feedback of any kind no matter how brief.

Julie's contest does offer that so that's another great reason in my book. Just the opportunity to hear from professional readers why the script didn't make it when compared to others is very valuable information. How else can you improve?

Eric Myers said...

"There is no silver bullet. You still have to have the goods - ongoing."

So true.

If selling your screenplay is the werewolf, it's a werewolf immune to bullets. And garlic.

social Worker said...

Okay, so i have a big carrer and a show that is full of drama, humor, heart felt growth crud, and no shark can be jumped. BUT, I am not a writer and I have no interest in trying to be as good as writers. I want an agent to see the potential HBO series wins Emmeys show that it is and put some other writer from Six feet Under on it. And get me a meeting at HBO. Is that so hard? I really have this thing down. So, what do i do? I sent some letters to agents, but nothing. I'm a nobody with an emmy winning hour cable show. P.S. I'm the most pragmatic person ever. I and am not delusional or a crack pot of any kind.

social Worker said...

Oh, so as a follow up to social work buss. A friend of mine met a person who had therapy and a horrible childhood and they teamed up to write a book and send it off to a publishing Co. The women's sad story, abuse, followed by a psych 101, insight oriented explanation of the abuse and result/behavior-healing. Chapter by chapter. No big deal. They just kinda ...did it.I hear the book will come out sometime in the summer. I guess summer reading for women. Like.... no problem. I am nieve, but I try to stay positive.

Stan said...

What Trina said is a very relevant factor when looking at a contest--that oh-so valuable feedback--if offered. That is worth its weight in gold. For instance, if you didn't win--and most everyone won't--Um, why not? Sometimes, even a brutal assessment can be the best. Then, look at the areas that caused problems and fix them. Learn.

Seems to me...enlightened = good!
In the dark = bad...

The real winners are always out to improve their game.

"You lost today, kid, but that doesn't mean you have to like it." -- 'Fedora', Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Good luck to everyone and 'I hope you win the contest!'