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Friday, May 1, 2009

Judging The First Round Scripts

...So the deadline for the Silver Screenwriting Competition is tonight at midnight. And the scripts are pouring in. True to form - and honestly, I respect it - writers have waited til the last second to submit. As well they should - why let typos or formatting be the death of your script? Why send in an okay script when spending a bit more time on it can improve it?

Wavers have the unique opportunity to really get the inside scoop on what administrating and judging this competition is like, since yours truly is the one in charge and yours truly is a sharer.

Questions that I find humorous:

You say in your FAQ that your page limit is 120. My scripts is 138. Is that okay? I got that question, I'm estimating, about 25 times. Answer: No, it is not okay. The limit is the limit. Why would the rules not apply to you, personally?

I turned my script in but then found errors, can I resubmit? I got that question at least 10 times. Answer: No, you cannot resubmit. Look, if your script is amazing, a few typos or errors will not stop a judge from enjoying it. Beyond that - this is not a dress rehearsal. Would you call and agent and say oh sorry, I found some errors, can I resubmit? No, you would not. Get it right the first time - act like a professional if you aspire to be one. It's not fair to the other writers who worked their behinds off, combing through that script and making corrections.

I have earned over the limit of what you can earn, can I still submit? Uh, no, you cannot. The earnings limit is there for a reason - to keep the playing field as even as possible.

I know your FAQ says no adaptations but I have an adaptation, is that okay? I don't understand the question. No adaptations. We want to see original work. Why? Because if you win, we are going to trot you out personally to meet some managers. And they're going to know what kind of chops you've got as a writer. Adaptation is a many splendored thing - but we want to see what you can create from nothing and spin into gold dust.

I see that this is a feature competition but can I send in my short/tv script/play? Maybe in the future, but no, we are a feature competition only at this point.

I'm sorry to sound cranky; I've fielded so many of the same questions over and over, I'm just a little amazed by the lack of information-gathering and the chutzpah, honestly, to see if we can make an exception just for that writer.

In order to be fair to all writers, we have to set standards and rules and stick with them. The vast majority of entrants did their cotton pickin' best to follow and adhere to all rules. Those are the writers to whom we owe absolute fairness.

We are taking a deep breath and preparing to judge the first round of scripts to find the quarter finalists. Rather than hiring readers we don't know and that we pay very little, we are judging these scripts ourselves - myself and my partners, Margaux and Andrew. How can we do it? Coffee, taking a deep breath, and giving ourselves plenty of time to give each script its due. We figure, you worked hard to write your script, the least we owe you is our undivided attention.

What happens in first round judging? Well, that's the round in which scripts are reviewed for basic formatting (you'd be surprised, you really would), an engaging first 30 pages with a clear premise, great dialogue and great character work. If a script in first round judging cannot manage to entertain, nail format and set up a clear premise in the first act, then that script cannot move on to a higher round of judging.

The higher a script moves up in the judging, the more scrutiny the script comes under. Think of this round of judging as the round that simulates real life the most closely. You send a script to an agent or manager and they can't get through the first act? Into the circular file it goes. We will be returning snapshot notes to all scripts that don't make it past this first round, so that writers can feel that rather than sending their script into the void and not knowing why they didn't move up, they can review their brief notes and know that from where we sit, the script didn't contain the engaging elements necessary to warrant further review. If we can't tell what your premise is in the first're in a world of hurt. Or if we can and it's basically some other movie, redux and not done as well...not good. If you used Word and the formatting is off - off you go. This first round is a litmus test for screenwriters. It's the most fundamental sorting process of those writers who have "it" and those who just aren't ready yet.

Someone asked me recently,Well, isn't it possible that a script might have a weak first act but then it gets much better in the second act? Is that possible? No, not really. Because the first act is everything - it is the set-up, it establishes the world, it shows us whether you can write. If you can't pull that off in the first act, the second act is irrelevant. Again, this is quite like the real world. Imagine that I am an agent. A very busy, overloaded agent. And I take your script home and read the first act and find errors, don't get what your premise is, and am not in the least bit entertained. I'm done at that point. Why should I read 10 more pages or 20 more pages hoping the script will get better? I don't know who you are and I don't care. I have a job to do which is to find great scripts by writers who might make me the money I need to afford my kids' private school and my leased BMW.

Entertainment is a highly competitive industry. In fact, competition pretty much defines it. It doesn't matter how nice you are, or how cute, or how sincere. It only matters if your script is great.

First round judging is a little like speed dating. I sit down with your script, and you have about 15 minutes to blow my mind or I'm on to the next script. Judging gets much, much tricker when scripts are the semifinal level. The script has passed the good first act test. But now, does this script beautifully pay off the set-up? Can you tie it all together in a big bow of entertaining satisfaction? Look, this is tough stuff, make no mistake.

But secretly - I enjoy judging scripts. I so badly want every single writer to make it to the next level. I love opening script after script and wondering what world I will find. What characters will I meet? Where is my winner - the one writer who every judge agrees has got something special? It's a little bit like searching for Willy Wonka's golden ticket. Will I find the winning script? I found the second place script at the Blue Cat Competition several years ago and I remember clearly walking into Gordy's office, slapping the script on his desk and proudly saying - I found it! (I thought it should have placed first but there you go). So it is with that same excitement that we prepare to find the winner of the 2009 Silver Screenwriting Competition. Maybe you're reading this right now, Grand Prize winner! And if you are, I'm going to have such fun shopping for your cool prizes and driving you around LA to lunches and appointments. I can't wait to read your script and be amazed. I can't wait to meet you in person.

So - off we go. Now get back to work, Wavers. The clock is ticking.

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Michael Brownlee said...

Hey, I've got a radio play. All dialogue. (I mean, you can't see stage directions on the radio.) It's written in pig-latin and it's just shy of 200 pages. Okay, full confession, it's 201 pages. But my mom says it's really funny and she should know. She's half Pig-Latino.

Can I still submit it?

Chaia Milstein said...

Tangential, and also from the Please Read Before You Write drives me nuts when people email me for The Script Department info (typically rates and turnaround) that is clearly delineated on the website! I understand the desire to make sure there is a real person on the other side of the Send button, but I would be so much less judgmental of humanity as a whole if folks questioning a virtual presence asked me something about TSD's services that is NOT READILY APPARENT.


Dave Shepherd said...

I'm just curious what this falls under (though I'm not in the competition).

If you were to write a story about a historical figure (let's go with Alexander the Great), and you research it, but you're not using one source and adapting it, does it still count as an adaptation?

(For the record, not writing anything on Alexander the Great)

Chris said...

well, i'm in by the skin of my teeth (2 minutes to spare).

i was all ready to do a leisurely one-month rewrite on the script you had given me notes on, Julie. then a spec with the same premise sold to DreamWorks around the end of March.

so rather than try an reinvent that wheel from page one, i used this contest and Nicholl as motivation to get a first draft of my next script in the can. i started writing after April 1st and finished this evening, with just enough time to proof it once before firing it off to Silver Screenwriting.

113 pages in under 30 days. i don't recommend it as a way to always write, but it's off and i've got another script under my belt.

i'm going to sleep now.

hudsonrivercreative said...

Good luck everyone. Good luck Julie.

Stan said...

Let Mortal Kombat begin!

Eric Myers said...

You say in your FAQ that your page limit is 120. My scripts is 138. Is that okay?Ha!