View Full Version : what a difference a year doesn't make
09-08-2005, 11:12 PM
i did a significant rewrite of one of my scripts this year ... and my readers concur that it is markedly better ... last year, i entered it in slamdance and austin ... and it advanced in BOTH competitions
so i was feeling pretty good about entering it AGAIN this year
but my 'markedly-better' script -- and it really is greatly improved -- didn't advance in EITHER
i don't get it
i'm not saying i expected the blue ribbon ... but i guess i expected it to do as well as it did in its first much-worse version
i'm trying to look at the randomness of it all and not get too down about it
but it's confusing at best ...
09-09-2005, 03:16 AM
I've pondered this too. I don't pretend to understand how these things are marked, whether it is similar to the Nichol. But if every part of your screenplay is awarded points (eg dialogue, story, characters, originality, technique - much as coverage is) then I suppose different readers might give the *same* script slightly different scores for each part, depending on the quality of their stack of scripts and the similitude of them. The very best and the very worst would stand out, but those in the middle on either side of the qualifying line would probably be similar in scores (few points either way) which would affect whether you advanced or not. I really think that with many scripts there is not much in it in terms of points.
The question is in what areas is your story improved? Are the characters fresher, are the technical aspects better, is the dialogue snappier, is the story more rounded, have you found a new twist to the story that ups the originality score (think what Sixth Sense would have been if it did not have that end twist, it would just have been a run of the mill story)? It may be that although you have rewritten it, that change may only score points on one aspect of marking.
I had a script that I sent for coverage. The first draft of it received a Consider, so I thought that with a little work I could achieve a Recommend. Imagine what I felt when it came through as a Pass. I rewrote it and received a Consider again. All I can assume is that the first reader was less experienced than the second. That script is now optioned.
Either way, don't feel too bad about it. Write a new script, and try and be as original as you possibly can. I would guess that is where the real points lie.
Good luck next time
09-09-2005, 09:01 AM
This situation bespeaks how arbitrary the competition process is. Performance is really subject to the whimsy of the individual reader's taste. My favorite story demonstrating this: in the same week, a friend got her first round rejection from Nicholl and sold the very same script to a major studio, launching her career. Go figure.
It's all subjective.
Don't overthink it. It's just luck as to the reader you get - do they dig your genre? Your style? Or are they tired? Just broke up with their girlfriend and are now reading your romantic comedy? No matter how "objective" a reader (in contests or at studios) tries to be, they're going to bring biases with them no matter what.
My friend has a script that attracted an A-list producer (and did several rewrites on it with said producer that also attracted a director) but yet this same revised script didn't advance at all in certain contests.
It's just the way the business works. You've got to get your script in the right hands at the right time.
09-09-2005, 10:15 AM
All the previous responses demonstrate exactly how this business works. It is even more true for the contests due to the readers experience or lack thereof.
I have experienced the same results. It is disappointing, sometimes disheartening but suck it up and keep writing and rewriting.
09-09-2005, 11:17 AM
Maybe the original script was better.
09-09-2005, 11:23 AM
I just wish some things, like my repeated failure in the Nicholl, weren't so totally consistent.
09-09-2005, 11:30 AM
But in a way, kullervo, consistently losing in a contest may be an indicator of a weakness in your writing. I remember my agent sent a manuscript of a novel of mine around some ten years ago. He passes on the rejection letters to me (all from top editors at their various houses), and each of them found the same flaw in the manuscript. I found that hugely helpful and withdrew the novel from circulating. But I also knew what to do better next time around.
Of course, contests, unless you've requested and paid for it, don't give you coverage. But consistently getting dinged may also be more a matter of subjective taste, as others here have said. I only entered contests for the first time this year to see what kind of buzz I could get off of them, not for the award money or a statuette. So far I've semifinaled in one and quarterfinaled in another, and I've got a few left to hear about. Just appearing on those placement lists may catch a little attention.
09-09-2005, 01:01 PM
Oh, I definitely know there's something wrong. I'm the only contest-freak in my two writing groups never to have made the semis, and I've tried more than any of them. I think it's a major problem, because the Nicholl is the only contest anyone pays any attention to, and its readers are presumably industry people. So if I can't get past them = I won't make it.
The problem is that two writing groups and an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA has put me no closer to figuring out what the heck I'm doing wrong. At least I'm consistent across eighteen scripts in every genre you'd care to mention. And just to confuse me, I've won six other contests (five last year). Of course, nobody gives a &@#* about other contests.
Keep at it. Your time will come :)
Focus on the fact that various folks are pleased with your writing. It is just a matter of time until their feeling propagates out.
09-09-2005, 09:17 PM
You kind person, you! Hey, wait... Mom?
09-10-2005, 12:30 AM
with all your wins, I'm surprised you are still eligible for the Nicholl!! Do you think the Nicholl can do for you more than your representation? You won several competitions last year, including first place at expo - I'm surprised by how much emphasis you place on the Nicholl. I'm with the others - I fully expect you to sell soon. There's a lot of positive for you to focus on rather than negative.
Best wishes to you,
09-10-2005, 12:46 AM
And the script that won the Expo-- even my agent is having a heck of a time getting anyone to read it. I put the emphasis on the Nicholl because that's the only one anyone pays attention to. I'll probably get more requests for the script as a Nicholl QF than I did winning the Expo Grand Prize (I received five requests, by the way).
09-10-2005, 02:48 AM
that's the only one anyone ever pays attention to?
and the replies helped with my original query ...
thanks to all
i think crapshoot is the word to remember when entering a contest ...
09-10-2005, 10:08 AM
Contests help you gage where you are in skill. The higher the climb, the more
you've learned. I know writers who've entered Austin and never made the
second round despite their plethora of scripts under their belt.
Contests should be viewed as a stepping stone. If however you've never made
it to any round of any contest, you're not ready.
09-10-2005, 11:03 AM
I guess timing really is everything.
I'd be interested to know from argo, Virgin, and Happy, if the scripts they referred to are commercial/genre stories....
The script my friend wrote was actually a true story drama/adventure. I always thought it was more contest-friendly than producer-friendly. Just goes to show that you can never tell.
And just to confuse me, I've won six other contests (five last year). Of course, nobody gives a &@#* about other contests.
Had another friend who got in the door winning the "Set in Philadelphia" screenwriting contest. One of the judges from it was a producer who set him up with a project at HBO (which eventually got put in turnaround), then a project with Miramax (that he later got taken off of). But still, he got his foot in the door thanks to one of those "minor" contests.
So, you just never know.
09-11-2005, 09:31 PM
Placing in a major contest means you can write, it doesn't mean you have a script someone wants to buy. Forget about advancing in contests, you've done that. It's obvious you're a very talented writer...big deal. Talent and a buck will get you a tall, black coffee.
You've pierced the veneer of amateurism and you’re pro material. You’ve got an agent, you’ve got access, you’ve got talent, you’ve got connections based on five wins…
Forget contests, focus on concept, it’s king...it’s all that matters.
Whining is for amateurs. Get in the game.
Then get me in…
(I didn't advance past the QF's either in the Nicholl...hmmm, pricks).
09-12-2005, 09:06 AM
To questions regarding my friend who sold a script and got a first round nicholl rejection the first week:
The script was a quircky, character driven story that will be a great role for an actress. It was EXTREMELY well written as well as being hilarious. I was shocked when it didn't advance at all.
Now, I have a friend who actually won the Nicholl. Boy did he get the red carpet treatment -- he got an agent. He was wined and dined by Gale Ann Hurd. It looked like he was on his way. That was around ten years ago and last I heard he was doing PR in Northern California.
On the basis of these stories -- I don't think anyone should judge their talent on competition performance.
Winning the Nicholl is an AMAZING opportunity and it has launched MANY careers, but t's definitley not a lithmus test for talent nor success (though, your odds for success increase significantly if you do win). It should be viewed more like the lottery. If you make it - GREAT. If not, oh well.
09-12-2005, 09:55 AM
It should be viewed more like the lottery.Except that anyone who pays for a ticket has an equal chance to win the lottery. Not true for a screenwriting contest.
If you go back through the archives, you'll find the same threads, year after year.
The hope-filled anxiety before the letters go out.
The announcement of advancers and dingers.
The bitter second-guessing and dejected self-doubt.
The old "crapshoot" chestnut gets trotted out.
Replay again next June.
09-12-2005, 10:31 AM
Obviously, I didn't mean "lottery" in the literal sense, but for someone at Kullvero's (sp?) level, it is a crap shoot. Of all the working writers I know, only one got his start with a screenwriting/teleplay competition -- most of them were contest whores who never made it past the qfs or didn't place at all.
09-12-2005, 10:43 AM
Obviously, I didn't mean "lottery" in the literal sense, but for someone at Kullvero's (sp?) level, it is a crap shoot. Of all the working writers I know, only one got his start with a screenwriting/teleplay competitionPoint taken, but again 'crap shoot' implies that success is based entirely on luck, and that anyone throwing the dice has a chance.
Not true in the Nicholl fellowships.
09-12-2005, 10:47 AM
Point well taken here, also - with qualified agreement: No doubt scripts that do well in Nicholl are well-crafted, "good" (whatever that means) scripts. However, for people who've done the work, not doing well doesn't necessarily mean their script sucks and has no commercial potential.
09-17-2005, 10:32 PM
Just an opinion here, based on several years of watching these things ...
I don't think any contest win is going to do much for you except help you bolster your opinion of your talent and skill. That can be a much-needed bolstering!
But I say that you should enter contests just for the fun of it and for the experience of going to something like the Austin festival ... Don't look upon it as a career booster (other than helping your confidence).
As for a script that did better the first time around than when it was submitted in an improved form ... It just goes to show you how uncertain this whole judging process is. I have not entered any of these contests, so I do not have an axe to grind here. The process is very subjective. I do believe that an outstanding script (great story, presented with skill) will have a better than fifty-fifty chance of advancing at least past the first round of judging. No guarantee, but I think it will happen.
The problem is that most scripts are crap. Really. They are not interesting, the characters do not come to life, and they are poorly written. Take a deep breath, step back, and look at your script again. Does it fall into the "not interesting" category? If so, forget it. It will never go anywhere, no matter how well-written it is.
The most common flaw that I see in scripts (besides just lousy writing, which most people say does not matter anyway) is that the plots are not interesting. They are single-goal plots that never have any significant complications along the way to change the direction of the plot or to enhance it in any significant way. The protagonist runs around from place to place, is maybe chased by somebody, there is a showdown, and then everything is over. At some point in all this there needs to be a DISCOVERY that moves the action in a different direction. But this is almost always lacking.
Anyhoo, enter contests for the fun of it all, but do not expect any career enhancement. Don't expect to win, either. Just consider the odds. :D
09-19-2005, 03:19 AM
What essentially you're saying Comic is that Story is King, which is something CreativeExec often says. In the Script Pages forum you see people honing their craft, trying to get subtext into dialogue, trying to be as lean as possible. But we never see the full end result so it's difficult to judge who's good and who aint. If you read any small excerpt from the screenplay of any major film, I doubt you'd be able to really judge much about the story itself. What could you ascertain from four pages of American Beauty, or Far from Heaven?
When I first joined Zoetrope I read loads of scripts straight up (far more than the standard four). They were a real mixed bunch. Some had no technique or story at all, just a stream of consciousness like being in someone's head. Most were from newbies, a couple from teenagers. It became obvious the more I read the more you could utterly pinpoint the age and viewpoint of the writer. Most were so inexperienced in life that it made the scripts laughable. (Made me realise how difficult writing a teen coming-of-age script was. You don't have the perspective of a teenager in your 20s because life has dealt you a different hand). Some had great and beautifully polished first five pages, or a great first act set up, but fizzled out when it came to the guts of the story. Then amongst all that dross I came across what I thought was a real jewel. Properly formatted, beautifully and sensitively written, someone who really observed how people behaved. But when I got to the end I realised that there was absolutely no story whatsoever. Zilch. Nothing happened. It really saddened me. I'm not a reader and I would hate a job like that, but I can understand that a reader really DOES want to find the next Shane Black. It's all a waste of time is he doesn't.
Original story telling really does seem to be the magic key... Good luck to all still in the competitions.
09-19-2005, 07:49 AM
Good post, VW.
09-20-2005, 05:30 AM
. But when I got to the end I realised that there was absolutely no story whatsoever. Zilch. Nothing happened. It really saddened me.
I have been working in development for a number of years now. Started as a reader and worked my way up. I am based in the UK and far from the top of the development tree ... though for the past couple of years I have worked exclusively with writers who are represented and who have a producer for their project. Most of the scripts I work on also have actors/directors attached. Some 30% are by American writers, many are by writers at the top of their game, some extremely well known. Many go into production, many more don't.
The thing is, while I have had many easy reads, in all the time I have worked in development, I have not had a single script come in - NOT ONE - that was perfect. Or remotely near perfect. Especially not in story construction. (By perfect I mean watertight plot presented with skill)
Most scripts, even at this level, have good, even great things about them, but are also full of holes, gaps, inconsistencies etc. Personally, I like that. It's what gives a script room to breath. ( I have also read many, many 'textbook' scripts that ticked all the boxes but were emotionally 'dead' - a far more difficult thing to work with)
So, I'd like to add a comment to Virginwriter's post ... which is this ....don't necessarily feel sad for the writer who couldn't find the story in his / her script. To get to the point where they are writing beautifully and sensitively, and observing life well .. is pretty darned good in my opinion. I'd certainly feel pretty good about reading that script.
On another point ... I have to disagree with ComicBent ... most scripts aren't crap. Even if I go back a few years to when the scripts I was working with were from beginner writers without agents, I would say that most of them, almost all of them in fact, had something good about them that could be developed. Sometimes it takes two/three reads to find that thing, sometimes it jumps out at you. But you can bet it's gonna be there.
I would go so far as to say that at a certain level it becomes virtually impossible to tell the difference between a writer that say, is good enough to place in a competition and a writer who has had a script or two produced. The difference at this stage becomes one of contacts and reputation and taste ... which is why I would say to the writer that started this thread ... don't worry about the competitions ... it's good if you place, not a problem if you don't ... spend your time getting to know folk ... hook up with as many (young) filmmakers as you can and get stuff produced at any budget level ... to get your name out there. It doesn't have to be in LA.
I have only ever read one script that I would say was so terrible that I would call it crap. It was so terrible, in fact, that I had to make up some lame lie of an excuse so that I would no longer have to work on the project. It was by a film critic for a national newspaper. In fact, funnily enough ... and this always makes me giggle ... i have read quite a few scripts in my time from critics ... and they have ALL been in the bottom 2% of scripts I have come across ...
09-20-2005, 08:35 AM
Mmmmmm? Yoyo, there are one or two points that don't fit my own particular recollection. I was a reader too, for some of the biggest companies. Got to say that if I went to a dev. meeting and said 'well, this script is beautifully and senstively written' The reply would be Yeah so? What's the story!'' Well....um there isn't really one.
PASS! Your situation may be different in development where you are, but basically with the companies I worked with, sensetive counted for spit if there was no story.
I'd also say that the vast majority of scripts I read ran from average to awful, especially but by no means excluslvely those from unrepped writers. Very few had anything really good about them. Maybe I was unlucky, but I must have read hundreds if not thousands. And as a pro reader, if something struck me as being not very good, I hadn't got the time, inclination or energy to give it two or three reads to see if anything jumped out at me later. Maybe I was just lazy? But if that's the case then so was every other reader I knew.
Wholeheartedly agree though that not winning a competion has no bearing on your career prospects as a screenwriter.
09-22-2005, 05:22 PM
But winning contests can get you reads from agencies/companies that would've otherwise shredded your query letter.
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