View Full Version : Greg Beal / Nicholl: Comedies?

April Hamilton
05-20-2004, 09:56 AM
I'm keeping this off the other thread since it's a more general question, and that thread's getting pretty long.

I read a post about comedies in contests at another website, and you posted there that fewer than 1/3 of this year's Nicholl entries were comedies. You also seemed to imply that within that 1/3, a much smaller percentage were straight comedies (as opposed to comedy-drama, rom-com, etc.). To a writer of straight comedies, like me, my odds for the Nicholl seem pretty good just in terms of numbers. But-

Conventional wisdom has it that comedies don't do well in competitions. I even read an intereview with a former AFF final-round judge in which he said that in the first couple years of that competition, comedies definitely got the short end of the stick. He recalls a meeting among judges to select a winner from the finalist scripts, and that no one could agree on a winner...until they introduced a new criteria, of how "meaningful" the script was. And at that moment, the comedy finalist went right to the bottom of the pile. It's ironic; among writers, consensus is that comedy is very hard yet among Academy members and contest judges it seems to be consensus that comedy's nothing special.

Looking at past results, comedies have not fared well with either the Nicholl or the Academy. So my questions to you are:

1. Are the small numbers of straight comedy winners due to a small number of straight comedy entries, or some other reason?

2. Why doesn't the Nicholl have separate categories? I've read many interviews with contest judges who speak to the difficulty in comparing Action to Drama, Drama to Comedy, etc.

3. Does a straight, commercial comedy have a snowball's chance in the Nicholl? I know 4 have won in the past, but that's only 4 out of a total 73!

Thanks in advance for any response.

Edited to make corrections - the AFF judge cited was a man, and the criterion cited was "meaningful", not "affecting".

05-20-2004, 02:01 PM
I'm not Greg but...

My hunch is that it's not so much comedies that don't advance, as strictly commercial projects. Is it right that the prestige events like the Nicholl are just less impressed by immediately exploitatable concept than by style and execution?

(Well, I'm hoping so, 'cause I entered a comedy, but it's beautiful and poignant so maybe...)

05-20-2004, 06:14 PM
Check out the thread called "Nicholl News" on page 9 in this forum. There was a big debate about this topic, where Greg gave his opinion. I express your concerns about 5 pages in.

April Hamilton
05-20-2004, 07:02 PM
Thanks, Joe. After reading through all the posts, I think I'm with you. And I see why Mr. Beal didn't respond; the subject's been worked over pretty thoroughly in that other thread.

05-21-2004, 09:26 AM
I didn't look at the earlier posts, but I thought I could add a few additional notes.

1. Are the small numbers of straight comedy winners due to a small number of straight comedy entries, or some other reason?

This year, there are 665 entries in which the genre entry is exactly "comedy." Just under 11%.

2. Why doesn't the Nicholl have separate categories? I've read many interviews with contest judges who speak to the difficulty in comparing Action to Drama, Drama to Comedy, etc.

While we only look at scripts to uncover talented writers, the competition's goal is to identify and encourage screenwriters as opposed to finding scripts for production. The fellowship award is to the writer; it's not a prize for the script.

We hope the writer's talent shines through whatever the genre, whatever the subject matter, et cetera.

[Breaking the competition into categories would create other problems: how to distribute the up to five fellowships over the categories? Would comedy only receive one-half a fellowship or would romantic comedies, comedy dramas and comedies be lumped together? How many would horror, science fiction, animation, fantasy and westerns receive when they each comprise such a small percentage of the overall total? Et cetera.]

3. Does a straight, commercial comedy have a snowball's chance in the Nicholl? I know 4 have won in the past, but that's only 4 out of a total 73!

That seems considerably better than a snowball's chance. At least fourteen of the winning scripts have been comedies of one sort or another, so that doesn't seem to be an impossible situation. Greg Dawless' 2001 script ONE HOUR DEVELOPMENT is about as raunchy a comedy as one can imagine, and it earned Greg a fellowship.

Sorry to have missed answering yesterday but things were a tad busy.

05-21-2004, 10:32 AM
You have a lot of envelopes to put stamps on. :D

05-25-2004, 01:58 PM
I even read an intereview with a former AFF final-round judge in which she said that in the first couple years of that competition, comedies definitely got the short end of the stick.

If AFF stands for Austin Film Festival, the former judge must not mean LITERALLY the first couple years, because a comedy won the very first year. EXCESS BAGGAGE by Max Adams.

April Hamilton
05-25-2004, 03:28 PM
Pooks - the person quoted mentioned that this was in the days before they had a separate Comedy category.

And wasn't Excess Baggage a rom-com?

05-25-2004, 06:32 PM
I don't remember whether Max considered it a rom-com or not. I do recall as the script was first written it had a darker edge in the third act, which left rom-com territory pretty firmly behind.

And I'm talking about the very first year, before there was a separate category. Max won the first year. Kitty McKoon-Hennick won the first year for Family. Those were the categories that year.

05-25-2004, 11:01 PM
Excess Baggage was a dark romantic comedy. There was no comedy division in Austin the year that script won. You either won, or you did not win, regardless of genre. EB won.

My Back Yard was a romantic comedy. It won a Nicholl.

There is no such thing as "rom com." No one uses that term. There are romantic comedies. That means "comedy" with a love story in it. The key word being "comedy."

You have a snowball's chance in hell of winning any competition. Competition is fierce and it is hard to win. Once you cross that threshhold into you-could-win territory, that will show whatever genre you write in. So. I would stop worrying about genre. Genre is not what counts.

Good luck.

05-26-2004, 08:03 AM
I've made it to the Semifinals in the Nicholl several times with comedies, and one comedy was a Finalist.

The only time I ever advanced at Austin was with an comedy.

But I won the Nicholl with a drama, and that's the script that has come closest to getting produced (several times).

What does all this mean? I think Max is right. It's about the writing, not the genre. I've read many Nicholl Fellowship-winning scripts, and they came in all flavors, all genres.

I hate to say it, because it will probably piss people off, but honestly? "I never win these things because I write (fill in the blank) and (fill in the blank) never wins," is just a lame excuse.

Stop worrying about the genre and worry about the writing and the passion. It's all about the writing, the vision, the voice of the writer, the world they show the judges, a world the judges haven't seen before.

I could be wrong.

April Hamilton
05-26-2004, 09:36 AM
Thanks Pooks and Max, but I think you misunderstand me. I'm not making excuses for why a given spec of mine hasn't advanced in a contest, because I've never entered a contest before---though obviously, I'm considering it. Given all the contests out there and all the entry fees, I'm just trying to make an informed decision as to whether or not contests would be a good career investment for someone like me, a writer of high concept---okay, let's be brutally frank: shallow---comedies. In other words, are these works of mine, which have been "good" enough to get me optioned and get me pitch meetings, "good" enough in the eyes of contest judges?

My original question was based on having looked at the statistics on contest winners and having read something from a past contest judge that seemed to indicate mainstream, commercial comedies don't generally do well in contests. Regarding those you cite that DID win, I haven't seen that second one you mention, but you've indicated that Excess Baggage was a dark comedy. I've written one black comedy, but all my other comedies are very commercial.

Even now, I'm still getting the impression that, were I to enter a contest, my non-commercial black comedy would have a better shot than any of my other comedies. Which is ironic, because while that black comedy has opened many a door for me, the next thing everyone says is, "Have you got anything more commercial?"

April Hamilton
05-26-2004, 10:25 AM
Okay, I tracked down that source interview (http://www.screentalk.biz/art046.htm)...it's from Screentalk. Here's the part that gave me pause:
PEER: I went into the judges' meeting thinking it wouldn't take long to arrive at a decision. After all, I had my little score sheet in hand, with all the points properly tallied. Everybody in the room was a writer. Obviously we all knew good storytelling when we ran across it, right?

Wrong. Our preferences were all over the place. And initially, most of us were quite adamant about sticking to those preferences. So how did we whittle down the winner?

First of all, we eliminated scripts we CLEARLY agreed were inferior. We discussed and argued about the remaining ones, passions rising and tempers flaring upon occasion. For two and a half hours! (Quite exciting, actually. Like being at a WGA meeting!) Eventually we reached the brick wall of compromise -- the committee inevitability.

We settled on a script which we could all live with. It didn't really thrill me, but we could all acknowledge it was "good" and was trying to aspire to something "meaningful." So we voted it the winner.

The "aspiration" factor was brought up as criteria by the Judging Moderator after the group reached a stalemate. And it did get the ball rolling again.

EASLEY: Given the bias toward important themes in contests, is it practical for someone who writes entertainment-oriented comedy or other mass-appeal genre fare (horror, for example) to compete against those small, meaningful personal stories that are bound to win?

DIMESIO: Interesting that you bring that up. I think that's an unstated bias in most contests. I even find myself doing it as reader -- and I write comedy.

PEER: When we {the Austin finalist judges} started using "reaching for something" as a criteria, the commercial script drifted to the bottom of the pack. And I felt badly about that, because it was a comedy, and when you start playing the "importance" game, comedies get slighted. It pretty much killed the chance of the commercial script winning (and in my opinion, there was only ONE commercial screenplay in the Adult group.)

MOON: I've given high scores to comedies (though not many) with a feeling of resignation -- knowing that they won't get that far let alone be a winner. Just like the Academy Awards -- comedies lose out in the end.

PARIS: The best scripts I read were not what I'd call "meaningful" or attempting to "reach for something" if that means some sort of mainstream affirmation.

DIMESIO: I think maybe we're operating from two different notions of "meaningful" here. A script which challenges some of our long-held beliefs would be meaningful. Almost all the comedy scripts I read were pure entertainment. That's where the bias really is, not against comedy per se, but against pure entertainment -- action adventures face the same problem.

This bias is not unique to screenwriting contests; it's deeply ingrained in our society. Like Wendy said, how many comedies have won OscarsĀ©? I'm not saying that having a serious theme makes a script better written. What I am saying is that if the quality of writing is equal, the "meaningful" script will always have an edge over the "fluff."

EASLEY: At least TV comedy writers only compete against other comedy writers in the Warner Workshop and the sitcom division of the Sautter.

PEER: The genre issue {in the Austin judging session} also prompted the AFF to create a separate comedy category. It's really difficult to compare a drama with a comedy. It just seems inherently unfair.

These contest judges all seem to be saying, very directly, that comedies (and other mainstream genre fare, i.e., horror) are at a disadvantage in contests.

05-26-2004, 12:16 PM
But comedies can also have serious themes. There's no reason comedy must equal fluff. So go ahead and enter your comedies.

And having read "One Hour Development" I'll tell you - that script is WAY out there and not commercial. Funny as heck, too.

April Hamilton
05-26-2004, 12:32 PM
Okey - That one black comedy I wrote deals with serious themes. The rest, I'll admit, are quite fluffy. Entertainment for entertainment's sake.

But I suppose you could say the same about "Animal House", "Ghostbusters", and a lot of other great, memorable comedies. Not that I'm saying my stuff is on par with those, but it's not a bad league to aspire to.

05-26-2004, 03:09 PM
April -- I'm curious about what you mean by "good career investment" in reference to entering a screenwritinig contest.

Entering a reputable contest, such as Nicholls, seems to be a fairly inexpensive, easy thing to do. I'm not sure what you stand to lose by entering.

If you have an offer from somebody who wants to pay you more than the limit allowed for entrants -- then maybe you'd have to think of the contest in terms of "career investment."
You'd have to decide which would benefit you more -- the deal, or the chance to have the script gain exposure by placing well in a contest.

But barring that circumstance, I'm not sure what a new writer stands to lose by entering Nicholls or Austin.

(I think there's plenty to lose in certain other contests, but why go into all that here.)

April Hamilton
05-26-2004, 04:29 PM
Mini - what I stand to lose is money. If I were to enter what I believe to be my 3 best specs in what seem to be the 3 most reputable contests (Nicholl, Chesterfield and AFF), that bill's gonna add up pretty fast.

Why enter 3? To cover all the bases: my strongest commercial comedy, my best-written (but least commercial) spec to date, and my 'calling card' spec (which is somewhere in between the other two).

I consider any money I spend on pursuing a screenwriting career to be "career investment" dollars; this includes everything from brads to legal fees. Many are unavoidable, but contest fees are entirely a matter of choice. It's like anything else I consider spending my money on: I do some consumer research first.

That Screentalk article, with actual contest judges openly admitting that there's an anti-commercial bias in the contests they've worked for (did you notice the one who said she tends to score comedies lower, even though she herself is a comedy writer?) leads me to suspect contest entry fees are a waste of money for people who write highly commercial stuff. However, I asked the question because that article is a few years old and since I'm pretty ignorant about contests in general, things could've changed dramatically since then and I wouldn't know about it.

05-26-2004, 08:16 PM
I know everybody quoted in that article. In fact, the specific year Ron Peer spoke of at the AFF comp? I knew two people in the room that day, and heard two different accounts of what happened. The problem, of course, came because there was not a clear winner and they were definitely groping for a way to break the deadlock.

I don't know what to tell you except that the odds of any particular script winning any particular competition are slim. The odds of any particular script getting optioned/greenlit/produced are slim. The odds of the film actually making a profit are slim. The odds of it being a big enough hit that somebody remembers your name are slim.

I mean, odds are? We're all losing, none of us here will ever earn (another) penny as writers, and we're all deluding ourselves.

Those are the odds.

I just have never let myself worry about the odds. If I did? I wouldn't have written the first script.

April Hamilton
05-26-2004, 09:35 PM
Thanks for the response, lab. I hear what you're saying about the odds, but at least we don't have to pay to query or submit outside of contests---if we're smart enough to avoid charlatans, that is.

The only reason I'm considering contests is because I'm at that point career-wise where I'm on the bubble: I have open doors at a good assortment of prodcos both large and small, and have had small-scale successes here and there, but feel I won't reach that next level of an outright sale or produced credit without the right representation. It's been suggested to me that one of the shortest routes between a good writer and strong representation is placing in, or winning, a well-respected contest. I've been told that many of the same agencies and managers who won't even accept a query from me, regardless of the inroads I've made, will turn the tables and start actively pursuing me if I do well in a top competition.

05-27-2004, 07:45 AM
Yes, that's certainly true of the Nicholl, April.

The year I was a Finalist in the Nicholl (without winning) I was also a Semifinalist in Austin. I got exactly three calls from the Austin exposure, and only one of them was worth following up. So if exposure is your real goal, I'd stick to the Nicholl. I know from my experience and the experience of others that you will get far more requests from advancing in the Nicholl, and you can use the advancement when you query people to get them interested, as well.

05-27-2004, 10:21 AM
One year, somebody who was a judge for AFF was furious and vented to me that the best script wasn't getting chosen because it wasn't commercial. He said that they were told to choose a commercial script, if at all possible. I've been told that doesn't happen every year, but I think it shows the problem with listening to one person's account of what happened, or even reading the isolated experience of a handful of readers, and assuming you now know "how things work."

05-27-2004, 10:30 AM
I'm the Easley who was quoted, and I'm still reluctant to enter my comedies in contests, (though the earlybird price for the Nicholl was too good a deal to pass up.)

A Nicholl win would give anybody more validity, but at least it's easy for us high concept comedy writers to get industry reads anyway. People who write non-commercial fare have a much harder time getting read without a contest win.

I raised a question about this on Wordplay a few years back. Greg weighed in, and David Hoag, and Ted Elliott. Here's the link.

www.wordplayer.com/forums...read=27703 (http://www.wordplayer.com/forums/scriptsarc03/index.cgi?read=27703)

April Hamilton
05-27-2004, 11:06 AM
Joan - thanks for the link. Curioser and curioser...it seems there's no answer to my question aside from more conflicting reports and controversy.

05-27-2004, 12:04 PM
I think there's no clear answer because it is a question that can't be answered as definitively as you'd like. The fact is that many, many comedies have advanced in competitions and even won them. Statistics may say that they are more or less likely to win, but that really can't help you make your decision.

Quite simply, nobody has any idea whether YOUR comedy will advance and/or win. And if it doesn't advance and/or win, you won't ever know if it's because "it's a comedy" or if it's because it wasn't as strong as the scripts that beat it.

There's no clear answer to your question, is it worth the money to enter. Except, honestly, from reading your questions and responses, I'm thinking the clear answer is probably no. I don't mean that in a negative way. I just mean, you really don't want to spend the money without a really strong assurance that you'll get a direct, concrete benefit, and no matter how good your script is, there's no way of knowing that.

Good luck, whatever you decide.

The Phantom Scribe
05-27-2004, 12:28 PM
I thought Greg Beal answered your questions pretty well. If you're looking for some definitive statement on whether your "commercial" comedy has a chance in contests, there's only one way to find out...clack open the purse and enter the damn script. If it's brilliant, funny, witty or smart, it probably does. If it's just plain dopey, it probably doesn't.

April Hamilton
05-27-2004, 01:00 PM
Yeah, I'm doing it. I know life has few guarantees, and this business has none. Never hurts to ask questions from those with more experience, though.

Phantom - from info provided by pros who'd read Joan's spec, contained in Joan's posted link, her spec was "brilliant, funny, witty and smart", yet didn't even make the top 50% in AA. That's the frustrating part, as Pooks notes: if I fail to advance, I'll never know precisely why. If my entries tank, it doesn't really give me any new or valuable information about the quality of my work and in that case, it truly is money wasted. So I have to look at it the same way as if I were betting on a longshot at the track...use money I won't miss first of all, and if that pony comes through, great! If not, no big surprise.

The Phantom Scribe
05-27-2004, 02:20 PM
You are way over-thinking this for thirty bucks. But if you're that preoccupied with the cost/reward prospect, just enter the Disney Fellowship...it's free.

April Hamilton
05-27-2004, 02:34 PM
Phantom - it's not just thirty bucks. It's $45 per entry for the AFF, $39.50 per entry for the Chesterfield, $30 per entry for the Nicholl, plus all the expense of printing and mailing everything. Given that I have 3 specs to enter, if I go for all 3 of these contests that's an average of about $150 per contest for a grand total of around $450. Now maybe you're fortunate enough that $450 is pocket change to you, but for me it most definitely is not. If I seem to be overthinking this, that's only because I have to think long and hard before spending $450 on anything.

I don't know why it should irritate anyone for me to simply ask not for any guarantee of success, not for any assurance that it's money well spent, not for any excuses to use if I enter and my work fails to advance, but only if my commercial comedy specs have an equal shot alongside everyone else's stuff. That's all I was asking, and I don't think it's a stupid or unfair question to ask when contestants are being asked to shell out considerable money to enter these things.

If all entries are created equal, you pays your fees and you hopes for the best. If not...you go in knowing that, and it weighs in your decision of whether or not to enter because the "slim" chance everyone has going in is now maybe a "slimmer" chance for you.

The Phantom Scribe
05-27-2004, 03:08 PM
You're still over-thinking it. Nobody says you have to enter all of them. Try entering your best script in one contest. If it tanks, well, then you've got your answer to the question you've been carrying on about.

05-27-2004, 03:44 PM
I repeat. If money is an issue (and isn't it always?) and your goal is exposure, go for the Nicholl. That one is the highest exposure if you advance.

AFF finalists don't even get a lot of calls from it, much less people at the lower levels, and Disney never gives any publicity to their fellows, much less the also-rans. I've never entered Chesterfield, but I'm pretty sure I've read posts where people said they didn't get much response in the way of requests for that competition.

So, bang for the buck, Nicholl because people pay attention to it, and Disney because it's free.

April Hamilton
05-27-2004, 04:08 PM
Thanks, Pooks.

Winter in New York
05-27-2004, 11:55 PM
To follow on from the comments of Ms. Adams...

The term 'rom-com' is...well...ghastly. It's an undervalued genre as it is, do we really have to belittle it even more by assigning it such a smug contraction?

Winter in New York

05-28-2004, 07:41 AM
While I find this discussion interesting, I'm wondering if anyone realizes that the deadlines for Austin and Nicholl have both passed. So are you talking about 2005?

BTW, I entered my romantic comedy in both contests this year. I knew about the odds from reading previous discussions. I also know that contest judges are subjective, yada yada. It really comes down to whether or not I have enough faith in my script and enough money in the bank to take the leap *and* to withstand the fall, if it happens. If I don't advance, I'll go through the usual self-doubt and depression. So the questions then become: Will I get back up? Will I try harder? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?...sorry, I got carried away. I think you get my point.


April Hamilton
05-28-2004, 08:15 AM
Winter - just using the terminology of my manager and producers I've worked with...and these are not small-potatoes guys, so I haven't ever had the idea 'rom-com' was an unacceptable term to use.

April Hamilton
05-28-2004, 08:16 AM
Suz - yeah, I'm aware. Chesterfield hasn't been announced yet though, and I think their approach is more like the Nicholl than the AFF. Good luck with your entries! :)

05-28-2004, 06:06 PM
A couple things --

1) Nicholls is a great contest. For the money, it's a terrific deal.

2) Disney may not publicize its fellows, but people who go through that experience get something far more precious than publicity. They are taken seriously by people in the business. I know plenty of writers who've broken into film and TV writing through Disney. The Disney experience is more extended and intensive than that offered by many other contests. And no, it's not easy to get into. But there you go.

3) What about the Warner Bros. TV workshops? These are hard to get into, but seriously effective paths into TV writing.

I'm an experienced, working writer with current film and TV projects. For the past couple months I've been reading hundreds of scripts, looking for writers for a project we're doing. I've sat down with about 80 writers for interviews, and I've asked nearly all I've met about how they broke into the business. Most are TV writers, but some are people who work in both features and TV, and a few were feature writers.

A handful are playwrights who were recruited by major agencies right out of playwriting programs at universities and theater groups. They're being pitched for TV jobs and feature assignments off the strength of their plays and spec scripts.

During all these discussions, Warner Bros. and Disney are the only two contest/workshop things that came up again and again.

A major agency submitted a script to us that was from a team discovered through Project Greenlight. The writing didn't come close to hitting the level of most other scripts we read. It wasn't the worst script in the stack, but it was in the bottom 10 percent.

For the record, most people I've talked to didn't break in through contests or workshops. Most broke in through a combination of great writing and contacts.

I didn't break in through a contest. I relied on contacts. But if I were starting out all over again, I'd pony up the money for Nicholls. I don't know that I'd bother with any other contests.

I would mostly look to my writing.

05-28-2004, 06:09 PM
Oh, and one small added thing --

I have never heard anybody actually in the film or TV business use the term "rom-com."

Another term I've never heard is "prodco."

Ick to both.

05-29-2004, 07:48 AM
I work in the biz and use "rom com" all the time.
Everyone seems to know what I mean. (The
even shorter "ro co" is unacceptable, however,
and far more cryptic.)

Anybody working in the business who has time
to waste on the six syllables of "romantic
comedy" - instead of the quicker and more
efficient "rom com" - is obviously a slacker or
a wannabe.


April Hamilton
05-29-2004, 10:20 AM
Mini - I don't use "prodco" in speech, it's an abbreviation in writing.

05-29-2004, 11:30 AM
You know, there's just something to be said for keeping language graceful.

If I think the phrase "rom-com" warrants an ick, then I say "ick."

And I am seriously, honestly, trying to think if I have EVER heard anyone utter the word "rom-com." I cannot come up with one instance.

I mean, if you don't have time to say "romantic comedy," maybe you need a more efficient assistant?

05-29-2004, 12:47 PM
Its less typing. Anyone who types "romantic comedy" in it's full length is heading for RSI with their limbs eventually freezing up and dropping off - possibly BEFORE they even sell that first script. Those who-- sensibly -- type romcom are more likely to have their limbs drop off AFTER that crucial sale.

05-29-2004, 02:32 PM
There's nothing graceful about "ick."


05-29-2004, 04:50 PM
At least "ick" isn't a silly piece of jargon. It is what it is. As is "eck," "ack" and the ever-popular "yeccch."

Romcom is just so -- oy. Do you actually know people who call you up and say, "I just read a great rom-com you should look at." Or, "I think I've got a great idea for a rom-com." Or even, "He's a good writer, but I don't know if he's right for this project because the only sample they sent over is a rom-com."

Can I get a -- yikes?

(Aside: If you really want to see a professional claim to never have heard a phrase you read all the time on Done Deal message boards, head over to Wordplay and read Dan Petrie's column on getting an agent, in which he says no professionals he knows ever use the phrase "query letter.")

ANYWAY -- to yank this thread back to its original subject, more or less:

While it is possible that commercial comedy scripts might have a harder time advancing in Nicholls than certain other types of scripts --

--I think one explanation for that could be that it's extremely hard to write a great, fresh comedy script. Comedy is hard to pull off. It takes a lot of talent and skill. For a lot of writers, it also takes time, experience and tons of feedback.

So one possible reason it might seem that comedy doesn't do as well in competitions could be that there isn't that much great comedy getting written by amateur writers.

05-29-2004, 05:09 PM
While it is possible that commercial comedy scripts might have a harder time advancing in Nicholls than certain other types of scripts --

If people are going to go off on terms like "rom-com" and "prodco" and complain about a lack of grace in language, etc., I feel obliged to point out that it's NICHOLL, not NICHOLLS. The fellowship is named for Don and Gee Nicholl, who founded the program.

I don't write rom-coms and I have meetings with producers, not prodcos...but to a large extent I owe my career to the Nicholl--so I have a thing about people not getting it right.

That said, I take my leave again.

April Hamilton
05-29-2004, 05:48 PM
So one possible reason it might seem that comedy doesn't do as well in competitions could be that there isn't that much great comedy getting written by amateur writers. So all those great professionals only got great after becoming professionals?

Everybody has to start somewheres, is all I'm sayin'. Great writing in any genre is hard. Given that, it seems statistically unlikely that there would be such a drastically lower number of strong amateur comedies as compared to dramas, suspense stories, etc.

05-29-2004, 06:18 PM
But there's something very "ick" about "Eck vs. Sever."

I don't think you should worry too much about comedies getting the shaft. If you write a good script, I'm sure it'll find an audience. And if you write a great script, I'm certain it'll launch your career.

So just write a great script. It's the most logical advice I've heard or offered that I'm shocked that no one does it.

05-29-2004, 09:10 PM
I entered a comedy because I thought it represented my best work. I wasn't really worried about percentages or odds or anything. I'll let you know how it turns out, April.

I don't think I could hang out with anyone who said rom-com. I also hate cutesey buzzwords like newbie and kudos, and anyone who says per se, and, well, I hate most people...

05-29-2004, 10:47 PM
I also hate cutesey buzzwords like newbie and kudos, and anyone who says per se, and, well, I hate most people...True, people are obnoxious idiots. Cheers! and welcome to the fraternity of obnoxious idiots!

Unca Leo
05-29-2004, 10:54 PM
Hi there? What's this thread about?

The Phantom Scribe
05-30-2004, 08:20 AM
I think this thread has finally taken a worthy turn. The most important thing here we can walk away with is the correct spelling of the abbreviations.

Is it "Romcom" (one word, initial cap)?

Or is it "Rom Com" (two words, initial caps)?

Or is it "romcom" (one word, all lower case)?

Or is it "Rom-Com" (hyphenated, initial caps)?

Or is it "Rom-com" (hyphenated, initial cap on R only)?

Or is it "rom-com" (hyphenated, all lower case)?

Similarly, is it "Prodco" (one word, initial cap)?

Or is it "Prod Co" (two words, initial caps)?

Or is it "prodco" (one word, all lower case)?

Or is it "Prod-Co" (hyphenated, initial caps)?

Or is it "Prod-co" (hyphenated, initial cap on P only)?

Or is it "prod-co" (hyphenated, all lower case)?

Somebody give me a definitive answer, please, so I don't look like a fool when I correspond with "industry" people.

05-30-2004, 12:26 PM
Okay, sorry sorry about getting the name of the contest wrong. I never entered it. I never entered any writing contest. And yes, I am one of those people who hates cutesy little coined words. So there you have it. My single most despised piece of screenwriting jargon is "wrylie." Of course, I've never ever heard anybody actually say that word. I've only read it.

Anyway, I am not suggesting that professional comedy writers all became good after they broke in. That doesn't logically follow from my post. I suggest that there are probably fewer strong comedy scripts in amateur competitions than there are strong scripts of other genres in amateur competitions. And so fewer comedy scripts advance.

Which is not the same thing as saying that all professional comedy writers got good after breaking in. Not at all.

There are not a lot of people who can write strong comedy, compared to the numbers of people who can write strong scripts in other genres. Therefore, strong comedy scripts are fewer in number than scripts of other genres. Therefore, fewer such scripts wind up in amateur competitions. It's a numbers thing.

Of course I think someone who has not broken in yet can write a strong comedy script. I have a good friend who did just that. He wrote a News Radio spec that was incredibly funny. He gave it to me, I gave it to a friend who was a story editor on a sitcom. The story editor gave it to the showrunner. The showrunner hired the writer for his first staff job.

Are there a lot of amateur writers out there who could write a spec as funny as the one my friend did? Well, the showrunner who hired him said it was the best sitcom spec he'd ever read. So, I would have to guess that the answer is no.

I think comedy is difficult to write. I am not alone in this belief. That is not to say that the other genres are easy. To say that one thing is hard is not to automatically imply that certain other things are easy.

I think all good writing is tough stuff to produce. And I am not suggesting that amateur writers looking to break in can't write great comedy. But I do think that, overall, great comedy writing is rare.

April Hamilton
05-30-2004, 05:00 PM
Mini, it was a lighthearted comment, which I tried to make clear with the "that's all I'm sayin' " afterthought. I know you weren't really suggesting that good pro comedy writers spring up fully-formed like so many babies from a cabbage patch.

I was just giving a little nudge, on account of how often I hear (or see) remarks about how there are virtually no great amateur comedy writers, quickly followed by a remark about how the amateurs' work is never on par with that of the pros. Just seems like a logical disconnect there.

That's all I'm sayin'. ;)

05-30-2004, 07:08 PM
Well, sadly for amateurs, most amateur work is not on par with that of the higher level of professional writers.

Sadly for professional writers, much professional writing isn't on par with that of the higher level of professional writers.

April Hamilton
05-30-2004, 10:02 PM
Mini - point taken, and agreed.

05-31-2004, 06:00 PM
April - -

I hear ya ('ya' short for 'you,' not that you're short on anything, oh, anyway . . .), I entered a comedy in Nicholl after reading several discussions which seemed to indicate it was a long shot.

Then again, breaking into this business and continually getting work is one continuous long shot, no?

I say risking the money is better than wondering, ten years form now, 'What if . . . ?'


06-01-2004, 09:03 AM
Last year, 1,907 entries included at least one of the following words on the genre line --

comedy, comic, comedic, farce, satire, humor ("com" was not used as a marker).

1,907 is 31.5% of the 6,048 total entries.

Of those, 64 advanced to the quarterfinal round.

64 is 20.0% of the 320 quarterfinalists.

Why do comedies of various sorts not do as well as their entry numbers suggest?

The simple answer is that comedies have to make the reader laugh (or at least chuckle). When they do not, they do not receive a particularly good score.

And humor seems to be even more subjective than pretty much any other aspect of movie storytelling. What one reader/viewer finds funny will often not be the same as what another reader/viewer finds funny.

Dramas, thrillers, adventures do not have a single automatic dismissive element as does comedy (i.e., not being funny), so they tend to do a little better overall.

Still, 20% of all the scripts advancing to the 2003 Nicholl quarterfinals were a comedy of one sort or another. That doesn't suggest anything remotely close to an impossible situation.

06-01-2004, 09:38 AM
what about Nasty? is there a place for the hilariousBad Santa type scripts in prestigious contests? or would they be too embarrassed to be represented in that way? ;)

06-01-2004, 03:54 PM
Wow, first of all, I think it is pretty damn dumb to debate the abbreviations people tend to use in their speach while posting on message boards. But it gives me a laugh, so it's all in good fun. HAHA. Ok. This isn't my point.

I would like to go back to the whole debate about "meaningful" scripts getting somewhere in contests vs. "fluff" scripts, which usually boils down to comedic stories doing badly... First I would like to point out this fact, I entered a script for the first time to the NICHOLL (in case a spell checker is reading this ) My script and style of writing is D-R-A-M-A, with a capital DDDD.

I am not satisfied until every single person is moved by my story. THat is just what I am drawn to... Now, I would also like to point out a couple movies that are C-O-M-E-D-Y with a capital CCCC.

"Bruce Almighty", starring the ultimate comedic god, the jokes in this film were outrageously funny. And you know what, the underlying meaning and story behind all the humor, was the most sentimental, touching concept. I CRY everytime I watch the part where he is watching her pray for him through the window. The moral of that story was, Don't take anything in your life for granted. Roll with the punches and be honest, and THAT is what makes you thankful for what you get in life.

In the end, having "God's powers" isn't what made him glad and happy, it just made the world a disaster. And having those powers made him realize that the only real thing that matters in life is what he already had. I am sorry to say folks, but it doesn't get anymore meaningful than that. If you are a comedy writer who seeks inspiration of stories with jokes and meaning, check that movie out if you haven't already.

Another example, of course, is LIAR LIAR. I get choked up everytime when he makes up with his son at the end. Behind all the jokes, hides a love story between father and son. Work and money and advancement isn't always worth missing the little things like the moments you will never get back of your kid's childhood.

Anyways, that was a long description but I hope it made a few writers on this board realize comedies can have just as much meaning... And that's coming from a Dramatic writer.

(although, I hope none of the Nicholl judges read this and let it affect not picking my drama :lol )


April Hamilton
06-01-2004, 04:34 PM
obey - I agree that the best comedies strive to be affecting and funny at the same time, but it's a tough balancing act. If you're taking your characters and situations seriously enough to reach the audience on an emotional level, it's much more difficult to take them to fearless lengths for the sake of a laugh. This is why hilarious set pieces, funny though they may be, often undercut the realism and emotional impact of a movie.

To scale the heights of the ridiculous, you have to stretch the limits of reality and coincidence at least temporarily, and stretching the limits of reality does a disservice to character. Rob Schneider bucking backward through the water like a porpoise in "The Animal" is very funny, but makes his character more of a cartoon and therefore makes his suffering less like that of you and me and more like that of Spongebob Squarepants---unreal, and assuredly temporary. The trick is to balance what you're trying to add in humor with what you risk losing in character.

If a thematically strong comedy beats out a fluff comedy in a competition, assuming they're both equally funny, well, in my opinion it's a deserved win because it's a higher achievement. However, that doesn't mean "Animal House" and "Airplane" don't deserve their places in the canon of comedy greats. Would "Animal House" or "Airplane" have won the Nicholl or Chesterfield? Hmmm...who knows? I suppose it depends on the competition that year.

Looking back on mainstream comedies I know and love, I can't think of a single one that was both gut-bustingly funny AND emotionally affecting to me (I obviously disagree with you on Bruce). The only ones I can think of that achieved both are black comedies: "Life of Brian", "O Brother Where Art Thou", "Shallow Grave", "Raising Arizona", "Snatch"...I could go on and on; I love a good black comedy. And I bet these are the types of comedies with a better shot in something like the Nicholl or Chesterfield.