Why I Hate Script Contests And So Should You

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  • #46
    Re: Why I Hate Script Contests And So Should You

    Originally posted by purplenurple View Post
    In attempting to be a screenwriter you have to have this unshaken belief in yourself but also this knowledge of what you're up against...

    Here's a funny experience. Years ago, maybe around 2000 or 2001, I attended a pitch fest in LA (not to be confused with VP). This was a sit in front of a junior exec or whomever and try for 5 minutes to sell them. Now this story isn't about the legitimacy of the event. I have loads of things to say about my experiences doing that (imagine pitching to someone who is receiving a massage? I did.), but this is about something else...

    So I've never been to LA. I'm going to take a chance. I take a flight and book a room in the hotel providing the event. When at the front desk getting a room I meet another traveler also getting a room (This is not a romance by the way). We're both about the same age and we're both not from California. We're both here to conquer the Hollywood system via the pitch festival with several scripts in our luggage(no lap tops) to supply the execs who are waiting for what we have. We go get a drink. We admire the local women. Then he starts talking about his baby - his script. He's very passionate about it. While I give a guarded pitch to him ( I felt odd telling someone I just met about my horror script, but when in Rome, or in this case LA...). He really just wanted to talk about his script and who he had in mind to play the characters. He told me it was "The Crow meets something (I forgot, but I remember "The Crow"). You could tell he loved his project and he truly believed in it...

    So after listening for hours how Spielberg and Nicholas Cage (shows how long ago it was) need to do his project it's time to turn in. There's really not enough tequila to want to listen to anymore. I got it. His script is a masterpiece. If I talked 2 minutes about my script. He talked 2 hours about his. At this point he suggests we swap scripts and read each other's babies. Then at breakfast we'll discuss 'em. A few hours later the event would begin so it would be a learning experience. Soooo we swap scripts...

    I sit in my room reading his script and it's bad. The dialogue is awful and there's a lot of misspellings. Even some of the main characters names were at times misspelled. I couldn't believe this was what he went on and on about. He also did that thing I hear high paid screenwriters do - the "insert car chase here" instead of describing the car chase. I laughed and started to skim because it was garbage but I knew he'd quiz me...

    The next day we meet. There's something now off. I don't respect him, but what's worse his behavior suggests he doesn't respect me either. We each read our scripts and neither enjoyed it. We both gave polite "it's good" remarks. Of course he just wanted to hear how wonderful his script was (would have worked for me as well). It was awkward. For the next 2 days though occasionally seeing each other about we stopped speaking to one another. Only a nod for "hello." It was that experience that made me truly realize how much garbage is out there and how difficult it is to get up the mound of ****. And more importantly I better have my own act together. That moment for me was like the astronaut at the end of "2001" seeing the depth of the universe. And yet most things produced are pretty stupid so what do I know? I just know I learned never to read someone's baby again.

    looooooooooooooooved this story!

    Comment


    • #47
      Re: Why I Hate Script Contests And So Should You

      Sounds like it could've used some coverage beforehand to get a better gauge on the material. Pitchfests, contests, etc. they can be a huge drain on your pocket if you're not sure without a doubt that your material is the best it can possibly be.

      Originally posted by purplenurple View Post
      In attempting to be a screenwriter you have to have this unshaken belief in yourself but also this knowledge of what you're up against...

      Here's a funny experience. Years ago, maybe around 2000 or 2001, I attended a pitch fest in LA (not to be confused with VP). This was a sit in front of a junior exec or whomever and try for 5 minutes to sell them. Now this story isn't about the legitimacy of the event. I have loads of things to say about my experiences doing that (imagine pitching to someone who is receiving a massage? I did.), but this is about something else...

      So I've never been to LA. I'm going to take a chance. I take a flight and book a room in the hotel providing the event. When at the front desk getting a room I meet another traveler also getting a room (This is not a romance by the way). We're both about the same age and we're both not from California. We're both here to conquer the Hollywood system via the pitch festival with several scripts in our luggage(no lap tops) to supply the execs who are waiting for what we have. We go get a drink. We admire the local women. Then he starts talking about his baby - his script. He's very passionate about it. While I give a guarded pitch to him ( I felt odd telling someone I just met about my horror script, but when in Rome, or in this case LA...). He really just wanted to talk about his script and who he had in mind to play the characters. He told me it was "The Crow meets something (I forgot, but I remember "The Crow"). You could tell he loved his project and he truly believed in it...

      So after listening for hours how Spielberg and Nicholas Cage (shows how long ago it was) need to do his project it's time to turn in. There's really not enough tequila to want to listen to anymore. I got it. His script is a masterpiece. If I talked 2 minutes about my script. He talked 2 hours about his. At this point he suggests we swap scripts and read each other's babies. Then at breakfast we'll discuss 'em. A few hours later the event would begin so it would be a learning experience. Soooo we swap scripts...

      I sit in my room reading his script and it's bad. The dialogue is awful and there's a lot of misspellings. Even some of the main characters names were at times misspelled. I couldn't believe this was what he went on and on about. He also did that thing I hear high paid screenwriters do - the "insert car chase here" instead of describing the car chase. I laughed and started to skim because it was garbage but I knew he'd quiz me...

      The next day we meet. There's something now off. I don't respect him, but what's worse his behavior suggests he doesn't respect me either. We each read our scripts and neither enjoyed it. We both gave polite "it's good" remarks. Of course he just wanted to hear how wonderful his script was (would have worked for me as well). It was awkward. For the next 2 days though occasionally seeing each other about we stopped speaking to one another. Only a nod for "hello." It was that experience that made me truly realize how much garbage is out there and how difficult it is to get up the mound of ****. And more importantly I better have my own act together. That moment for me was like the astronaut at the end of "2001" seeing the depth of the universe. And yet most things produced are pretty stupid so what do I know? I just know I learned never to read someone's baby again.

      Comment


      • #48
        Re: Why I Hate Script Contests And So Should You

        Originally posted by vstm10 View Post
        looooooooooooooooved this story!
        So do I. It cements why submission policies are what they are. The fact that 98% of the scripts out there are unmitigated crap written by people who haven't got a clue.

        I had the honor of being a judge at a pretty good contest last year. I wanted to see what was being sent to these contests and what writers truly thought was a producible film. By the time we got to trying to find 10 scripts to be the finalists, there wasn't one to be found. Not one. Not even close. We awarded 10 finalists and there was a winner (his writing was ok, but the script and story was a non-starter), but it was the best script sent. A unanimous decision. On a 1 to 10 scale, I'd say I'd give it a provisional 4. A few scripts were zeros. It was that bad.

        Some of these scripts were so horrible I entertained the thought they were sent as jokes. But no. A friend, an exec at a huge production company and a fellow judge at this contest, said he wasn't all that surprised. That finding a great script was pretty rare. But these scripts? A primer in what not to do on every level.

        Hundreds of horrendous pieces of trash these writers thought were going to make them famous. I think this is why producers only care about a couple of contests. The Nicholl, which I don't understand because in my opinion they apparently only need you to write a biopic about someone you don't have life rights for to make the finals. And Austin, which you need to win. There might be one or two others, but it beats the hell out of me what they would be.

        It comes down to what was described in that great post. The writer already had a director and star picked out. He spent two hours talking about how great his script was, but I guarantee you he didn't spend two hours finding out how the film business operates or what a great script really looks like. He's another in the very long list who envisions Hollywood as some kind of Fantasyland where their scripts are easily placed in front of Spielberg and put into production the next day. Just educating yourself on how this all works gives you such an advantage so that when you do write your great script, you'll be in a position to understand the maybe years of self marketing you'll have to do to get it seen by that one person who can champion it, who believes in it, and can get it made. They are out there. I know. I've found a few. You can, too.

        Forget the contests, unless you've written a biopic about the Cher and Greg Allman marriage or something for the Nicholl, and educate yourself in the business of being a screenwriter. You'll be amazed at what a leg up you'll have.

        Comment


        • #49
          Re: Why I Hate Script Contests And So Should You

          Originally posted by EdFury View Post
          a biopic about the Cher and Greg Allman marriage
          Ummm...are you using that?

          Comment


          • #50
            Re: Why I Hate Script Contests And So Should You

            Originally posted by ClintW3 View Post
            Ummm...are you using that?
            Be my guest. 😀

            Comment


            • #51
              Re: Why I Hate Script Contests And So Should You

              It is a seriously genius idea.

              Comment


              • #52
                Re: Why I Hate Script Contests And So Should You

                I very much enjoy my old post mentioned and the wild thing about that pitchfest is that is only one aspect of it. Me befriending another wannabe writer for a day was only the tip of the ice berg. The entire event was nuts. Here are some more observations that I hope entertain you about the pitchfest (not to be confused with VP). Now these observations might only be regulated to that one year and I can't say what it was like before or after. I also think they stopped doing it a few years ago.

                Here are some observations of that LA Pitchfest...

                1) They invite all of us regular people into a ballroom that is filled with tables and sign up sheets. We purchased 10 pitches (maybe it was more or less). The execs weren't in the room yet. The head of the fest said "On each desk is a company name and a sign up sheet. There is only so much space on each starting sheet. You have twenty minutes to sign up starting now!" Then everyone with an ounce of authority and common sense left the room. It was a free-for-all. It was like you see what a Black Friday sale is like on the news. I remember people vaulting over tables with an air of desperation that struck me as madness. A few times when I got to a sign up sheet it was filled. Also a few times I saw people etching out other people's names and putting their own. I only signed up about a third of the places I wanted to pitch to so I had to go to plan B and C and D. I was ill prepared for the notion I wouldn't be pitching to some of the places I traveled thousands of miles for.

                2) My first pitch was to a 23 year old intern/junior exec/development assistant who was physically stunning. She was getting a massage as I pitched to her. She loved the massage, but not-so my pitch. I remember her eyes being closed and occasionally cutting me off to direct the masseuse to a troubled spot. Sadly, I would have to deal with the massage distraction again later on. They had services for the execs like that.

                3) They had a line you could go on if you had free time between pitches in which you could get a free pitch with someone in the industry if no one was seated before them. Sometimes I had 2 hours between pitches so I'd get on this line and you'd be ushered to a industry "pro" with an empty seat before him/her. That's cool, right? Weeeeellll, not really. The problem was you'd blindly sit in front of someone who is not likely a fit. You have a Sci-Fi fantasy script? Now you're sitting in front of some associate producer who has done a nature show on penguins and is looking for ideas on squirrels (not animated ones). I did this a few times for practice then stopped. It didn't do anybody any good. I had horror-action scripts/premises. Instead of sitting with Lions Gate I was sitting in front of someone who works for Jennifer Love Hewett and is actively seeking a romantic comedy in the vein of "Just Friends."

                4) I saw one guy do pitches with his wife whom he dressed as Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader and she looked very attractive. I don't know if it worked or not. Another guy dressed in a huge animal mascot costume. He ended up getting on the local news.

                5) One of my pitches got the attention of a creative exec.' He seemed to really like it. He wanted me to call him on Monday. I felt like I was walking on air. I go out in the hotel hallway and get back on the big line for people who are looking for free pitches. That particular exec' comes out with his entourage and walks toward me. He talks to me as I stand on line! He actually left the pitch fest to keep discussing my script with his assistants. He says he'll call me next week and we need to talk. A hundred heads turn and study me with a mixture of jealousy and envy. People ask me what my pitch is and want to read the script. I know better at this point so I'm guarded. It is assumed I hit it big time.

                *** I didn't. He did call me and he wanted to option it. Then a week later it fell through because he quit to become a writer himself. Aaaaahhhh! He was going to help me get an agent, but used this juice card on himself. Aaaahhh!

                6) I pitched to a guy with real producer credits. A guy who has done a horror film. Finally! I tell him my premise and the protagonists are Native American. He laughs, cuts me off and tells me to try another pitch. I get a sentence into the next pitch and he takes a phone call but tells me to continue pitching. He's not even making eye contact. I got up and walked away. I ended up doing that again when faced with an executive getting massage for the second time.

                7) You get 5 minutes for a pitch. It is timed. The moderators have a bell. Once the bell is sounded you need to leave your pitch because it is someone else's turn. If you overstay you are warned. It throws off the timing of the next person. This happened to me a few times. I'd come over to the table only for the person to be still there and trying to pitch ignoring the bell was rung. You'd stand there while everyone is seated and feel socially awkward. The moderators would frown. The executive at the table (most were interns or lowest rung execs) would look confused. But the person wasn't letting up. One time it was so awkward that when I finally sat down I didn't even pitch. For 3 minutes myself and the executive just talked about what a rude person that person was. And I paid for that. Another time I came over and the female pitching and the female executive listening were talking about a mutual friend. I ended up being told to go away.

                I just had to get those observations off my chest. In re-reading my observation from last year I felt there was so much more to say. The thing about LA is everyone has a script. The taxi driver has one under his seat. The waitress at the hotel bar. Such experiences made me learn that it is very difficult to scramble up the heap. Not impossible. It's as someone says you need to be championed. And as an above poster mentioned is there is so much love for Nicholls but seriously they don't want your horror script.

                I have a dozen weird stories of almost making it and run ins with celebrities, but I've written enough. Hope you enjoy the pitchfest observations.

                Comment


                • #53
                  Re: Why I Hate Script Contests And So Should You

                  Originally posted by EdFury View Post
                  The Nicholl, which I don't understand because in my opinion they apparently only need you to write a biopic about someone you don't have life rights for to make the finals.
                  As some folks may know, I've retired and so no longer have any connection to the Nicholl competition. Still, I have some sense of what scripts reached the finals over the years - and overwhelmingly they were not biopics.

                  On the following Nicholl list, "historically based" refers to scripts dealing with historical figures and events and not to scripts set in the past featuring fictional central characters.

                  2017 - three of 10 finalists historically based.
                  2016 - one of 12 finalists historically based.
                  2015 - zero of 12.
                  2014 - three of 10 (though it's a stretch to include US of F-ing Awesome).
                  2013 - two of 10.
                  2012 - two of 10.
                  2011 - zero of 10.
                  2010 - one of 10 (though the one is a fantasy adventure that features historical figures).
                  2009 - one of ten.
                  2008 - one of ten.

                  Of the 14, only the Judith Regan/O.J. Simpson and Ted Bundy scripts could have life rights issues. Since the latter is in production, rights issues must have been solved.

                  Comment


                  • #54
                    Re: Why I Hate Script Contests And So Should You

                    I had the same exact experience at the same pitch fest you are talking about. For one pitch, the only thing the junior exec and I talked about was how long it took to drive from SF to LA and the best way to do it. I don't think any of the execs are really there expecting to find a great script, and even if they did, there isn't much they can do to get it made or get traction. Here's the thing -- it's not just that, like you said, EVERYONE has a script — the taxi driver, the restaurant hostess, your gardener — it's that everyone ALREADY WORKING IN THE INDUSTRY has a script, too — the producer you're pitching to at the pitch fest, the director you want to send your script to, the director's agent, the director's assistant, the director's assistant's step-sister, the director's agent's assistant, the agent's assistant's little brother, who just graduated from USC film school, his girlfriend, etc... and they already have tons of contacts and are plugged in and they're writing pretty good scripts at that. If you magically obliterated the entire amateur screenwriting community today and millions of scripts it generates per year, Hollywood wouldn't even notice and its working producers and directors would still have enough material for three lifetimes. THAT's the cold hard truth. But it doesn't mean it's impossible — it's ALMOST impossible, but so much is luck, and I agree that script contests/pitch fests are not really a means to "break in" so much as just motivation to finish a script and get one particular person's (whichever reader it's assigned to) opinion on it.
                    Last edited by grumpywriter; 02-19-2018, 12:15 PM.

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                    • #55
                      Re: Why I Hate Script Contests And So Should You

                      What a thread!

                      As for me? It's good to be poor. None of these fests or contests are an option for me these days.

                      Just this week, for instance, it came down to tossing something to the Nicholl for their early bird deadline (I've never had a placement, in a dozen submissions), or the copyright registration of my latest. The script is already out there being read, as a result of aggressive pitching.

                      I decided I better do the copyright, both to keep my lawyer happy and to keep my eye on the ball - that this is a business, not a gold ribbon chasing event.

                      Comment


                      • #56
                        Re: Why I Hate Script Contests And So Should You

                        I keep reading this opinion on many different forums and message boards that Nicholl is not interested in your commercial thriller. Is that true? That type of fare does better with Page, Final Draft and Screencraft. Certainly, I hope that's not the case, since not every writer even knows how to write a Greg Allman/Cher biopic and their passion is in thrillers or action....but, I've seen that comment said so many times of many boards (other than Done Deal) that I just had to ask that question.

                        Comment


                        • #57
                          Re: Why I Hate Script Contests And So Should You

                          Would "based on a person's life" be considered an adaptation under the Nicholl's guidelines? I can see how something like that could fall under some scrutiny since you can't be sure how much the writer really contributed versus what was taken from source material.

                          Heard about you passing the torch, Greg. You'll be missed for sure! I had the pleasure of seeing both you and Matt Dy in person at the AFF event held in the Linwood Dunn Theater last year.

                          Originally posted by gregbeal View Post
                          As some folks may know, I've retired and so no longer have any connection to the Nicholl competition. Still, I have some sense of what scripts reached the finals over the years - and overwhelmingly they were not biopics.

                          On the following Nicholl list, "historically based" refers to scripts dealing with historical figures and events and not to scripts set in the past featuring fictional central characters.

                          2017 - three of 10 finalists historically based.
                          2016 - one of 12 finalists historically based.
                          2015 - zero of 12.
                          2014 - three of 10 (though it's a stretch to include US of F-ing Awesome).
                          2013 - two of 10.
                          2012 - two of 10.
                          2011 - zero of 10.
                          2010 - one of 10 (though the one is a fantasy adventure that features historical figures).
                          2009 - one of ten.
                          2008 - one of ten.

                          Of the 14, only the Judith Regan/O.J. Simpson and Ted Bundy scripts could have life rights issues. Since the latter is in production, rights issues must have been solved.

                          Comment


                          • #58
                            Re: Why I Hate Script Contests And So Should You

                            I'm skeptical that this is the case. I'm a reader for a few contests and the pile is daunting to say the least. Good material will rise to the top regardless relatively speaking, and what really makes one script more engaging than the other is often genre agnostic from my experience. As an aside, "engagement" can mean great concept as well as great craft (preferably both).

                            That being said, there's no reason why a high-concept commercial thriller can't be as engaging as its lower-concept character-driven ilk (if you have a high-concept AND strong characters, that's screenwriting gold)

                            Originally posted by Friday View Post
                            I keep reading this opinion on many different forums and message boards that Nicholl is not interested in your commercial thriller. Is that true? That type of fare does better with Page, Final Draft and Screencraft. Certainly, I hope that's not the case, since not every writer even knows how to write a Greg Allman/Cher biopic and their passion is in thrillers or action....but, I've seen that comment said so many times of many boards (other than Done Deal) that I just had to ask that question.

                            Comment


                            • #59
                              Re: Why I Hate Script Contests And So Should You

                              Originally posted by nguyensquared View Post
                              Would "based on a person's life" be considered an adaptation under the Nicholl's guidelines? I can see how something like that could fall under some scrutiny since you can't be sure how much the writer really contributed versus what was taken from source material.

                              Heard about you passing the torch, Greg. You'll be missed for sure! I had the pleasure of seeing both you and Matt Dy in person at the AFF event held in the Linwood Dunn Theater last year.
                              Thanks for the kind words.

                              No, basing a script on a person's life is not an adaptation - unless your script were based on a single source about that person. So long as a script is based on multiple sources and doesn't rely heavily on one source, it should not be considered an adaptation.

                              Comment


                              • #60
                                Re: Why I Hate Script Contests And So Should You

                                Originally posted by Friday View Post
                                I keep reading this opinion on many different forums and message boards that Nicholl is not interested in your commercial thriller. Is that true? That type of fare does better with Page, Final Draft and Screencraft. Certainly, I hope that's not the case, since not every writer even knows how to write a Greg Allman/Cher biopic and their passion is in thrillers or action....but, I've seen that comment said so many times of many boards (other than Done Deal) that I just had to ask that question.
                                Over the years, thrillers have done quite well in the Nicholl competition, and a number have earned fellowships for their writers.

                                If you visit the Nicholl ceremonies page, you can read log lines for winners going back a number of years and for finalists for a few years.

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