My Black List Experience

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  • Joe, I’ve known you long enough to know you have your own strategy. I’m really not trying to change your mind as much as I am laying out my philosophy in case anyone reading along is curious.

    FWIW, I'm a fan of testing readers/websites/services/contests. I've done a few anonymous tests and posted the results here. So if you're going to enter nine contests to share the results, that's very generous and I'm sure people will get something out of it.

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    • I'll add as someone that could be dead at least two times now with medical stuff and with a pandemic out there -- I guess I'm pushing what I thought before but also knowing time is not infinite -- and that if we all wait until the right time to strike we will be 75 or dead before we try to make it in Hollywood. And that isn't even the worst thing that ever happened to me.

      I haven't made it yet. I'm still trying. Maybe my rep will call today and said "it sold" and then I still haven't made it -- just one step closer.

      I also give advice to anyone reading this including me when I read this in the future. Don't waste time.

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      • Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post

        Joe, I’ve known you long enough to know you have your own strategy. I’m really not trying to change your mind as much as I am laying out my philosophy in case anyone reading along is curious.
        It's all good. It made for another lively thread here on Done Deal. I don't see these type of discussions happening anywhere else.

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        • Originally posted by JoeNYC View Post

          It's all good. It made for another lively thread here on Done Deal. I don't see these type of discussions happening anywhere else.
          Hi Joe, very nice of you to get the lay of the land with 9 contests, I'm sure it will help some people. Out of curiosity, why not just target the top contest (Nicholls) and save your other entries for the studio fellowships? Those seem a much more legitimate way to actually get forward progression in your career, and there's not nearly as much analysis on them as there's been for a lot of these contests. Plus they're free, I believe?

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          • Wasn't there a [email protected]@@ Blockers movie?

            Contests that can get you reads is worth it. I know you get reads from the Nichol if you make the QF. It used to anyway. I haven't entered in about a decade. I remember 10 - 12 managers/agents/small prod. companies emailing me and asking me to send the script both times I made the QF. Might have heard back one or two polite passes but nothing from the rest. Looking back, they probably read the first ten and put it down because it was an unrealized idea on paper. I have since been working on the script since the shutdown in March and I plan to submit it to Nichol. This version is unrecognizable from the version that made the QF. Much more thought out and focused.

            The reason it is sooooo hard to get reads on cold queries is because every tom, dick, and harry with a script wants to get repped. It's not their fault. They are going for it. The thing is they don't have the product 99% of the time and the agent or manager knows this. So they can't go reading everything but I guess if you kept at it you may get a read, you may get a shot and if you don't have at lest a very strong writing sample then that door is shut.

            I remember I got so many reads by cold querying in my early twenties. I had my stuff read by zide/perry and kaplan/perrone. I remember I had an indie producer emailed me once cause I had a script listed on zoetrope or triggerstreet or somewhere and he said he needed a vehicle for a rapper that was looking to make a small feature and my script was the only urban based script he could find that didn't have an all white cast. It was about a reformed drug dealer who is let go from prison and going back to the hood. Very Catlito's Wayish. The director wanted to read the script which was a god dam mess filled with melodramatic dialogue with a sideways structure and I never heard back. I'd kill for those chances now.
            Last edited by Cyfress; 01-31-2021, 04:36 PM.

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            • Originally posted by Cyfress View Post

              Contests that can get you reads is worth it.
              Of course, this is true, but there are hundreds of contests. MovieBytes list 500 contests, but there are even more than what’s listed. So, the question is, which contests?

              This is one of the things I was going to address in my contests’ thread, but I got 20 year writers telling me that there’s no value. Ah yeah, it may not be any value to experienced writers because they should all ready possess this knowledge, but this thread would have been mainly for newbies who don’t have a clue.

              I hear the same beef over and over again about contests:

              “Industry people only look at the Nicholl because of their proven track record of awarding talented writers,” or “there are only a few contests worth entering.”

              -- There are contests that work hard to find representation for their finalists and winners. And they have succeeded. Not always for everyone, but they have succeeded in getting writers representation, where some went on to have a career.

              Another beef:

              “Contests are like a lottery.”

              -- Not true. A lottery is pure luck. A writer has no control over his destiny.

              With a contest, a writer doesn’t have to rely on just luck. He can hone his talent. He can elevate his skill level by studying the craft and gain practical experience by actually writing screenplays. Putting this work in, will make he/she a stronger writer, where they will produce strong material. A writer can increase his odds in connecting with a contest reader, where his material will resonate, by entering 3 to 5 selected contests.

              Another beef:

              “There are 8,000 writers entering a contest and only a few become semifinalists, finalists and winners, so it’s a waste of money for the majority.”

              -- If a writer has this type of defeatism about competing with their non-pro peers, then he has no business wanting to compete with the professional writers in Hollywood.

              Contests offer an opportunity. It’s a valid route. I don’t know the percentage of the total of writers who enter all of these contests in one contest year that will gain validation and representation, but if you’re one of these successful writers, congratulations. Being active and seizing the opportunity worked out for you.

              For the majority of writers who did not advance, keep studying the craft and writing screenplays to become stronger.

              I know there are a lot of writers who are working on their screenplays up to the contest’s deadline. The problems with this is that there is a penalty where the writer must pay the max entry fee that could be close to $100, if not more. The material, being rushed, may be weak. The contest reader by this time may be exhausted and not as fresh.

              I suggest for a writer to be patient. Don’t rush and enter your script close to the deadline. Wait a few months for the next contest year. This way the early entry fee will be at its lowest like around $40. You’ll have more time to ensure your screenplay is strong. Also, you’ll be working on your next screenplay where if you advance high in a contest and you get interest from Industry professionals and they ask what else do you have, you’ll be in a good position with another screenplay.

              Don’t count on one route. Use as many routes as practicable and financially feasible to obtain reads for your screenplays. Breaking in is only for those writers who are patient, persistent, willing to put in the work, who are active and seize opportunities and are willing to invest in themselves.
              Last edited by JoeNYC; 02-05-2021, 04:18 AM.

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              • I think if you've been around long enough then you know the contests: Nichol, Austen, Trackingb, Scriptapalooza. The Nichol is best because a finish in the top 300 may get you reads. I don't think any other of the contests can say that.

                I, personally, don't believe it is as subjective as people think. I've never judged but I have read 100 amateur scripts easy over the years. Most show zero command over character, plot, theme, dialogue. That's because the writer does not know where to go from there or how to make it better so they think it is what it is. This is the script. So, if you come across a script that all of a sudden has an interesting character or has somewhat of the correct pacing for the genre its in, you're not gonna advance the script if you are the judge? In fact, I think there is so few good scripts that dreck must advance. I know this because I advanced with what I would call dreck. So I know flawed scripts advance. If you can show command over something, not even all of the tools, but you can do something right then you'll probably advance. I say probably cause you never know. I know the stories. Oh this script got cut first round and sold as a spec. Of course outlier results exist. The world is a bell curve. Most of the results land in the meaty part of the curve - that's the expected outcome. There are results in the thinest parts of the curve but to use that as a "calling card" for what can happen and what does happen is misleading.

                We know 99% of the amateur screenwriters out there do not have the product. That's why that 1% complains so much about how hard it is to break in. There's no doubt that people overrate their material. They know the odds. They know it's a long shot. But they really think this script could be it. I remember after I wrote the first script I ever wrote I rushed to register it with the WGA. I remember back then I think they had 50k script registrations in a year maybe. I remember that number because I remember of replaying that scene from Dumb And Dumber inmy head, "So you're saying there's a chance...".

                There's so many things that you need to do right in a story. Amateur scripts don't do them right. It's not easy to do them right obviously or the entire world would sit back and write incredible fiction. You trap a reader in a world and have them not wanna leave until they see things play out. You need that feeling as early as possible in your story or else it will be put down.

                And I think there's a mountain of difference between the avg. Nichol script that advances to QF and a script that can compete in the market.

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                • On this:

                  Another beef:

                  “Contests are like a lottery.”

                  -- Not true. A lottery is pure luck. A writer has no control over his destiny.
                  Joe:

                  I said contests are like a lottery. The one thing I believe we've all agreed on is that one script can and often does get low scores from one contest reader and high scores from another thus giving you an average score that falls below the benchmark for advancing in the contest.

                  The luck involved is beating the "reader subjectivity" odds. And quality writing doesn't help you beat those odds.

                  Remember Lowell's Blacklist experiment? He received two near polar opposite scores, under a pen name, on a TV pilot from BL readers (who we're told are handpicked for their experience). And since the low score was from a reader offended by the concept (their opinion: sexist), Jeff let me read the script, likely because I have a rep here as a feminist.

                  It was an hour long TV drama. Not a genre Lowell is known for. And the skill in those pages was impressive. The story, the characters, the establishment of the world -- not at all sexist or offensive in spite of being set in the early years of the porn industry.

                  It was clear to me the thumbs-down reader mentally shut down due to the setting alone.They were incapable of seeing the writing skill involved. Incapable of being objective. And that was indeed the luck of the draw in terms of which readers were assigned his script.

                  For me having an opportunity to participate in Jeff's BL experiment confirmed my pre-existing take that the subjectivity of contest readers cannot be mitigated by the quality of the writing.

                  This is why I said contests are like a lottery.

                  Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

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                  • Joe, as I've said, it's generous of you to run tests on contests if that's what you're doing. But I'm curious what the test will be. Unless your script is a winner (or very near that) in most contests, you can't expect any traction in the marketplace, or in getting a rep.

                    To me, the interesting way to run a test would be to submit a professional level spec - something that just sold or won a big contest - to see which contests recognize it and what they do with it. But that wouldn't be fair - you'd be taking a spot away from an amateur writer who was hoping to get a leg up.

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                    • Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post

                      I'm curious what the test will be.

                      To me, the interesting way to run a test would be to submit a professional level spec - something that just sold or won a big contest - to see which contests recognize it and what they do with it. But that wouldn't be fair - you'd be taking a spot away from an amateur writer who was hoping to get a leg up.
                      It would have been an all encompassing report on contests, such as, are they operated well, do they reply to emails, are they on target with their announcement dates, do they work to help find finalists and winners representation, which contests favor high concept, low concept, if my script advances, who and how many industry people contact me to request reads, etc., etc.

                      Sending in a previous screenplay that was a finalist, or winner is not ideal because I don't want to stack the deck. I want it to be even and comparable with my peers' screenplays where they and I will be entering a screenplay for the first time that we believe is strong and will advance, though I'm sure they'll be a few ringers re-sending in past semifinalist screenplays.

                      For example, Wenonah's "Horsehead Girls" had advanced in previous contests before it won the 2018 Nicholl Fellowship.

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                      • Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post

                        To me, the interesting way to run a test would be to submit a professional level spec - something that just sold or won a big contest - to see which contests recognize it and what they do with it. But that wouldn't be fair - you'd be taking a spot away from an amateur writer who was hoping to get a leg up.
                        I think Shia LaBeouf already did this. A few times.

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                        • Entering a ringer script is obviously a **** thing to do. But - in my opinion - the only thing that really matters with a contest is how many doors does it open for the writer with a great result. And the only way to test that is with a winning script.

                          i see contests list how well past winners have done career-wise - but I know some of those winners, and often someone's success will have nothing to do with the contest using their name.

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                          • Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
                            Entering a ringer script is obviously a **** thing to do. But - in my opinion - the only thing that really matters with a contest is how many doors does it open for the writer with a great result. And the only way to test that is with a winning script.

                            i see contests list how well past winners have done career-wise - but I know some of those winners, and often someone's success will have nothing to do with the contest using their name.
                            Hi Jeff, I think it's a worthwhile experiment. I don't think it would take someone else's place, because afterwards you can withdraw your script, or explain, and the award will go to the next in line. Could be educational.

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                            • Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post

                              the only thing that really matters with a contest is how many doors does it open for the writer with a great result. And the only way to test that is with a winning script.
                              The 9 contests that I was going to enter have all gained writers representation, but naturally, some more than others. So, testing them with a winner is unnecessary. Even if someone did test contests with a past "winning" script, Anagram made a good point that if someone doing the testing was a professional, or all ready had representation, they could decline the award and it would be the next writer up, but remember, there's a subjectivity factor, where a winning script might succeed in one contest and be a loser in another contest.

                              I still insist that if a writer and screenplay is strong, even with the subjectivity factor, he should be able to advance in 1 out of 3 contests and that was one of the things I was aiming to prove, though I already done it with past contest entries.
                              Last edited by JoeNYC; 02-03-2021, 11:26 AM.

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                              • I think that if a pro entered a contest for amateurs, it would be a bad move. I think the pro might get blowback, and I'm not sure how much it would help the runner up who got elevated, since all the PR and announcements would have already happened. It's why - when I have run these type of experiments - I've hired readers or entered the blacklist, so I'm not screwing someone over.

                                Joe: by "advance," do you mean make it through the first cut? I'm not sure there's any contest where that would be a meaningful event in the writer's professional life. Saying "I was one of the best 400 writers in a contest for amateurs" isn't a winning first line of a query letter.

                                Again, I'm all for educational experiments. Hopefully you'll prove me wrong and win a bunch of contests and we can track the resulting bump in interest.

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