STAR WARS goes down!


I hear the projection system broke down the other night during a Hollywood screening of the new Star Wars flick. It's 3/4 through the movie and...no sound, messed up picture. Ouch! Understandably, all the poor folks in the theater went nuts. This reminded me of when my dad took me to see the original Superman movie in 1978. It was opening weekend and the theater (here in Westwood) was packed. The movie finally starts and...no sound.  It kept playing for a few minutes...but still no sound. The picture shut off, the lights came up, some poor guy from the theater came down and said something like, "Sorry, but we can't get the sound to work. As you leave, we'll be happy to refund your tickets." That was it. Everyone got up and left. I finally saw the movie not long afterward. Loved it.








No witches, warlocks or vampires...
just a sexy tale about trying to live the Hollywood dream...

Book Review: Trent Nordhoff's Wild Roller Coaster Ride Through Hollywood!



(Reader Scott Izen with his copy of Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen)



Amazon review of Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen
A Novel About Hollywood by Jim Vines


"Jim Vines has effectively captured the essence of stereotypical Hollywood and slipped it between the sheets of an enjoyable and fast read....Here the trusty and otherwise intelligent protagonist, Trent, arrives in town as yet another doe-eyed wannabe who believes anything from the mouths of people who really know nothing, whose passion becomes fraught with empty promises, lies and downright theft. What he doesn't know indeed hurts him, which leaves him hardened but not any smarter. Such is often the case in cinema, though Vines effectively smooths out the bouts of mental turbulence that nonfictional reality can dish out, i.e., there’s no shortage of people looking to steal your work, who not only profit from it, but take credit for it as well. At least he (Trent) gets laid from time to time, graphically but tastefully described in an NC-17 sort of way. Lucky bastard! That said, this novel mainly supports a seedier notion that success is limited to the wonts of insensitive agents, flashy producers and eccentric directors versus honest collaboration and hard work by scores of creative and talented minds—assuming, of course, you're not the writer." — 4-Star Amazon review by Books Worth Buying



Available in paperback from 
Amazon and Kindle e-Book!
Also available from KOBO!



One writer's view on writer's block...

I recently interviewed author Ksenia Anske for my indie novelist's blog, and the question of writer's block was posed. I was quite impressed with Ksenia's response. Here's what she had to say...


Q: Do you ever suffer through writer’s block? If so, how do you fight it?

A: I don't believe in writer's block. I believe it's a convenient myth to hide behind to justify your procrastination. Ever heard of an accountant having an accounting block? Neither have I. Writing is a job and most days it's tedious and exhausting and boring. The glamour around writing is yet another myth concocted by wannabes, I would suspect, or those who believe that the process of birthing a book is like waving a magic wand and having it pop out of thin air complete with a muse carrying it to you on a silver platter. Unfortunately, it's not like that at all. It takes a great deal of discipline and focus to sit alone, day in and day out, with your own inadequacies and deficiencies and flaws staring you in the face from the screen, or from a piece of paper if you write by hand or type. No one you can blame for it but yourself. It's hard to stomach, this truth, so people chicken out and then tell their friends they have writer's block and their friends feel sorry for them and so on. Aside from this little treatise I gave you just now, I do get scared of not knowing what happens next and I end up staring at the screen for too long without producing words, so I get up and get a cup of tea or eat some dried squirrels for a snack (I catch them myself), and by the time I'm back I usually have a good idea what to write next. That's as much as I've been blocked.

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SCREENWRITING COMPETITIONS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE (MARK RENSHAW)




SCREENWRITER: MARK RENSHAW (WARRINGTON, UK)

Q: Mark...when did you write your first screenplay?

A: Unofficially, I wrote a lot of short screenplays in the early 90s, but I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I had no idea about formatting, etc. and simply wrote spoofs starring the people I was working with. I used to send them around the office and they proved quite popular. One guy liked them so much he asked me to make a short movie with him. It was just him, me, a few family members as extras and a borrowed camera. I wrote the "script" and we went for it, guerrilla filmmaking style! It was called, I Am Peter Cushing. It was a comedy about a day in the life of a delusional man (played by me) who believes he is the famous vampire hunter, Peter Cushing. We were proud of the result and entered into a local film festival in Manchester; the Festival of Fantastic Films. Surprisingly enough, it won best amateur film and can still be found on Youtube. Unfortunately Hollywood did not beckon and we both went back to our day jobs. Around 2012 I decided to take this a bit more seriously. I started reading loads of screenplay books, scripts and learning from scratch. This was what I consider my official start to writing screenplays. I also teamed up again with my friend and together we’ve produced a few more short films.

Q: To date, approximately how many screenplays have you written?

A: I’ve written around thirty short scripts, two features, two TV episodes and co-written a webseries.   

Q: Which screenwriting competitions have you entered and seen through to a final result?

A: So far this year I have won a prize in the finals of the Wildsound Film Festival in Toronto, Canada for a fanfiction episode of Doctor Who that I wrote. I also reached the finals of the Reel Writers competition for a short script which received a top pick award. I’m currently in the semi-finals of the Eerie Horror Festival for a comedy/horror TV pilot. They should be announcing the finalists any day now. I also reached the semi-finals of Shriekfest and Scriptamation for a short script, but did not reach the finals in those.  

Q: Approximately how many screenplays did you write prior to entering your first competition?

A: Not many, a handful at best. I wanted to get an idea of how I was progressing, something I could measure by. I entered a few competitions back in 2013 which did not get me anywhere at all, Most completely rejected my scripts. In 2014 I managed to get to the quarter and semi-final stages in a few which spurred me onward.

Q: Did the competition(s) offer feedback—notes, critique, etc.—on the script(s) you entered? If so, what was the quality of the feedback?

A: I’ve only been given free feedback in the Wildsound and Reel Writers competitions. Both were excellent, really useful. Some of the other competitions do offer such services at a price, but I’ve not tried those.

Q: Did any of the competitions you entered try to hit you up for pay-based services, such as script consulting, proofing, etc.?

A: Yes. Quite a few offer [fee-based] script reviews; some offer discounts on script development services and re-draft submission fees.

Q: If “yes” to the previous question, did you take advantage of any of these services? Was this a negative or positive experience?

A: I haven’t, no. I am highly suspicious of such services being offered under these circumstances. If I wanted to try out such a service, I would carry out my own research first. I would want to know who I was paying, their experience, and be confident [that they are] of industry standards with a positive reputation. I have found it difficult to gain such information from a film festival or competition, so when I've needed such a service, I’ve gone to a reputable company that I can research and confirm their validity.

Q: If you won or placed high in a competition, did it have any effect, positive or negative, on your career?

A: There has been no noticeable impact so far. I’ve not had any offers or been contacted by anyone who has been referred to me by my success in a competition. I do realize it is early days, relatively speaking. The Reel Writers competition for example, the press release for this only went out last week. All I know is I’m not giving up. I’m continuing writing, I’m entering more competitions and I am producing my own films. I just love what I’m doing too much to stop.

Q: What types of prizes (monetary and non-monetary) have you won from the screenplay competitions you’ve entered?

A: I’ve won as many digital laurels as I can eat! It seems easy to get one of those, they hand them out like candy. The prize from the Wildsound Festival was a professional actor table-read of the script, which they recorded and posted on YouTube, as well as their websites. The Reel Writers prize was discounts on entering next year’s competition and screenwriting services, plus they also send the script to several production companies.

Q: Other than any material rewards and/or valuable feedback, what have been the most satisfying aspects of winning a competition?

A: It’s the satisfaction of knowing my script is deemed decent enough to win something. My first few scripts were not even accepted in these festivals, now I’m getting through to qualifying stages and winning some prizes. It lets me know I’m on the right track but need to do more and keep on developing.

Q: Have you ever submitted one of your early screenplays into a competition? If so, is it something you now regret—and why?

A: No, there’s no regrets. This was the only way I was going to learn, to grow as a writer. A failure is not a failure for me as long as I learn an important lesson. 

Q: Do you feel that adding "I won/placed high in the [name of script comp]" to query letters and pitches prompted any additional interest from agents, managers and/or production companies you queried?

A: I’ve not done that yet but I aim to in the future. Currently I’m building a portfolio of scripts, short stories, produced movies and awards. I’m putting together my own website to promote my work. I want to go on to sell scripts, books, produce features and TV shows. When I do, you can bet I’ll be using every achievement I can to try and improve my chances!

Q: Overall, what do you feel were the positive aspects of entering a screenplay competition?

A: The satisfaction of trying is an important milestone, it is a major achievement for me. I used to hide all my work on my PC and only show it to a few friends. I was afraid people would laugh at my feeble attempts, or steal my ideas. These fears crippled me for years. Entering competitions helped me face those fears and overcome my demons. For the good competitions, it’s been a great experience. You feel you are part of something creative, something positive. You feel involved, like your work really matters.

Q: Overall, what do you feel were the negative aspects of entering a screenplay competition?

A: Sometimes it feels like some of these competitions are just cash cows for the organizers. You don’t get any communication, no emails, little in the way of updates on the website and no explanation if your script is rejected. I feel some competitions are just there to take advantage of people desperate to break into the industry. However this is my responsibility. I should research the competitions more. I certainly do not enter any again if I am not happy with how they're run.

Q: What is your current status as a screenwriter?

A: At the moment this is simply a hobby, although it is my passion. I work full time to put food on the table and write in my spare time. Hopefully one day I can switch those around.

Q: Any parting comments, thoughts, or words of advice for screenwriters considering entering a competition?

A: Research, research and more research. Is the competition reputable? Does the theme or the competition’s past winners match the type of script you’ve written? What are your chances (i.e., if you are against thousands of skilled, veteran scriptwriters and this is your first entry, maybe consider a lower profile competition first)? Whatever you do, if you love writing, don’t give up. Keep on writing no matter what. One of my favorite screenwriting quotes is, "A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit." 

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Another solid review for my novel!



A Novel by Jim Vines
(Psst! It's a story about a Hollywood screenwriter!)


"I wasn't really sure what to expect with this book but it was an awesome read. I think I read it in only four sittings which is saying a lot because a) I'm really busy with two jobs and four kids, and b) it's over 300 pages long....I loved the parts of this story where the main character, Trent, got down to writing. There were tons of awesome scenes of him getting the writing done driven by inspiration, a deadline, or both. It's always cool to see how others write, and even though Trent is a fictional character, he sure feels real when you're reading the book. I loved seeing him struggle—and, man, did he struggle. It made me root for him big time. Jim Vines writes a great story [and it] moves at a great pace. It's not clogged up with unnecessary scenes or description. Just story. Even though the book is fairly long I sat down and before I knew it I had read like 74 pages. The crude language and sex scenes in this book weren't my cup of tea [but] I did appreciate...that the [sex scenes] would always end before going into much detail....I loved how the book was written in first person. It was like reading a memoir more than a fictional story, which was pretty sweet. The story had a great flow and it was fun to go for a ride through Hollywood with Trent as he struggles to get his art onto the page, and hopefully, onto the big screen."  Review by Dan Absalonson (4 out of 5 star rating)





Available in paperback from Amazon.com 
and Kindle e-Book!



Also available on KOBO!


SCREENWRITING COMPETITIONS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE (PHILLIP T. HOPERSBERGER)



SCREENWRITER: Phillip Hopersberger

Q: Phillip…when did you write your first screenplay?

A: I wrote Something Gray in 2011-12, based on a true story about a slave and his Confederate colonel friend from childhood, and the tension in their relationship going to war together for a cause that would continue his slavery. Here’s the logline:  “Based on a true story, a conflicted Confederate colonel risks his life to stop Lincoln's assassination when friendship trumps slavery.”

Q: To date, approximately how many screenplays have you written?

A: I’m a writer overall by trade, and a lover of history, which is what led me to write Something Gray. Reading about [John] Mosby’s life made me want to see it as a movie. Since then I have written three screenplays: another historical true story and a sports comedy.

Q: Which screenwriting competitions have you entered and seen through to a final result?

A: I entered Something Gray in ten contests (Page, Nicholl, Kairos, Austin, Scriptapalooza, Blue Cat, Act One, Final Draft, Zoetrope, and Sundance). I placed in the top 10-15% in the Page, Nicholl, and Kairos, which was pretty cool for my first ever attempt…and they had thousands of entries. I think Nicholl had almost 8,000 entries too. Nothing happened with the others. Ultimately nothing happened with the three I did well in, but I felt good about my writing abilities for a few days.

Q: Approximately how many screenplays did you write prior to entering your first competition?

A:  Zero. I had never written a screenplay before, and had not even read any. I was as green as the Jolly Green Giant.

Q: Did the competition(s) offer feedback—notes, critique, etc.—on the script(s) you entered? If so, what was the quality of the feedback?

A: Bluecat offered feedback. I remember thinking that [the notes were] okay, but not really helpful. They were kind of a generic overview. I tried to find [the notes] just now and it looks like I didn’t bother to save them. Must not have been too valuable because I’m a pack rat. Ironic that they passed on [my script and it] placed in three more distinguished contests.  That says a lot about the crapshoot and the readers making a decision on your script.

Q: Did any of the competitions you entered try to hit you up for pay-based services, such as script consulting, proofing, etc.?

A: No, not directly as a contestant. Several offered it on their websites or maybe [by] follow-up email, but there was real no sales push.

Q: If you won or placed high in a competition, did it have any effect, positive or negative, on your career?

A: As I mentioned above, I did very well for a first-timer in Page and Nicholl and Kairos, the first two being the best contests out there, in my opinion.  That was really encouraging, but that and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee at McDonald’s. However, I did use that placement in conversations and queries and writing endorsements with professional actors, managers, agents, directors, and producers. It opened a door, I think, but nothing else. 

Q: What types of prizes (monetary and non-monetary) have you won from the screenplay competitions you’ve entered?

A: Zero direct return on about $350 in entry fees.

Q: You submitted one of your early screenplays into a competitionis this something you now regret?

A: I entered my first and only screenplay and it placed well in the top three contests. I have no regrets, except not winning.

Q: Do you feel that adding "I won/placed high in the [name of script comp]" to query letters and pitches prompted any additional interest from agents, managers and/or production companies you queried?

A: Yes, I think so, but I condensed it into one simple line, “It fared well in the Page, Nicholl, and Kairos contests (top 10-15%).”  I think that adds credibility, but don’t overplay your hand…you still lost. I’ve had a lot of read requests from professionals, the biggest being Alcon Entertainment (The Blind Side and The Book of Eli) and most really liked it, but it's usually the same refrain: Hollywood is not interested in making period pieces; too expensive. It’s much easier (i.e., cheaper) to make contemporary films for the 20-30 crowd, with potty humor, like The Hangover. I think Spielberg took 10 years to make Lincoln, and made 182 million on a 65 million dollar budget. The Hangover made 277 million on a 50 million dollar budget, and two sequels that made 350 million more.

Q: Overall, what do you feel were the positive aspects of entering a screenplay competition?

A: I think it’s a fun experience if it’s not an end-all to your life experience. It forces you to finish a script and to make it as good as you can for this juncture in your writing career. And it’s fun to see what happens, to see where you stack up against scripts from all over the world, sometimes up to 8,000 of them.

Q: Overall, what do you feel were the negative aspects of entering a screenplay competition?

A: Picks and shovels for the gold rush guys. The miners rarely find gold, but the guys selling them goods make a bundle off their enthusiasm and dreams. It would be interesting to see what happens to the winners in the top ten contests over the last ten years. My gut says…nothing. They may have been the best in the contest, but not what Hollywood wants or considers a great script. They want to make money, not your movie, per se. Several insiders told me a lot of contests are rigged. Who knows?

Q: What is your current status as a screenwriter?

A: As I said, I’m a freelance writer who also writes screenplays. I make money writing paid gigs.  My experience from talking to insiders in Hollywood is it’s a pretty closed country club and spec scripts are rarely going to be bought and produced. It happens, but the odds are like 5000 to 1, and that may be generous when thousands and thousands of scripts hit L.A. every year, year after year after year. So I would say I write and hope, but it’s more of a hobby for me when I look at the odds. But if the right set of eyeballs reads my script and likes it, we’re off to the races. In the meantime, it’s my thing…like some guys blow time and money on golf or fishing or cars, I write. But I try to blow as little as possible on it. Three contests will suffice.

Q: Any parting comments, thoughts, or words of advice for screenwriters considering entering a competition?

A: I think it’s a waste of time to hit a bunch of screenplays after your first attempt. Try it once to see how you line up against the best, but only once. I wanted to see what would happen in showing Something Gray to a variety of readers, so I entered ten contests. Now I know I can write, and would only enter the top three contests in the future. Picks and shovels. If you want to make money, sell to the dreamers. My advice would be two-fold:

1.  Write what you like to write about, what you want to see in a movie. If you’re writing for others, it’ll be drudgery. Might as well go pull weeds. If you write about what you love, that passion will bleed through... and we’ll like it too.

2.  Find a way to keep your script alive. After Something Gray ran its course in contests, it seemed a shame to just stick it in a drawer, so I made a trailer for it, made it into a [book] to sell on Amazon.


(If you'd like to see Phillip's trailer for Something Gray, click here.)


SCREENWRITING COMPETITIONS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE (PATRICK DARROW BOHAN)



SCREENWRITER: Patrick Darrow Bohan (Burbank, California)


Q: Patrick...when did you write your first screenplay?

A: I wrote my first screenplay in high school. Looking back it was probably the most depressing thing I ever wrote and I’m glad I have grown since then.

Q: To date, approximately how many screenplays have you written?

A: I'd have to say I've written close to a dozen completed scripts, including both teleplays and features. If we're counting half-started and partially written scripts that I abandoned to die, it's probably closer to fifty.

Q: Which screenwriting competitions have you entered and seen through to a final result?

A: Most recently I entered a script in the Table Read My Screenplay contest. I made it to the semi-finals but did not end up a finalist. I have entered this contest before (semi-finalist) and like it because they will provide additional feedback for a small fee, which not all contests do. I've also entered the Flickers Rhode Island International Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. 

Q: Approximately how many screenplays did you write prior to entering your first competition?

A: I had written maybe two or three screenplays before I decided to enter one in a competition. The script I ended up entering was the first script I had written in film school and received much praise from my teachers and fellow students about it, so I figured I'd take a chance. 

Q: Did the competition(s) offer feedback—notes, critique, etc.—on the script(s) you entered? If so, what was the quality of the feedback?

A: As I said, the Table Read My Screenplay competition did offer feedback. Of all the competitions I've entered they were the only one to do so (at least the only ones not charging an outrageous price). The criticism was not too in-depth, but it did identify certain flaws with my scripts that I will hopefully have fixed in future rewrites. 

Q: Did any of the competitions you entered try to hit you up for pay-based services, such as script consulting, proofing, etc.?

A: Usually there is always a fee for any sort of criticism or consultation in addition to the fee you are paying for entering the contest. If the fee being asked for is more than the entry fee I usually do not choose it. I could go back to film school for some of the fees people charge to tell me what I could find out from just asking a friend to read my script.

Q: Have you ever taken advantage of any of these services? If so, was this a negative or positive experience?

A: Yes, I did take advantage of the critique offered by Table Read Your Screenplay. I found the notes positive and encouraging. 

Q: If you won or placed high in a competition, did it have any effect, positive or negative, on your career?

A: Not particularly. It is something to add to a query letter which might increase your chances of someone wanting to read the script, but I have not noticed any particular increase.

Q: What types of prizes (monetary and non-monetary) have you won from the screenplay competitions you’ve entered?

A: Free screenplay writing and selling guides. Some lecture videos. One contest gave me a coupon for Amtrak, which was kind of nice. All the really good stuff is saved for the winners.

Q: Other than any material rewards and/or valuable feedback, what have been the most satisfying aspects of winning a competition?

A: It’s a pretty nice reward just having someone who isn't a close friend or relative think your writing is good. So much of screenwriting is done in solitude; it's hard to convince yourself you're not just wasting time.

Q: Have you ever submitted one of your early screenplays into a competition? If so, is it something you now regret—and why?

A: NO! Never! I would burn them all and wipe my memory of those first scripts if I weren't so attached to them. 

Q: Do you feel that adding "I won/placed high in the [name of script comp]" to query letters and pitches prompted any additional interest from agents, managers and/or production companies you queried?

A: Not particularly. Probably depends on the contest and what positioned you placed. I didn't notice any.

Q: Overall, what do you feel were the positive aspects of entering a screenplay competition?

A: Having some recognition for your hard work…knowing that you are not just wasting time, but are actually creating something with some merit.

Q: Overall, what do you feel were the negative aspects of entering a screenplay competition?

A: It can be tough choosing which contests to enter. It can also get kind of expensive with so many entries.

Q: What is your current status as a screenwriter?

A: Seeking representation and sending out hundred upon hundreds of query letters.

Q: Any parting comments, thoughts, or words of advice for screenwriters considering entering a competition?

A: Don't give up. Or do. If you can picture yourself doing anything other than working in Hollywood, go do that. If not, get writing and never stop.

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(A Novel About Making It In Hollywood.)



SCREENWRITING COMPETITIONS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE (JOHN WASHCO)


SCREENWRITER: John Washco (45 miles east of Cleveland, Ohio)


Q: John...when did you write your first screenplay?

A. Spring of 2011, while recovering from hip replacement surgery.

Q: To date, approximately how many screenplays have you written? 

A: Four

Q: Which screenwriting competitions have you entered and seen through to a final result?

A: 8th Annual StoryPros International Screenplay Contest.

Q: Approximately how many screenplays did you write prior to entering your first competition?

A: Three.  

Q: Did the competition(s) offer feedback—notes, critique, etc.—on the script(s) you entered? If so, what was the quality of the feedback?

A: They offered feedback, but we opted not to pay for it. We had been getting regular feedback on each of our drafts and didn’t feel that we needed to spend the money for additional feedback. Wish now that we had just to get another opinion of it.

Q: Did any of the competitions you entered try to hit you up for pay-based services, such as script consulting, proofing, etc.?

A: Yes, all the contests we entered promoted that service

Q: Did you take advantage of any of these services? Was this a negative or positive experience?

A: No, we never considered it since we were extremely happy with our current [consulting] service and weren’t about to change.

Q: If you won or placed high in a competition, did it have any effect, positive or negative, on your career? 

A: We placed as a quarter-finalist, but it had no impact on our career other than some strong positive reinforcement that our writing was improving.

Q: What types of prizes (monetary and non-monetary) have you won from the screenplay competitions you’ve entered? 

A: Nothing.

Q: Other than any material rewards and/or valuable feedback, what have been the most satisfying aspects of winning a competition? 

A: For us, being named as a quarter-finalist was a big deal...acknowledgement that we were improving. Although, when the list of semifinalists came out and we didn’t advance we were disappointed but not devastated and continued rewriting.

Q: Overall, what do you feel were the positive aspects of entering a screenplay competition?

A: For us, knowing that after a few years of hard work we were finally starting to improve the quality of our writing. It gave us more incentive to continue writing and work even harder at it.

Q: Overall, what do you feel were the negative aspects of entering a screenplay competition?

A: Initially, the feeling of disappointment for not placing. Fortunately for us that feeling was very short-lived and we got right back to work on rewriting.

Q: What is your current status as a screenwriter? 

A: Currently we are changing gears and adapting one of our features to a one-hour TV series, and working very hard at learning the difference in the formats.

Q: Any parting comments, thoughts, or words of advice for screenwriters considering entering a competition?

A: If you can afford to enter them and pay for feedback, do it. If you can’t then be selective and make sure your work is as good as you can make it. Enter the larger or higher rated competitions and cross your fingers.

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SCREENWRITING COMPETITIONS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE (RONSON PAGE)



SCREENWRITER: Ronson Page (Texas)

Q: Ronson…when did you write your first screenplay?

A: I wrote my first original feature length screenplay, a mystery-drama called The Bone Orchard, in March-April 2003. I’d just been laid off my straight gig of more than eight years, running a corporate television network…creatively soul-sucking, but a nice source of income. My wife and I were expecting our first child in a few months, and we’d just closed on our first house, a week earlier…so the timing of the layoff was pretty lousy. Since I had severance, my wife encouraged me to take a month off and just recharge, then get to writing.  I spent about a month outlining a story I’d had rattling around my noggin for quite some time, and I spent the next month (April 2003) writing the first draft of The Bone Orchard.  I had a couple days to get a quick read from a couple of writer buddies of mine and do a very quick polish, before I sent The Bone Orchard in to the Nicholl Fellowship competition, with one day to spare.  Over the next couple of months, I also sent The Bone Orchard off to Scriptapolooza, the Austin, and either the Disney or the Chesterfield, I forget which.

Q: To date, approximately how many screenplays have you written?

A: Four.  Of those four, I’ve either sold or optioned (multiple times) three of ‘em…the most recent one, I have not really shown around.  I’m not a slow writer, but if I’m not inspired or motivated, I can be lazy.  Add to that, there have been periods of time, measured in years, when I could not do any writing, due to this or that.  But, I will add that I spend a great deal of time, just thinking about story.  That’s pretty much non-stop, and I think many or most writers will tell you the same thing:  lot of writing goes on, in the noggin.

Q: Which screenwriting competitions have you entered and seen through to a final result?

A: The Nicholl, Scriptapolooza, Austin, and Disney (or Chesterfield).

Q: Approximately how many screenplays did you write prior to entering your first competition?
 
A: Zero original feature screenplays; The Bone Orchard was my first.  But there were many short film screenplays—I thought it would be less painful, to learn to write short films, first— plus I’ve been doing one form of creative writing or another since I was about 9 years old.  I won my first contest at the age of 12.  I was a journalism major, in college.  So when I tell you that I’d written zero original feature scripts, before The Bone Orchard, I don’t want to give the impression that me being able to string words together to form a pleasing phrase just sorta sprung from my noggin, fully-formed, like Athena from the forehead of Zeus.  I’ve always been a writer; I’ve always enjoyed telling stories.  The trick was learning how to tell a story for viewers to watch on a screen, within a certain number of pages.

Q: Did the competition(s) offer feedback—notes, critique, etc.—on the script(s) you entered? If so, what was the quality of the feedback?

A: No feedback was offered in the competitions I entered, at that time.

Q: Did any of the competitions you entered try to hit you up for pay-based services, such as script consulting, proofing, etc.?

A: No.

Q: If you won or placed high in a competition, did it have any effect, positive or negative, on your career?

A: Oh yes. In 2003, I entered four or five writing contests, the ones I determined were some of the best, if not the very best, at that time:  the Nicholl, Scriptapolooza, AFF, and either Disney or Chesterfield, I forget which. Of those contests, I crapped out in all, but one.  I mean, I didn’t even get past the first round, and in a moment, you’ll understand the importance of that first reader. The one contest I advanced in, and kept advancing in, was the Nicholl.  Even as I was getting first round rejection letters from AFF, from Scriptapolooza, etc., I was advancing in the Nicholl (which was kinda amusing and kinda baffling). Quarterfinals, then Semifinals, then a phone call from Greg to tell me I was a Finalist…top ten scripts, out of 6,000+ entries.  I was stunned. I did not win a Fellowship, but like all Finalists, was flown out to Beverly Hills for a week, all expenses paid, meetings out the yang…really, the only difference between a Finalist and a Fellow is the $30K.  Which is a nice chunk of change, but in terms of how you are treated by the Nicholl Committee and the rest of the industry, it’s the same. When the Finalists are announced and the trades print the list, your phone and email goes nuts for a few days…you become extremely popular, white hot, at least for a few weeks.  Being a Finalist (or a Fellow) is a temporary golden ticket into the Chocolate Factory.  Everyone wants to take a meeting with you.  Everyone wants to read you (or have their assistant read you). If you can take advantage of the momentary attention, you can parlay that into new relationships, folks who will want to read you, again and again.  And, eventually, you might sell something or land a gig.  I did both.

Q: What types of prizes (monetary and non-monetary) have you won from the screenplay competitions you’ve entered?

A: Zero! Well, okay…as a Nicholl Finalist, again, the trip to Beverly Hills is paid for…airline, hotel (the Beverly Hilton, not as fancy as you might think), per diem (very handy, if you don’t eat expensively and end up with your rental car towed and you gotta get it out of hock, which I did)…but in terms of actual prizes, things with ribbons attached or enormous checks, nada.

Q: Other than any material rewards and/or valuable feedback, what have been the most satisfying aspects of placing high in a competition?

A: I’d offer that the most satisfying aspect for me—and I only recognized this a year or two later—was learning how much I still had to learn.  I went out there with the one script.  Truthfully, part of me was in too much shock to even begin to write anything else.  The other part of me was naive enough to believe that this one script, The Bone Orchard, was going to land me an agent and then we’d be off to the races. Nope.  Didn’t happen like that. Not for me, anyway.

Q: OK, let’s say you’ve just won or placed high in one of the big screenwriting competitions. What can a writer expect to happen?

A: You’re going to become popular, very fast.  Everyone is going to want to read your script.  Or their assistant is going to want to read your script, which is how it frequently shakes down.  You’re going to get a lot of emails, a lot of phone calls.  I made the mistake (I think) in only letting potential agents read me…I had this idea about keeping the material “fresh” so when the theoretical agent sent it out, it would be new stuff to everyone.  Guess what—I did not land an agent.  And I didn’t land an agent for two reasons:  my script The Bone Orchard was a “hard sell” and I did not have anything else to show.  That script would still be my calling card, but it would be three years later, and only after a producer asked me about it, out of the blue.  The lesson here is let everyone who is interested read your script.  Your goal should not be selling that script (unlikely) or even landing an agent or other rep (they will find you, eventually).  Your goal should be to get as many industry people as possible familiar with your writing, your style, your awesomeness…because most of ‘em, they already have projects in the wings. And they need writers. And there’s always a shortage of great writers.  So let ‘em read you!  Because in a few weeks, the shine will be off, the next hot whatever will step off the bus, and you will be a memory.  You have a limited amount of time to do something.  Let ‘em read you.

Q: Have you ever submitted one of your early screenplays into a competition? If so, is it something you now regret—and why?

A: Well, I had a lot of success with my first screenplay (see above), but I’m probably an unusual example.

Q: Do you feel that adding "I won/placed high in the [name of script comp]" to query letters and pitches prompted any additional interest from agents, managers and/or production companies you queried?

A: I’ve never queried an agent, manager or prodco…all of the interaction I had with those folks, came from the Nicholl, and they all contacted me, as they do with every Nicholl Finalist.  For me, my scripts have always made their way to the right people…someone asks to read me, I pass along my script, they end up passing it up the ladder, and a few weeks later, someone is emailing me, asking about options and such.  I should add that I’m in Texas, so I don’t have the luxury of running into folks at Trader Joe’s or meeting for drinks or whatever folks do, out there.  I write, and on the strength of that writing, I get read.  Aside from occasional trips to LA to meet with this person or that person—I have a couple of stories—what I do is write and keep learning, keep trying to writer better than I did, the week or month, before…interruptions be damned.

Q: Overall, what do you feel were the positive aspects of entering a screenplay competition?

A: Meeting industry folks is a biggie, even if just to see how the industry animal moves and talks and breathes and looks over your shoulder for the next convo, if you start to bore them.  Seeing how you measure up to other writers…I think that’s important, when you’re starting out, when you’re learning the craft and learning to know when you’ve done good work.  And it introduces you to writing deadlines…those never go away.

Q: Overall, what do you feel were the negative aspects of entering a screenplay competition?

A: For me, once I started advancing, it was excitement-induced writing paralysis. And this one is not exactly a negative, more a fact of the industry, but it can be negative:  That first reader.  The first reader is a killer, because if that reader doesn’t get the material—you can be a certified genius-savant-Scott Frank-esque writer—if that first reader does not respond to the material, for whatever reason, you’re done.  You can always submit again, the next year, but boy oh boy…that first read is a killer. As I mentioned earlier, The Bone Orchard was dinked in every other competition, first round, except the Nicholl.  Part of the reason for that is the Nicholl always has at least two readers, in the first round.  And if those two readers don’t agree, the script is read a third time.  That’s unheard of, but makes so much more sense, and this is how they better cull the scripts. Of course, I’m biased…but to get to the Nicholl Finals, over three rounds, my script was read by eight different industry pros. The odds of that happening are lessened, I think, by a single first reader.  Unfortunately, the single first reader really a more accurate representation of the industry:  one assistant reads for someone at a prodco, and if the assistant says “nope” then your script never lands on the higher-up’s desk.  You’re done…and you’re not only done, but you’re now in their system on a hard drive, somewhere, with your name, script title and a big PASS next to your script.  So you’ll not get that one read at that prodco, ever again, even if it’s ten drafts later and it’s brilliant, unless fate or an act of God intervenes.

Q: What is your current status as a screenwriter?

A: Let’s call me part-time professional; I'm still balancing my creative stuff with my daddy-ing stuff.  I just ended one option on a script—terrible experience, catch me sometime in person and I’ll drop names and offer more cautions than you can count—and am now working with another prodco that I really like.  I’m also giving thought to getting back to shooting, again… something I have not done, since my last short film.  I’d like to shoot that fourth script I currently hold…it can be done locally, and fairly easily, in terms of logistics.  So I’m playing with that, too. And there's always more ideas.  The trick for me is finding/making the time.

Q: Any parting comments, thoughts, or words of advice for screenwriters considering entering a competition?

A: Like the Knight Templar says to Indy:  Choose wisely. Not all competitions are created equal.  Winning a medium or smaller competition may do exactly squat for your writing career.  The Nicholl is still, I think, the king of the competitions, for all the right reasons: judging, exposure, prize money.  Austin is probably in the top five, still.  Disney is (I have been told by two who’ve won) a sweatshop, even by industry standards, but the exposure there is fantastic.  Sundance, I think, you gotta be great and know the secret handshake, so good luck with that one.  All of those will open doors for you, if you place or win.  And, again:  the end goal of winning a competition should not be getting sold, or even getting repped; the end goal is getting read. You win or place, and that first reader is a lot easier to get past.  Don’t squander the opportunity, like I did. There [are] lots of roads into Hollywood, but it’s dumb to ignore a nice paved one. Get the read. Everything else follows that first reader. Reps, sales, your film being made…everything.

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"HEY! WE ALL HAD TO START SOMEWHERE!"





Howard Casner recently interviewed me for his screenwriting site 
"HEY! WE ALL HAD TO START SOMEWHERE!" 
You can read my interview--and many other cool interviews--here: 




SCREENWRITING COMPETITIONS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE (PAUL BISSETT)



SCREENWRITER: Paul Bissett (Canberra, Australia)


Q: Paul…when did you write your first screenplay?

A: I’ve been “making movies” since I was a kid. Before I had a video camera, I wrote sketches, plays and audio shows. I studied filmmaking in university and wrote a bunch of short films which were produced. I also wrote a full feature in uni[veristy] but it was a bit stupid. The first time I wrote a feature screenplay I could say I was proud of was when I was in a crappy temp admin job in a plastics factory in Kent, England. Between entering orders for obscure blow-moulded plastic bits I wrote my screenplay A Lengthy Bit of Cat. That was 13 years ago. I was 24.

Q: To date, approximately how many screenplays have you written?

A: Full length feature screenplays? Three. I’ve also written a number of shorts and a couple of TV pilots. 

Q: Which screenwriting competitions have you entered and seen through to a final result?

A: I entered a TV pilot script into the 2014 PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. I won third prize. I have a feature screenplay in this year’s competition (2015). It has made the quarter-finals, and I’m waiting to hear if it will progress any further. I also entered a short into the ScreenCraft Shorts competition. It didn’t place but it was well received and I got some good feedback on it.

Q: Approximately how many screenplays did you write prior to entering your first competition?

A: Two features, multiple shorts and two TV pilots.
  
Q: Did the competition(s) offer feedback—notes, critique, etc.—on the script(s) you entered? If so, what was the quality of the feedback?

A: I entered the 2014 PAGE Awards with the specific purpose of gaining judges’ feedback. The problem was they only send the feedback once the script is eliminated from the competition. It got increasingly frustrating as the script kept progressing through the rounds. I wanted my feedback! Eventually the script came in third, won bronze prize and the feedback was, I’m paraphrasing here, “It’s great!” Truthfully, it was more in-depth than that. It was a good analysis and very affirming for what I hoped was a good script and concept.

Q: Did any of the competitions you entered try to hit you up for pay-based services, such as script consulting, proofing, etc.?

A: No.

Q: If you won or placed high in a competition, did it have any effect, positive or negative, on your career?

A: My third prize didn’t help directly for that script, but I’ve found it useful to mention in query letters and in conversations. It’s certainly not a bad thing to say my writing has won a prize.

Q: What types of prizes (monetary and non-monetary) have you won from the screenplay competitions you’ve entered?

A: The PAGE Awards third prize included some money, some store vouchers and some memberships to online writing groups and forums.

Q: Other than any material rewards and/or valuable feedback, what have been the most satisfying aspects of winning a competition?

A: It’s very affirming to progress through the rounds of a competition like PAGE. Competing against so many people, to know that my script stands out amongst them gives me confidence that my writing offers something different, something people like. When you’re struggling to break into the industry this sort of recognition can keep a writer going. 

Q: OK, let’s say you’ve just won or placed well in one of the big screenwriting competitions. What can a writer expect to happen?

A: The best way I can answer this is that winning a competition does not equal success in the industry. It’s an accomplishment a writer can use to help open doors, but the writer still needs to knock. You can’t just wait by the phone and expect a call.
  
Q: Have you ever submitted one of your early screenplays into a competition? If so, is it something you now regret—and why?

A: I entered an early draft into this year’s PAGE, requesting judges’ feedback. It hasn’t been knocked out yet, so we’ll see how it goes. I deliberately chose PAGE for this process because they allow resubmissions of the same script in subsequent years meaning I can use their feedback to hone the screenplay. Of course I’ve done a lot of redrafting myself since I entered it, so it will be interesting to see how relevant the feedback is. I don’t regret it, I see it as a useful way to progress a project.

Q: Do you feel that adding "I won/placed high in the [name of script comp]" to query letters and pitches prompted any additional interest from agents, managers and/or production companies you queried?

A: Yes, but most query letters still go unanswered.

Q: Overall, what do you feel were the positive aspects of entering a screenplay competition?

A: It’s great just to get your work out there. Whether the response is good, bad or indifferent, it’s all useful to help me develop as a writer. It’s also great to join a community of writers who are in a similar situation. Then crush them!

Q: Overall, what do you feel were the negative aspects of entering a screenplay competition?

A: I can’t really think of any negatives. The only thing I’d say is I found it frustrating that despite coming in third in the PAGE Awards, I’m still struggling to make the project a reality.

Q: What is your current status as a screenwriter?

A: Anxious, self-loathing and mildly delusional.

Q: Any parting comments, thoughts, or words of advice for screenwriters considering entering a competition?

A: When entering screenplay competitions, always ask for judges’ feedback. If you’re broke, find the cash somewhere. The most valuable thing you can do is get feedback from as many industry professionals as possible. You don’t have to agree with it, but you need to know what people think about your work.

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