SCREENWRITING COMPETITIONS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE (MICHAEL BIERMAN)



SCREENWRITER: Michael E. Bierman (AtlantaGeorgia)


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

A: Mid-2012. I was disappointed with the quality of sides from scripts my daughter, [actress] Erika Bierman (Hunger Game: Catching Fire, etc.), was receiving. I bought The Screenwriter's Bible by David Trottier and Your Cut To: Is Showing by T. J. Alex (both highly recommended) and taught myself to screenwrite. My first screenplay, a short, took Top 25 Scripts at PAGE.

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

A: Six original features completed; 55/70 pages done on my seventh original feature, The Grocer; one rewrite on a CAA untitled packaged feature project in developmentin production; one co-write on a feature; one script doctor credit on a feature; two script doctor or other writing credits on shorts; new idea in development for my eighth feature; four shorts.

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

A; PAGE Awards (pending), Stage 32 Happy Writers (finalist), 8th Annual StoryPros Awards (finalist), ScreenCraft Comedy (semi-finalist), Horror Screenplay Contest (finalist), MoviePoet (finalist—top 5 scripts), Circus Road Screenplay Contest (semi-finalist), Nashville (semi-finalist), 72 Film Fest (finalist), ScreenCraft's Horror Screenplay Contest (semi-finalist), Emerging Screenwriters (finalist), ScreenCraft Family-Friendly Screenplay Contest (semi-finalist), Beverly Hills Screenplay Contest (4th place), London Film Awards (finalist and honorable mention), Screenplay Festival (finalist and semi-finalist), WriteMovies (semi-finalist—top 5%), Screenplay Festival (finalist), London Screenwriters Festival (finalist and honorable mention).

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

A: I entered my first screenplay.

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: Many offered. I bought a couple feedbacks. A few came free. I won a couple. Some were useful, most were NOT useful. A number clearly had not read, thoughtfully considered, or understood the screenplay.

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, several did….I won a StoryPros deep analysis valued at $500 for taking 2nd place with The Fad in their annual competition. I used it for Rust, and the analysis was exceptional. I did not take all of the advice, but carefully considered everything. I did take some of the advice. It helped me improve Rust.

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

A: Not directly, but the added oomph to the resume almost certainly helped me land a couple paid jobs. 32 contest awards, still no representation, although I have admittedly barely tried. I had hoped someone would finally take interest. Perhaps they will eventually. I have been approached by an A-list producer who has repeatedly inquired about scripts. Very slow developing, but still in touch. 

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

A: Analysis, software, books and laminated aides. No cash yet, even with
2nd Place and two 4th places.

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

A: The affirmation that I am a skilled screenwriter. Getting interviewed, and improving the resume. All the awards seem to get me taken seriously, at least by Indie people and other writers. A number of professional writers have asked to read my screenplays, and have liked them or raved about them. As far as insiders, it is rough sledding.

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

A: Some exposure. Hopefully, professional reads and meetings. Maybe getting signed with a rep. Perhaps optioning the screenplay.

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 regrets.

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 would imagine it would, but have sent only a few queries. A single response, no interest; they had a similar project in development. I did only send to industry leaders.

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

A: Affirmation, exposure…adding to the resume.

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

A: They cost a lot of money and yield very mixed results. A screenplay that failed to make the first cut in a lesser competition will often be a semi-finalist, finalist, or winner in a better competition.  

Q: What is your current status as a screenwriter?

A:  I have been paid or am under contract to be paid for several legitimate projects, one top-notch. Still writing and hoping to make it bigger. I have perhaps four IMDb credits for writing, all on other people's projects.  

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

A: Enter no screenplay before its time. Learn to format correctly and thoroughly. Not just the basics. Buy the two books I recommended and actually read them. Get rid of camera direction and almost all shot direction. Do not use “We see” or any of that garbage. Rewrite it and be clever, without the use of “we” and “us.” Write well, proofread endlessly, and constantly try to improve. Don't get discouraged by a single failure. In my experience, there are many bad readers out there. If you can't get past the bad reader, the good one that will recognize you as talented and your work a gem will never see it. KEEP TRYING.

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(A Novel About Making It In Hollywood.)




DON'T TAKE “NO!” FOR AN ANSWER—AND NEVER GIVE UP!



"DON'T TAKE 'NO!' FOR AN ANSWER—AND NEVER GIVE UP!"

1). I once had a horror script that I gave to a “respected” screenplay analysis. He was looking for scripts to produce. He read my script and got back to me a couple weeks later: “Sorry, I just don’t care for it.” In the next few years I optioned that script to two prodcos who DID care for it.

2). My manager got me a meeting with a director who was looking for scripts. I met with the guy and pitched him three of my screenplays: two horror scripts, one thriller. He didn’t care for the two horror ideas at all, but he thought the thriller idea was pretty cool. He asked to read the thriller. He got back to us a week later: “Thanks, but no thanks.” A couple months later I optioned that same thriller script to a prodco that loved it. This prodco even renewed the option after one year. And oh, of the two horror scripts he didn’t like—I optioned BOTH over the next few years.

3). I gave my book manuscript to a woman who had had much experience in the world of fiction. She was an older woman and I didn’t know if she’d be able to connect to my story, but I figured I’d give it a shot. A few weeks later she got back to me. She explained how she couldn’t read past the first few chapters and proceed to tell me all that was wrong with those chapters. She also told me it would be best if I didn’t publish the book. I thanked her for the advice but ignored her, publishing the book anyway. Well, that book (Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen, which I self-published) has been out since early April. So many people have gotten in touch and raved about how much they’ve enjoyed it. Lots of great Amazon and Goodreads reviews too!

4). I had a horror script that a producer had under option for two years. He got awfully close to getting the project off the ground a number of times but ultimately it just didn’t happen. I optioned that same script to two more companies over the next four years.

5). Back in 2005 I wanted to put together a book of interviews with working screenwriters. Not necessarily big name scribes, just writers who make a living as screenwriters. I queried a few publishers. “Interview books don’t sell.” “Sorry, not for us.” “No thanks…but we wish you luck.” Well, I still wanted to write this book. So I did. I found 16 working screenwriters pretty quickly and interviewed each of them. I even got David (The Screenwriter’s Bible) Trottier to write the foreword. I self-published Q & A: The Working Screenwriter in 2006 (first as a paperback, then a few years later as an e-book). Lemme tell ya, that book hasn’t done too badly over the years. It even got me an invite as a guest speaker with the folks at the Scriptwriter’s Network. (FYI: I put out a lower-priced Createspace edition in 2014.)

6). There was once this producer I knew—an older fella who’d had some decent success with "artsy" films—and he really liked two of my horror scripts. First he optioned one script, then a year or so later he optioned the other script. He tried to raise financing for both scripts. Unfortunately, things just didn’t work out. But this old fella loved my writing enough to hire me to write two other screenplays. Paid me real money and everything!

7). I wrote a stage play once upon a time (waaay back in the '80s). Right around 2006 I thought, “Hmm, maybe I should try to get that play of mine produced somewhere.” I didn’t know much about getting a play produced, but I figured I’d give it a shot anyway. Through an actor I had met, I found an actor/theater owner who was looking for plays to produce at his theater. I sent him the script, he loved it, wanted to produce it. He assembled a cast, had a staged reading, made plans to start rehearsals…then something happened and he dropped the project and, POOF, disappeared. OK, so…fast forward to 2009. I thought maybe I’d try again to get the play off the ground. I queried a handful of theater groups. I got back a reply from just about all of them: “No thanks.” “Sound like fun, but no thanks.” “Not our cup of tea…but good luck!” “Sorry, but too many characters.” Then, finally: “Yes, we love it!” The play went up just a couple months later. Though it only ran 3 weeks, it was a nice success.

8). I had a nifty suspense/thriller script that a producer loved. In fact, he loved it enough to option it three years in a row. When the economy took a dive about 8 years ago, he had to pull the plug on several of his projects, mine included. Just a few days ago he e-mailed me: “Is that script of yours still available?” He told me he was putting together a “package of scripts” and would like to include mine. I told him, “Yup, it’s still available!” So, we’ll see.

There are other similar stories, of course. But the main thing is this: You never know what’s gonna happen; a door closes in one place, a door opens in another. And remember: Writing is great, and it can be fulfilling and a lot of fun, but you also have to live your life. Spend time with family, spend time with friends, travel, have adventures…LIVE! In the meantime, write your best material, get it out there, keep at it, and don’t give up. DON’T. GIVE. UP. I think you’ll be surprised by all the really good things that can happen.


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





SCREENWRITING COMPETITIONS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE (TRAVIS SEPPALA)


SCREENWRITER: Travis Seppala (Virginia Beach, Virginia)


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

A: I started writing short scripts back in high school. Wrote my first feature in 2005. Wrote my first TV script in 2013.

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

A:  More than a dozen features, almost that many TV scripts (including pilots, specs, and hired episodes), and more shorts than I care to try counting.

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

A: If we're talking just the ones I did pretty well in: PAGE (quarter finalist), Virginia Screenwriting Contest (finalist), American Zoetrope Screenwriting Contest (top 10 finalist; I've been told off the record that I was 2nd place, but they only give a prize to 1st place), NYC Midnight (quarter finalist), Screencraft Pilot Launch (quarter finalist), Stage 32 Happy Writer's TV Writing Contest (top 5 finalist), Palmstreet Films Short Script Contest (4th place). In addition, I've also entered Nicholl Fellowship, Jameson First Shot, Emerging Screenwriters, Scriptapalooza TV, and Fresh Voices. But sadly, I didn't place in any of those.

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

A: The very first script I ever entered into a contest was Vigilante. It was a superhero action script that felt a little like Batman Beyond. It was the 4th feature-length screenplay I ever wrote. It was a quarter finalist in the 2011 PAGE International Screenwriting Contest, despite the fact that it was formatted incorrectly.

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: All the major contests offer feedback if you pay an extra fee. The only one I've gotten feedback from was the Virginia Screenwriting Contest, because it was free. The feedback from that was semi-helpful. The reader made some valid points, but also made some remarks that I thought were way off base.

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

A: PAGE has a new screenwriter pitching service like Stage 32 or Virtual Pitch Fest [and] is partnered with Stowe Story Labs, [which] give quarter-finalists a chance to possibly get a free fellowship.

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

A: Placing high in American Zoetrope got me a few reads from producers and agents I wouldn't normally have access too, but not much beyond that. I haven't placed high enough in big enough contests for anyone to really take notice to me. For that sort of thing, you need to be a finalist or winner in like PAGE or Nicholl.

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

A: None so far.

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

A: Haven't won any yet, so I couldn't tell you. But even being a quarter finalist or finalist is a boost to your ego. For instance, there were around 7,000 scripts entered in the 2015 PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. As a quarter-finalist, I'm in the top 10%. That means my script The Wrong House beat out around 6,000 scripts to get to where it is so far! That's huge!

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 made the mistake of submitting a script to Nicholl in 2013 that just wasn't ready. It was only like a 2nd or 3rd draft. I was literally making changes to it while waiting for them to make their announcements. That was dumb. These scripts cost money. So you should only be submitting if the script you have is ready to go into production RIGHT NOW! That means it needs to be as perfect as you can make it. Not something that's "pretty good but I know needs work."

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've had people ask to read something just because it placed well in competition.

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

A: You get to know, to an extent, how you stack up. Not placing in a contest does not mean your script sucks. It just means that it didn't blow the judges' mind(s) enough for them to go, "This needs to be in the next round! This needs to win!” But if you do make it to the next round, you know your script falls into that "this needs to go to the next round" category.

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

A:  Money. Entry fees aren't cheap when you've got bills to pay. And then there's the waiting and anticipation that just kills. And of course, the agony of defeat!

Q: What is your current status as a screenwriter?

A: I consider myself a "semi-professional" screenwriter. I have had a script optioned. I have had paid writing assignments. I DO MAKE MONEY FROM SCREENWRITING! Just, you know, not enough to quit my day job.

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

A: DO NOT enter a script into a contest before it's ready. And by ready, I mean the script could go into professional production this afternoon! It's perfection, it's flawless. If your script isn't perfection, don't bother sending it yet. DO NOT enter a contest if you don't have the disposable income to afford it. Contest entry fees are expensive, man! Don't skip eating in the hopes that you could win $10K+ 6 or 10 months down the road. EAT! You had better have a thick skin. I've seen writers start cursing up a storm and throwing tantrums because they didn't place in the contest. They thought their script was soooooo great and so did their friends/family. They will even go so far as to say the judges are stupid and wouldn't know good cinema if it bit them on the ass. Guess what? a) Yes they do; b) your friends and family are not a good judge of screenwriting talent unless they're in the business professionally; and c) STOP CRYING! There is heavy competition. You can't win if your script is "good.” You can't even win if the script is "great.” The script needs to be THE BEST!

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Come back for more interviews in the coming weeks!
(A Novel About Making It In Hollywood.)


SCREENWRITING COMPETITIONS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE (CARRIE WACHOB)


SCREENWRITER: Carrie Wachob (Seattle, Washington).


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

A: I finished my first screenplay, Devil at Round Rock, four years ago.

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

A: Nine, and that includes features, pilots, and shorts. I’m working on number ten right now, a feature titled Lost Lake. I have a full-time “day job” but write as often as I can, even if it’s only 30 minutes a day.

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

A: I placed third at Cinequest and reached semi-finals at ScreenCraft. I was a “second rounder” at the Austin Film Festival and Sundance, and made quarter-finals with Final Draft and PAGE.

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

A: I entered my very first script into the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. I made second round, and have used competitions as a motivator and deadline-inducer ever since.

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: The feedback was minimal, although a few offer optional feedback for an extra fee. I’ve paid for additional feedback a few times, but won’t do it again. Receiving feedback that way gets expensive, and it’s anonymous. I have no idea who the person is, or if I should trust their judgment. I have a couple of consultants that I now use regularly, and that’s where I choose to spend my money. The feedback is more in depth, and I know who the person is on the other end.

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

A: Most offer pay-based services, but it’s optional and they don’t push it.

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’ve tried these services a few times, but it gets expensive, and I prefer to know the name of the person giving the feedback. I don’t need to know them personally, but it’s great to know their general background. Getting feedback is vital, and it took me a while to find consultants that I trust. I’m not a fan of anonymous feedback. Are you getting a professional, or some asshole intern who’s getting paid $10 a script and only likes sci-fi porn?

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

A: It’s had a huge effect, but not the effect I expected. I used to think that you had to win the competition in order to get anywhere, and if you won there would be piles of agents throwing contracts and whisky at you. I have friends who have won big competitions and none of that happened. In my opinion, the most valuable thing you gain from competitions are contacts and opportunities. I only made quarter-finals in PAGE, but that qualified me to apply for the Stowe Story Lab. I was accepted to the lab, and was able to learn from some of the best people in the industry, including David Magee, who wrote the screenplay for Life of Pi. So no, I didn’t win the PAGE competition, but it led me to a great opportunity. The same thing happened at Cinequest. I won third place. There was no money, and I didn’t get an agent, but I did meet another screenwriter who I ended up staying with at the Austin Film Festival, and now we’re in a writers group together. I’m shooting a short based on that Cinequest script, and have a better chance of getting it into the festival next year because of that win. Placing in competitions also builds your resume as a writer. I keep track of every placement and keep the most-recent listed on my web site. And while no one probably looks at my web site except me, it makes me feel like I’m moving forward. If I haven’t updated my site with something new in the last few months, I know I need to get off my ass.

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

A: I haven’t won a dime, but I’ve been given opportunities. The opportunities might be hiding, but they are usually there.

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

A: My first screenplay made second round at Sundance, which gave me the much-needed confidence to keep going. I think competitions are valuable because they also give you a deadline and reason to write, which is helpful when no one is paying you. I need to find ways to motivate myself, and competitions help me do that. As far as I know, your competition losses aren’t tracked in Sony’s database, so I don’t see any negatives in trying.

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: If it’s a recognizable contest, I think it helps. I’ve gotten reads from it. It’s proof that you are able to write, and reading your story is (hopefully) worth their time.

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

A: When you lose, it hurts. Rejection is painful, but the crappy silver lining is that the more you’re rejected, the less it hurts. I won’t let rejection stop me from throwing myself out there. It’s the only way to get ahead. 

Q: What is your current status as a screenwriter?

A: Aspiring. I’m writing, querying, and applying for contests and opportunities. I’m going back to the Stowe Story Lab in September as a volunteer, and am attending the Austin Film Festival’s Writer’s Conference in October. One of my mentors at Stowe, Chris Millis, said it perfectly, “… just keep swimming.”

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

A: Use them to your own advantage. Use them to create deadlines for yourself, and use them as motivation. Don’t worry about losing, because almost everyone loses. Look for opportunities. Take what you want from it and toss out the rest. Keep moving forward.

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(A Novel About Making It In Hollywood.)



Brandi's Video Review of LUIGI'S CHINESE DELICATESSEN!








Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen

"A great summer read!"
"A sexy Hollywood tale!"
"It's WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN for the 21st century!"

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