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.)


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