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.


(A Novel About Making It In Hollywood.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you're ever wanting to enter a short screenplay- I suggest the following contest:

It's a contest being built from the ground up and specifically catered to less mainstream and more artistic and original short works.