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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SCREENWRITING COMPETITIONS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE (ERIC STALNAKER)



SCREENWRITER: Eric Stalnaker (Orlando, Florida) 

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

A: The first screenplay I wrote was in 1995, after the World Trade Center bombing. I had thought, “what if terrorists were actually in the USA? What would we do to stop them?” So I formulated my own Department of Homeland Security. Whodathunk it would actually be formed after 9/11. At that time, I decided to do some self-teach things, mainly purchasing books and screenplays of others. I stopped after writing that one, but picked it up again in 2011, rebooting Crossbow.

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

A: Nine completed, which includes three features, four series sitcoms, two shorts, with three more features in progress (one at page 105, another at page 48, one in my own development hell).

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

A: I entered Crossbow into Scriptapalooza only. With Dating Jennifer, I entered it into Scriptapalooza, Script Pipeline, Nashville Film Festival, and Austin Film Festival.

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

A: None prior. At the time I entered, those were the first two screenplays I had ever written.

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 of these competitions offered feedback, but I only received it from one—Austin FF. I seriously questioned some of what the feedback writer wrote. He appropriately evaluated my characters and story, finding many of my supporting characters were very solid, but that the main character lacked some depth (which I agree with). He loved the dialogue and the overall story. However, the feedback writer went on to question certain events from the story and it made me think he was confusing my script with someone else’s. The comments he stated literally made no sense and didn’t fit, once suggesting that one character (a name I didn’t even have in the script) create more conflict.

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: I placed as a semifinalist in the Nashville Film Festival (top 16 in the comedy category). It has not opened any doors for me as of yet.

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

A: Silver Pass for the Nashville Film Festival, which I was unable to attend.

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

A: Becoming a semifinalist at the Nashville FF definitely boosted my confidence in writing. It was the first award of the season, and it pushed me to enter other competitions. It also inspired me to write more. I had always looked at it as a hobby up to that point. Since achieving that, I have been writing relentlessly; two shorts, four episodes of a web series, Faith Springs, that begins production later this week (look for it on YouTube and Vimeo Sept. 15th—shameless plug, but I don’t care), and I also have 4/5 of my “baby,” that one screenplay you truly believe in.

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: I look at it as a selling point. In this business, I’m quickly realizing that marketing is key. You need to find creative ways to sell the words on that paper. Having one or two “Finalist” or “First Place” tags to put with that screenplay only gets the door opened a little further. In the end, it’s the story that sells 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: I have never regretted entering a competition. I do look back and say, “There was no way I was going to place with this screenplay (Crossbow). It has a great story, but the main character was so shallow. Eventually, I’ll go back and refresh it again, and try to breathe new life into that character, but I’m too busy now.

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: Again, I always viewed my writing as a hobby and never really pursued it to a level of trying to sell it. The script that placed, Dating Jennifer, breaks the rule of open roles for characters (a guy wins a date with Jennifer Aniston), so unless she or a close associate of hers is interested, it won’t do much I assume. Honestly, I’ve just never taken the time to try to get interest with it.

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

A: Overall, I’m glad I placed in a competition, albeit only one. It definitely gave me the motivation to write more and do more with it.

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

A: I would probably say the money. Each competition is $40-$50, and after entering a few, that’s a good chunk of money I’m out. Being a school teacher, it’s not like it grows on trees.

Q: What is your current status as a screenwriter?

A: Well, now that my web series is being developed and produced, I guess I’m an official screenwriter. But I’m not quitting my day job. I’m going to continue working on my “baby," plus the other that’s more of an independent, low-budget character driven piece. Also, the production company that is shooting the web series sitcom likes Crossbow, and we may shoot parts of it and release it as shorts. Plus, I’ll continue my craft, learn, and get stronger as a writer.

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

A: Just write it.

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How to get your scripts seen if you live 1000 miles from Hollywood...




On one of the screenwriting forums I frequent, one budding scribe who was fed up with the script comp route, asked, "How you get your work seen/sold if you live 1000 miles from Hollywood?" I dashed out a quick, brief response that he actually found helpful. Maybe you will too.


It's tough, but with technology these days, it's a heck of a lot easier than it was 20 years ago. Again, it starts with a GREAT script; a script that is marketable and worthy of being made into a movie. Then you'll need a great pitch, a great query. Not good--GREAT. Then you need to send those queries out...to producers, to agents, to managers. Not a dozen or two dozen, but 100+. Remember, this is a numbers game. If you send, say, 150 queries, you'd be doing pretty good if you got 10 responses: "Yes, send me your script!" or "Feel free to call me!" This is how it starts. Not easy, but that's how it is. Hopefully you can make some good connections this way. If you do, come out to Los Angeles for a few days (assuming the connections are in L.A., of course) and start meeting people, have meetings, take 'em to lunch. Again, not easy, but this is how it works. Getting back to script competitions: If you must enter any of them, enter one or more of the top 5 (Nicholl, etc.). If you can win or place high, you can get some notice...and this could lead to some very good things. Again, it's a numbers game: the more you do and the more you put yourself--and your GREAT scripts--out there, the better your chances of success. Hope this has been helpful. Good luck!

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Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen
A novel about making it in Hollywood
Available in paperback from Amazon.com 
and Kindle e-Book!







SCREENWRITING COMPETITIONS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE (JEFFREY FIELD)



SCREENWRITER: Jeffrey Field (Overland Park, Kansas)

Q: When did you write your first screenplay?

A: My first real screenplay was Mourning People, written in 2005. That script has had quite a journey. Early drafts made the finals of some big contests and was actually optioned three years later by someone who had judged it. The option expired and then another movie that was vaguely similar opened and bombed, so I decided to do a salvage job with it. It now has a new title, a slightly different concept and is back doing well in contests again. Of all my scripts, it’s still the one I’d most like to see made.

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

A: I’ve finished 16 features and one short, plus a couple of vomit drafts that don’t count until I’ve had time to clean them up. In a typical year, I’ll write two new specs and do a new pass on two or three of my old ones. Two of those 16 scripts were co-written with my friend and occasional writing partner Michelle Davidson.

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

A: I’ve entered and advanced in a wide range of contests over the years, including most of the big ones. Nicholl Fellowship, Screencraft, PAGE, Bluecat, Final Draft Big Break, Scriptapalooza, Script Pipeline, Stage 32 Happy Writers and some of the contests associated with festivals, such as Austin, Nantucket, Nashville, Atlanta, Kansas City, Destiny City and OmahaI had three separate scripts make the Nicholl Fellowship semi-finals in consecutive years, including a Top 50 overall finisher in 2014. I won the 2015 Screencraft Fellowship, was a top 3 finalist at Final Draft Big Break in 2014, won the Bronze Prize in drama at PAGE in 2012 and had a lot of finalist and semifinalist placements.

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

A: I can’t remember where I first heard about screenwriting competitions, but I entered the first script I ever wrote in one. As I mentioned earlier, that script did pretty well that first year, so I’ve been entering them 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: A lot of competitions now give some feedback, even if it’s just a couple of lines. I’ve had very insightful notes on some of my scripts and I’ve had a few comments that make you wonder how closely they read the script. And just because notes come from one of the more prestigious contests doesn’t make them more or less helpful. I’ve had good notes from small contests and crazy notes from some of the big ones. And the lesson is, you can’t use contest feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, as the final word on your script. You don’t know the source. You don’t know if you got a judge that just didn’t connect with your script. And you don’t know if the judge that didn’t connect with the script stretched to find a reason to justify a lower score. So I recommend using contest feedback, especially from a script that didn’t do as well as you expected, as a springboard for brainstorming ideas for a revision and not necessarily a mandate to overhaul things. The best contest feedback I ever got was one that simply said “Don’t be afraid to take this script in a bigger direction.”

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

A: I’ve never felt “hit up” for those services. Some of the competitions offer them, but I’ve never done it.

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

A: Winning or placing high in a competition has never been a negative, I’ll say that much. Good contest placements helped me get an agent and (briefly) a manager. I’ve had scripts optioned by people who judged them and liked them. Contests got my scripts read by people who wouldn’t otherwise give me the time of day. The Screencraft Fellowship brought me to Los Angeles for a week and put me offices with producers, agents, managers and other people in positions to help my career. A second-round script at Austin a few years ago got me the opportunity to have lunch with Kelly Marcel, Craig Mazin and Rian Johnson. But every contest is different and every script is different. One contest where I finished very high recently didn’t open any doors at all. It’s all a matter of what your work offers the market and what the market is looking for.

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

A: I’ve won cash prizes in a few contests, but the amounts were never giant. The amount I’ve won in contests over the past decade could barely cover the cost of one house payment. The Screencraft Fellowship came with the biggest cash prize I’ve won in a contest, but the trip to Los Angeles and having Screencraft work on my behalf was so much more valuable than that. The Austin Film Festival gives everyone with a second-round script access to special opportunities, including seats in panels with more personalized attention. Getting to watch Lindsey Doran break down the first 10 pages of a handful of second-round scripts was more helpful than a small check would have been. A script that didn’t even make the semifinals of PAGE last year still won me the fellowship to the Stowe Story Labs, where I got a notebook full of ideas, great contacts and motivation. While I’d like to win cash anytime someone is willing to award me some, my primary reason for entering contests is to get read. I’ve had enough luck over the years from people who see potential in my projects and passed those scripts on to someone else, that I think it’s worth the time and expense. It’s hard to get any sort of attention when you don’t live in Los Angeles, and contests have been a way to do it. I had someone with a production company read one of my contest scripts and fall in love with it. She recognizes it will be a hard project to finance in this climate, but she said to keep in touch and she’d love to find a project for us to do together someday. That relationship alone, in my mind, was worth the entry.

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

A: Not going to lie. It’s great to see your name on the finalist lists and it’s even more fun to get emails from industry people who want to read the winning script or find out more about you. It validates and motivates you.

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

A: If it’s the Nicholl Fellowship and you’re a finalist, you’re going to be busy. Everyone will want your script and they’ll want to know who you are. Semifinalists and even quarterfinalists will get requests also, but realize that they might be from someone in a manager’s office who has been tasked with getting all the high-placing Nicholl scripts. If it’s any of the other competitions, you may get some requests and you may not. A lot of it will depend on how commercial they think your project is. A manager might reach out to you to see what else you’ve written. But what a writer should expect, whether any requests come in or not, is to be ready to use whatever juice that contest offers to get exposure for themselves and their scripts. You can’t rely on someone coming to you, because outside of Nicholl, you might never get a single call or email after winning or placing in a contest. Someone with experience in the business once told me, flat out, “Nicholl is the only important contest. Anything else, no one gives a shit.”  While I don’t think the latter part of the comment is necessarily true, from my experience, it’s certainly the consensus one you want to win.

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

A: Like I said, I had good luck with a script out of the box, so I don’t regret a thing about that. If you mean an early draft, I usually don’t even let my wife see drafts that I haven’t been through a few times, so I generally don’t put premature scripts. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea, especially if it’s a contest that gives feedback, because you might at least get someone’s opinion whether you’re on the right track. Most contests have blind judging, so even a bad script is probably not likely to hurt your reputation. At the worst, it’s a waste of money.

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 don’t think it hurts. It at least separates you from the pack of those scripts that didn’t place high in something. But it’s probably not going to help as much you think it will unless it’s a win in a big contest or a finalist placement in a really big contest. Saying you were a quarterfinalist at the Hickory County, Missouri, Film Festival probably isn’t going to do you any good. That said, your logline and pitch will do much more to make or break your query letter than whether it’s a competition winner or not.

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

A: Getting read, getting exposure for your scripts, making contacts, getting some of the ancillary prizes that come with a competition win, and a little bit of cash. Plus, it’s great encouragement when your scripts do well.

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

A: They’re expensive. Sometimes even winning first place won’t do much for you. And when a script you think will do well in a contest doesn’t do well, that’s a gut punch. That’s when you have to remember how arbitrary and subjective contest judging can be.

Q: What is your current status as a screenwriter?

A: I’ve had five script options, but funding issues have kept them all from getting produced. I’ve got an agent and I’m on the lookout for a young and hungry manager. If anyone knows someone like that, have them give me a shout.

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

A: Do it! You’ll be miles ahead of the people who’ve never had the guts to try; enter early because it costs less and you can use the savings to enter other competitions later; if you do well, don’t wait for fortune to come to you, grab the keys and drive your own success; and whether you win or not, get back to writing.

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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 (HOWARD CASNER)


SCREENWRITER: Howard Casner (Los Angeles, California)


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

A: In 2001, when I first moved to Los Angeles. Before this, I only wrote for the stage. However, I had been toying with an idea for a screenplay for some time and when I moved here, it seemed the time to write it.

Q: To date, approximately how many screenplays have you written?
 
A: I have written six screenplays, a TV pilot and one short on my own. I have co-written three screenplays and one TV pilot.
 
Q: Which screenwriting competitions have you entered and seen through to a final result?

A: I suppose the easiest way to answer this question is as follows:

Q: My screenplay Revelation made finalist in the 2007 Screenplay Festival Competition. 

My screenplay Rough Trade made semifinalist in the 2007 Extreme Screenplay Competition; quarterfinalist in the 2007 ScreenwritingExpo Competition; quarterfinalist in the 2009 Champion Screenwriting Competition; and semifinalist in the Outfest Writer’s Lab. 

My screenplays Rough Trade and Welcome to L.A. both made the top twelve in the 2011 Great Gay Screenplay Competition and Welcome to L.A. made the top five.

My screenplay Mel and the Adventures of Sad Man made the second round of the 2013 Outfest Screenwriting Lab. 

My screenplay, The Last Tree Standing Motel, made finalist in the 2014 London Film Awards Screenplay Competition; finalist in the 2015 Glendale Film Festival Screenplay Competition; semifinalist in the 2015 All Access Screenplay Competition; semifinalist in the 2015 Page Screenplay Competition; semifinalist in the 2015 Austin Film Festival Competition. 

My pilot The Dead Letter Office is a quarter-finalist in the most recent PAGE Screenplay Competition.
 
Q: Approximately how many screenplays did you write prior to entering your first competition?

A: I began entering contests with Revelation, 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: Very rarely. When they did, the quality was fine, but the closer you get to the final rounds, the more conventional I sometimes think the judges are. For example, the most interesting feedback I ever received was for the same screenplay but in two different contests. One was official feedback, sent to me by the contest. The other was unofficial and off the record, which I got through someone I just happened to meet. My screenplays often tend to follow a certain pattern: I introduce a question, usually an absurd one (like Waiting for Godot), and then don’t answer it because it’s a question that can’t be answered; instead the story is about how people react to the question and to the realization that there is no answer (when I’m asked what my brand is, I say European existentialism). For the unofficial response, the reader said that he so wanted my screenplay to make finals, but it didn’t quite and I immediately asked, “It’s the ending, isn’t it?” and he responded, “Well, it’s about the only ending you can have, isn’t it?”, to me confirming some suspicions I have about how my screenplays are received. For the official one, I got back notes by the first two readers who both really got the screenplay and loved it, but both also commented on the ending: one said that is was a brave ending and the other also said it was about the only ending one could have. Then I got the third piece of feedback from the one who determined whether I would make finals and he said he didn’t understand the point of the screenplay at all. 

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

A: Oh, sure. But there were never any hard sales. It was almost always in mass e-mails as a general advertisement of services normally provided if one wanted to use them. The big one was Austin Film Festival who really wanted the quarter-finalists to come to the writer’s weekend.
 
Q: If “yes” to the previous question, did you take advantage of any of these services? Was this a negative or positive experience?
 
A: Not when it comes to feedback. If it doesn’t come with the entry, then I don’t bother. Very few actually offer anything like that in the first place. Others do, but it costs extra and then the money starts adding up, and it’s already expensive enough to enter. It’s tempting, because you might find out why you didn’t do as well as you might like. But the money is the main reason I haven’t. I did take the bait for Austin Film Festival and I had a good time and met some people. It wasn’t negative, but I can’t say I got anything out of it either.   
Q: If you won or placed high in a competition, did it have any effect, positive or negative, on your career?

A: No effect whatsoever as far as I can tell. I may have gotten three requests for my screenplays from various productions companies or managers over the years, but I have yet to hear back from any of them. Fellow writers and people in social media get excited for awhile and it can be an ego boost for a bit, but they soon forget. And since I’m a script consultant, I’m sure it helps there as well.

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

A: I received some money from the Great Gay Screenplay Competition (I don’t remember how much, but it paid for my airplane ticket there). They also did a staged reading of the screenplay, which was great. Glendale did a reading of the opening scenes of the screenplay, which was also great. And Austin Film Festival gave me a discount to the writer’s weekend.

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

A: Just the ego boost.   
 
Q: OK, let’s say you’ve just won one of the big screenwriting competitions. What can a writer expect to happen?
 
A: It depends on the contest, of course. Based on what other writers have told me, you can expect some attention from agents and such. But more than once I’ve been told what happens is that you may get a manager or agent who will finally return your calls when they wouldn’t before. Then after a few months, if they haven’t made any money off of you, they’ll once again stop returning your calls. Of course, some writers have gone on to get other work even if their particular movie didn’t get made. And there are others who have used the attention from the competition to make their movie themselves. So in the end, doing well in a competition can get you attention, but that attention is short lived and may not help at all without other factors weighing in or your ability to take advantage of it in some way, which not everyone is able to do.

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 my first screenplay (Revelation) into a competition and it did well. No, I don’t regret it. I have worked on it since then and improved it, but it had a lot of strong aspects to it from the get go. Of course, I had been writing for the stage for a number of years, so I may have had a leg up on others who have written their first screenplay.

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: No, but I actually think that the problem is not what is in your query letter but that I’m more and more convinced that the vast majority of producers, agents, managers, etc. just don’t read them anymore. Every once in awhile I hear from a writer friend that someone responded to their query letter, but at the same time, it happens so infrequently, I feel like it’s more of an urban myth. There are always exceptions, but often if an agent, et al., is going to respond to your placing in a competition, they will probably more often contact you before you can contact them.

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

A: The ego boost, and if you do rather well over a series of contests with the same screenplay, a confirmation that there is something about the screenplay that is connecting to the reader.
 
Q: Overall, what do you feel were the negative aspects of entering a screenplay competition?

A: Loss of money without any getting any real forward momentum on one’s career.
 
Q: What is your current status as a screenwriter?

A: Still struggling and waiting for that break, something to happen that I have the ability of taking advantage of. I’ve been paid for one work for hire by Here [TV] Network, but the movie was never made. I rewrote a screenplay The Compass and have writing credit on it; it’s in post-production. And I have started shooting a web series. Other than that, I make my living doing screenplay consultation and reading for competitions.

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

A: My first thought comes from my being a reader for many competitions. I read so many screenplays that, to be honest, don’t have a shot at doing well because they are unreadable, hard to understand or follow, or just so formulaic that they are bland and dull. Entering contests is expensive, so I think writers should do whatever they can to make sure that their screenplay at least is at a level to make quarterfinals. I would at least suggest that beginning writers enter contests that give feedback, whether they have to pay for it or not, in order to have some idea as to how their screenplays are being received. More experienced writers probably have other avenues or better insight into that and may not want to get feedback and have no need for it. I also think it’s important to realize that the world of movie making is changing. I sometimes get the feeling that my fellow writers think that screenplays are bought and sold as in the 1980’s with the studios being the major game in town. But they’re not any longer and studios make a minority of films that hit the theaters every year. Most writers have to, in some way, produce their first one or two projects first, whether a feature, short, webisode, etc., before they can reach a level where they can make a decent living or get into the studio world. And so contests should be looked at in the same way: not as a way to get your screenplay bought and sold, but as something that one can use to somehow get their product made through their own efforts.From that perspective, contests can play a role in that they can help one get interest in a production of a screenplay that does well. I think I would like to interject one last thought, but this is aimed at contests. Sometimes I get the idea that they also think the way screenplays get made is still the way they are when studios were king and that screenplays are still bought and sold as they were twenty years ago. I wish they would recognize that times are changing and if they really want to help new screenwriters, they need to focus on helping writers getting their work produced in other ways. All I can think is how amazing that would be for the future of film in the U.S. which, as of the last few years, has really gone down in quality.

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