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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