SCREENWRITING COMPETITIONS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE (TAO RYAN MOUA)



SCREENWRITER: Tao Ryan Moua (Sacramento, California)


Q: When did you write your first screenplay?

A: I started writing my first feature script in 2008, but I didn't finish it until five years later.

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

A: I have written five shorts and four features.

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

A: I've entered Nicholl and Script Pipeline.

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

A: Three. I entered my third script. Then decided to try my second.

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, because the competition I entered didn't offer them. And some competitions do offer them, but you have to pay extra, in addition to the contest fee, to receive feedback.

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, and I usually deleted their emails because they were not what I was looking for. I simply submit a script to the competition to see if my script/story is good and marketable, and I had to pay them a fee in doing so. If I want those services I will look them up on my own. I feel it's wrong for script competitions to be in it just to advertise themselves to the working poor screenwriters so they can enrich themselves. The majority of screenwriters are poor. We can't afford all those services.

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 have had one of those pay-based services and it didn't help with my script or writing. I'm not trying to be negative about this part, but I feel the people who offer these services just want to make money. They're not in it because they want to help you succeed. They did not give me the quality work I pay for. I am a firm believer in customer satisfaction. For me, if you pay me, I want to give you the best quality service to help improve your skills or goal. If I can't give you that then I feel it's wrong on my part. And I shouldn't be scamming people.

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

A: None.

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

A: The most satisfying aspect of entering a script competition for me has been just getting it out of the way. Like the saying, "I've done it. I have successfully entered a script competition and got my first script read by professionals." Now, I don't have to think about doing that anymore. I can focus on writing more and improving myself.

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

A: Yes, I have. After I submitted my third script to a contest. I submitted the second draft of my second script to another contest. No, I don't regret it because I saw it as a way of testing my writing skills. When I didn't make it to the quarterfinals, I knew I have to improve my writing. What I learned is that don't submit your script to a contest until you get tons of feedback and your script is polished to a flawless draft. But if you are like me, and you just want to test out your storytelling and writing skills, then go ahead. But the number one thing that will make your script stand out is the story. It must be a compelling great story. If your story is not good, it doesn't matter how many drafts you write, it will just be a waste of your time and money to submit it to contests.  

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

A: The positive aspect of it is that I'm competing with 2000 other scripts. If I win then I know I'm ahead of that many writers. If I don't place high in the competition then I know I need to work harder to better my craft. As hip-hop artist P. Diddy once said, "Fuck being great. You gotta work [really] hard just to be good."

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

A: Sometimes the fees might be too high up to $60 and $70, and if you are like me, you can't afford to pay this much each time you enter. If you enter a lot of the competitions, the fees can stack up.

Q: What is your current status as a screenwriter?

A: Un-established…I write mainly feature specs.

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

A: Your story must be compelling. Do not submit your script until the writing is impeccable. These are the top 5 competitions that I would recommend: The Nicholl Fellowship, BlueCat Screenplay Competition, Zoetrope Screenplay Contest, Script Pipeline, and PAGE International. Try to submit your script early if you want to enter contests. They're usually around $40 to $50 for early bird submissions.

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