SCREENWRITER: Phillip Hopersberger

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

A: I wrote Something Gray in 2011-12, based on a true story about a slave and his Confederate colonel friend from childhood, and the tension in their relationship going to war together for a cause that would continue his slavery. Here’s the logline:  “Based on a true story, a conflicted Confederate colonel risks his life to stop Lincoln's assassination when friendship trumps slavery.”

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

A: I’m a writer overall by trade, and a lover of history, which is what led me to write Something Gray. Reading about [John] Mosby’s life made me want to see it as a movie. Since then I have written three screenplays: another historical true story and a sports comedy.

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

A: I entered Something Gray in ten contests (Page, Nicholl, Kairos, Austin, Scriptapalooza, Blue Cat, Act One, Final Draft, Zoetrope, and Sundance). I placed in the top 10-15% in the Page, Nicholl, and Kairos, which was pretty cool for my first ever attempt…and they had thousands of entries. I think Nicholl had almost 8,000 entries too. Nothing happened with the others. Ultimately nothing happened with the three I did well in, but I felt good about my writing abilities for a few days.

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

A:  Zero. I had never written a screenplay before, and had not even read any. I was as green as the Jolly Green Giant.

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: Bluecat offered feedback. I remember thinking that [the notes were] okay, but not really helpful. They were kind of a generic overview. I tried to find [the notes] just now and it looks like I didn’t bother to save them. Must not have been too valuable because I’m a pack rat. Ironic that they passed on [my script and it] placed in three more distinguished contests.  That says a lot about the crapshoot and the readers making a decision on your script.

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, not directly as a contestant. Several offered it on their websites or maybe [by] follow-up email, but there was real no sales push.

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

A: As I mentioned above, I did very well for a first-timer in Page and Nicholl and Kairos, the first two being the best contests out there, in my opinion.  That was really encouraging, but that and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee at McDonald’s. However, I did use that placement in conversations and queries and writing endorsements with professional actors, managers, agents, directors, and producers. It opened a door, I think, but nothing else. 

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

A: Zero direct return on about $350 in entry fees.

Q: You submitted one of your early screenplays into a competitionis this something you now regret?

A: I entered my first and only screenplay and it placed well in the top three contests. I have no regrets, except not winning.

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 think so, but I condensed it into one simple line, “It fared well in the Page, Nicholl, and Kairos contests (top 10-15%).”  I think that adds credibility, but don’t overplay your hand…you still lost. I’ve had a lot of read requests from professionals, the biggest being Alcon Entertainment (The Blind Side and The Book of Eli) and most really liked it, but it's usually the same refrain: Hollywood is not interested in making period pieces; too expensive. It’s much easier (i.e., cheaper) to make contemporary films for the 20-30 crowd, with potty humor, like The Hangover. I think Spielberg took 10 years to make Lincoln, and made 182 million on a 65 million dollar budget. The Hangover made 277 million on a 50 million dollar budget, and two sequels that made 350 million more.

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

A: I think it’s a fun experience if it’s not an end-all to your life experience. It forces you to finish a script and to make it as good as you can for this juncture in your writing career. And it’s fun to see what happens, to see where you stack up against scripts from all over the world, sometimes up to 8,000 of them.

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

A: Picks and shovels for the gold rush guys. The miners rarely find gold, but the guys selling them goods make a bundle off their enthusiasm and dreams. It would be interesting to see what happens to the winners in the top ten contests over the last ten years. My gut says…nothing. They may have been the best in the contest, but not what Hollywood wants or considers a great script. They want to make money, not your movie, per se. Several insiders told me a lot of contests are rigged. Who knows?

Q: What is your current status as a screenwriter?

A: As I said, I’m a freelance writer who also writes screenplays. I make money writing paid gigs.  My experience from talking to insiders in Hollywood is it’s a pretty closed country club and spec scripts are rarely going to be bought and produced. It happens, but the odds are like 5000 to 1, and that may be generous when thousands and thousands of scripts hit L.A. every year, year after year after year. So I would say I write and hope, but it’s more of a hobby for me when I look at the odds. But if the right set of eyeballs reads my script and likes it, we’re off to the races. In the meantime, it’s my thing…like some guys blow time and money on golf or fishing or cars, I write. But I try to blow as little as possible on it. Three contests will suffice.

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

A: I think it’s a waste of time to hit a bunch of screenplays after your first attempt. Try it once to see how you line up against the best, but only once. I wanted to see what would happen in showing Something Gray to a variety of readers, so I entered ten contests. Now I know I can write, and would only enter the top three contests in the future. Picks and shovels. If you want to make money, sell to the dreamers. My advice would be two-fold:

1.  Write what you like to write about, what you want to see in a movie. If you’re writing for others, it’ll be drudgery. Might as well go pull weeds. If you write about what you love, that passion will bleed through... and we’ll like it too.

2.  Find a way to keep your script alive. After Something Gray ran its course in contests, it seemed a shame to just stick it in a drawer, so I made a trailer for it, made it into a [book] to sell on Amazon.

(If you'd like to see Phillip's trailer for Something Gray, click here.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good insights! And I love the trailer you made! Thanks for sharing.