A little post-comp analysis

Studying the script data at Maximum Z Labs

The results are in for my standing in two highly-ranked screenwriting contests, and at best could probably be considered partially encouraging.

As mentioned previously in this space, my western did not advance to the quarterfinals of the PAGE International competition. That was somewhat disappointing.

Earlier this week, I’d been informed that it made the top 15 percent for the Nicholl, and was also not advancing to the quarterfinals. This ranking ties a previous personal best. Not bad, but again, slightly disappointing.

As it would probably be for most, my initial reaction to both of these announcements, especially the former, was “Well, I’m just a shitty writer, aren’t I?”

Apparently, not necessarily.

After I’d announced my contest results, I heard from a lot of fellow writers, including comments about the quality (or lack thereof) of the scripts that advance, the quality (or lack thereof) of the readers, but the most-repeated one was:

“It’s all subjective.”

Very true. We produce what we believe to be the absolute best script we can, and either someone’s going to like it, or they’re not. And there’s nothing we can do about it.

If you were also among those of us whose scripts didn’t advance, take heart. It ain’t the end of the world (although it may feel that way). Use this as a learning experience and work on improving your script so it’s ready for next year. Get notes on it. Rewrite. Polish. Whatever you think is necessary.

It’s also important to keep in mind that these contests are not the be-all and end-all. Winning them or placing high doesn’t guarantee a career. Sure, a handful of past finalists are working writers or consultants, but they appear to be the exceptions.

Just to put things in perspective, a friend of mine was a recent Nicholl finalist and says it had zero impact on their career, and still struggle to get their material read.

In all honesty, the sheen of contests is starting to wear a bit thin for me. I’ll probably still enter the western again next year, along with two other scripts I’m hoping to complete, but I’d rather focus on getting my material sold or produced, or at least using my scripts as strong calling cards and writing samples to get assignment work. I’m not picky. Whatever it takes.

There are a lot of ways to break in and become a working writer. Contests are one, but definitely not the only one.


11 thoughts on “A little post-comp analysis

  1. Sounds like you are heading in the right direction. After you have ranked high everything else doesn’t matter. I would go on to pitch to producers. You sound like you know what you are doing.Let me know what happens.

  2. Top 15% in Nichols is no small feat. What this means is that you’re on the good path. People who don’t give a rat’s ass about you personally – placed your script in the top 15% of, what 7000 scripts or so?

    I’ve placed in the top 10% at Austin for various scripts more than five times. Last year with more than 8000 entries. What is that worth?

    Validation. It’s a certain amount of validation to keep trying at the least.

    I’ve won some awards from other contests. Nice plaques and trophies. And what are they worth? They hang on my wall, and when I get discouraged, they say “People who aren’t related to you, think you’re doing okay… don’t quit now”.

    If I had to say ‘pick one’ contest to enter – it would be Austin. Mostly because the festival attached to it is so damned writer friendly. Going to the festival as a ‘second rounder’ HAS some value. (Someone who made the second cut. Used to be top 10%, now I think it’s 15%) As a second rounder, you get a bit of a discount to the ticket price, you get access to some restricted panels – and yes, while you’re schmoozing at the bar – it is a great way to meat aspiring directors and producers looking for a script. I optioned one of my scripts at the Barbecue this way.

    Cinequest is also a good one, and it’s more local. I’ve been to both – still prefer Austin.

    But then, I’m a native Texan.

    “I can take the despair, it’s the hope that’s killing me.”

    Don’t get it right, get it written.

  3. As a 1st Place winner (twice) 3rd Place, 4th Place and 11 time Top 20 Finalist (accomplished by 5 different scripts) it would seem my contest experience differs from most. While I have a nice collection of trophies and framed certificates in my man cave, I currently do not even have an agent but I do have an empty wallet!

    • Congrats on all your successes! As a friend inside the industry told me, “it’s not about winning contests. It’s about Hollywood.” We’ll get there, chum.

    • Well, Larry, remember what William Goldman says: “Nobody knows anything.” Congratulations, anyway.

  4. Couldn’t agree more, Paul. Not the be all and end all. Subjective. And certainly not a guarantee.

    It’s the logline and the query letter that counts.

    And the timing, of course. You never know when things might line up for you. For all you know, you could be a year, a month or even a week away from the moment when some well known studio wants to work with a well known female actor and a hot shot director on a project together.

    And it just so happens that the studio wants to do a female Indiana Jones, the actor wants to do a western and the director fancies doing an action flick set on trains…

    And they start talking and wondering if there are any scripts out there that might be of interest…

    I want you to picture that conversation happening. I mean, ACTUALLY happening.

    Keep those positive pictures in your head. Such as:

    1) Dozens of fans at a Comic Con dressed as Lucy Steele.

    2) The moment you sit K and V down and tell them you’ve got some exciting news.

    3) You walk out on stage at something like Comic Con and the crowd goes wild for the writer of ‘Dreamship’.

    And so on.

    All of these scenarios are possible. Believe it.

    And all the despair along the way will only make the joy of these moments so much greater.

    All the best to you and, of course, lucky925, Pauline Hetrick, Ric, and Larry Whatcott.

    And as Steven Soderbergh once said:

    Talent + perseverance = luck!

  5. Much of Hollywood is looking for the world’s greatest script with zero risk. Just keep that in mind. 🙂

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