Another screenwriting contest season come and gone, at least for yours truly.
My western’s record with PAGE extended to 0-6, and didn’t make it to the quarterfinals in the Nicholl. After last year’s debacle with Austin, I opted to skip it this year.
(Side note 1 – I don’t pay to get the reader/judge notes, so don’t know why the script fared how it did for either contest. The Nicholl used to offer notes after the top 5 were announced, but not sure if they’re doing that this year or you had to pay upon registering.)
(Side note 2 – A very hearty congrats and good luck to the 359 writers who made it to the Nicholl QFs. I wholeheartedly applaud the Academy’s decision to limit submissions to one script per person. Other contests should follow their lead.)
My initial reaction to the news from both competitions was “I must be a really shitty writer to keep failing like this.”
But as my ever-supportive wife, a few friends who are also consultants, and several other trusted colleagues in my writers’ network reminded me:
It’s a really good script.
You’re not a bad writer.
IT’S ALL SUBJECTIVE.
This script has also done moderately well in some smaller contests, so it can’t be that bad.
I know a writer whose script advanced in the Nicholl after several years of bupkis. I also know another writer who made it to the top 50 one year, then the same script didn’t even make the quarterfinals the following year.
And as a few others pointed out about the prestigious contests and the scripts that do well in them: it may be a good script, but would it be a good movie? I’ve read some contest winners (and some top vote-getters on The Black List); some were very well-written, and some just didn’t do anything for me. One or two even made me question why they did as well in the contest as they did.
Furthermore – did any make me eager to shell out the cost of a ticket if it were available on the big screen?
But again, that’s just my take – i.e. SUBJECTIVE.
At the very least, reading these scripts could be helpful in a “developing your craft” kind of way.
So where do I go from here? I’m rewriting a pair of newer scripts, and haven’t decided if either will go the contest route. Possibly, but right now I couldn’t say.
I’d rather focus on getting them in decent shape. If that means skipping contests next year, that’s fine by me.
There’s been a slight uptick in my recent coffee chats with connections new and not-so-new. A majority of them have been of a more “just catching up”-type nature, but a few have included the exchanging of script notes and related items. That prompted the re-posting of this gem from July 2018. Enjoy.
Thanks to my ever-expanding network of savvy creative types, I get lots of chances to be on both the giving and receiving ends when it comes to reading scripts.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to get exceptionally helpful notes from a lot of really talented folks. All this feedback has somehow managed to influence my writing for the better, and for that I am overflowing with gratitude.
So the least I can do when somebody asks me “Will you read my script?” or “Can I pick your brain about this idea?” is to say “Of course.”* Maybe I can offer up a few scraps of advice that might somehow work to their advantage. If anything, I can at least point out where a fix in spelling or punctuation is needed. For a script, anyway. That counts, right?
*caveat – it’s taken a lot of work spread over a long time for me to build up my network and establish connections, so I don’t mind if somebody I actually know drops me a note with such a request. If our only connection is being connected on social media and we’ve never interacted – at all, you’re little more than a total stranger to me. So heed that one word and be social. It makes a difference.
I had the pleasure of such an experience this week. I’d connected with another Bay Area creative, and we’d been trying for a while to arrange a face-to-face meeting. After much scheduling, cancelling and rescheduling, we finally made it happen.
This person had an idea for a project, wanted to talk about it, and see if I was interested in being involved. I stated at the outset that I had enough work on my own for now, but would be open to giving notes – time permitting.
After the initial introductions and our thumbnail backstories, we focused on their project. I won’t go into specifics or details about it, because those aren’t the important parts.
What was important was:
-this was a story they’d had inside them for a while, and even though they knew it needed A LOT of work, they were still happy with simply having written it all out
-they were totally open and willing to listen to my suggestions. Some they liked, some they didn’t. Totally fine.
But the more we talked, the more the seeds of ideas were planted in their head. Even though a lot of the details we came up with, including possible paths the story could take, ended up being totally different from their original incarnation, it was easy to see that spark of excitement reignite inside them.
Seeing that happen with somebody you’re trying to help is more satisfying than you can possibly imagine.
We parted ways, with them really rarin’ to go and start developing the latest draft. They added that they really appreciated me being so willing to help out.
I just like doing that sort of thing. I never had that kind of person-to-person help when I was starting out, so why not do what I can for others? Granted, the internet and social media didn’t even exist then, so it’s a lot easier now.
I got a few emails from them the next day showing me what they’d come up with since our meeting. Same concept, but a totally new approach (and, in my opinion, provided the opportunity for a lot of new possibilities). This also included a more thorough write-up of “what happened before the story starts”.
Even though it can be tough to read emotion in text, it was easy to see the spark was still burning strong within them. The way they talked about their plans for what comes next, I could tell they were actually looking forward to working on this.
It was nice knowing I had a little something to do with it.
We exchanged a few more emails (mostly me asking questions about story and characters and them providing sufficient answers), and I wrapped up with “Keep me posted.”
Their response: “Definitely. Thanks again. You’re a good dude.”
Got some notes back on the animated fantasy-comedy spec.
I’ll be the first to say it still needs work on a few fronts, but the overall consensus is “I really enjoyed it”, which means a lot. On several levels.
Added bonus: they liked the jokes. Always great.
Despite all this, for as long as I’ve been at this, I still feel a twinge of anxiety as I open the email to see what the reader thought.
Impostor Syndrome? Possibly.
I know I can do the work, but there’s always that hidden fear that somebody’s going to say “wow, does this suck”. I suppose it stems from that initial sense of just hoping the reader likes it.
While it’s great to get notes of a positive nature, I tend to focus more on the sections that deal with what didn’t work or needs work. Every writer wants their script to be the best it can be, and notes of a critical nature can be invaluable in helping you get there.
And a lot of the time I find myself agreeing with what the notes have to say. Sometimes they even help me navigate my way out of a problem I already knew was there, but was having trouble finding a solution. Those are fantastic to get.
Even as I wait to hear from a few more readers, I’ve already started jotting down ideas to incorporate the strongest suggestions from this batch into the next draft.
Which I will then send out, once again thinking “I hope they like it.”
-Just a friendly reminder that my two books – GO AHEAD AND ASK! INTERVIEWS ABOUT SCREENWRITING (AND PIE) VOL 1 & 2 are available on Amazon and Smashwords.
Wrapped up reading for a contest earlier this week. Happy to have helped, but it was exhausting.
And a good percentage of the writers could really benefit from this recent post.
Now that that’s out of the way, I can return to devoting more time on a few of my own projects, as well as start getting to the scripts in my “to read” queue.
I’m really looking forward to both, and especially the latter.
Some were sent with a request for notes, others were “thought you might enjoy this”, and the rest were ones that got my attention with the logline or the concept.
I’m extremely fortunate to have a professional relationship with a lot of these writers, and many of them are great writers to begin with, so it’s a pretty sure bet their scripts will also be of exceptional quality. And those are always great to read.
It can’t be stressed enough that reading scripts helps a writer become a better writer. So take it upon yourself to start making that a regular practice.
You’ll be glad you did.
And speaking of reading, my new book GO AHEAD AND ASK! INTERVIEWS ABOUT SCREENWRITING (AND PIE) VOLUME 2 is now available in paperback and ebook here and here. It makes a great companion piece to Volume 1, and Volume 3 will roll out a little later this year.