a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Saturday, August 04, 2007


So the Bluecat Screenwriting Competition announced the winner of their 2007 competition yesterday. "The Stones", by Ana Lily Amirpour. Congrats, Ana.

My experience wasn't as happy.

I'm not sure why I entered Bluecat this year, because I'm not really a contest guy. Last year's Nicholl Fellowship was the first script contest I ever entered, and I guess being a semifinalist spoiled me a little. I'd come close to the glory, and I wanted to taste more.

Never mind that being a Nicholl semifinalist ranks somewhere on the Hollywood totem pole below being Corey Feldman's pool boy.

Bluecat seemed like an interesting contest. It's run by Gordy Hoffman, Philip Seymour Hoffman's brother, and from all accounts he's a nice guy. The contest offers an analysis of every screenplay submitted, which always seemed like a nice homespun thing; they weren't just going to read 30 pages of your script and toss it on a pile, they were going to actually give you some advice about it.

In theory, that's a good thing.

They were also pimping the hell out of it this year, Gordy doing internet or phone interviews with a lot of bloggers shilling his contest.

And, in retrospect, that should have sent up a red flag. But it didn't, and on the last day of the deadline, I impulsively entered my script.

So did everyone else. They got slammed. Over 2300 entries.

And (I'm guessing) they really weren't ready for it. They (or a contest with similar analysis offered to entries, which sounds remarkably like them) had ads on Craigslist, looking for readers for a while this spring. Paying $10 per script, including analysis.

Which, you know, isn't a lot of money to lure really top readers.

So I pretty much forgot about the contest for a while, and went back to life. Cue calendar pages flying off the wall.

The day of the first cut was July 1, which was also the day that all the analysis were supposed to go out. The day before that, the day I was packing to go to Mexico, I got an e-mail from Bluecat, asking me to send them a .pdf of my script.

I figured I was in like Flynn; they must want it to give to the next round of readers. Boo-ya. I sent in the .pdf, and went down to Guadalajara to let Montezuma have his way with me.

I came back 5 days later, and checked my e-mail. A list of the the top 100 scripts. I went through it, waiting for my name to jump out, and it wasn't there.

Which, you know, is fine. Contests are subjective things. That's not what's provoking this rant.

What's provoking this rant is this: yesterday, 5 weeks late, I finally got my analysis.

Included was a form e-mail from Gordy, in which he dropped the 2300 script number, and also proudly said that that meant "over a million and a half words of feedback".

If you do the math on that, that's 650 words of analysis on every script. Not bad.

I got 188 words. Including "Good luck with this and all your future scripts".

The rest of the "analysis"? It was almost entirely praise. 150+ words of mentioning things in my script that work really well.

Which, you know, isn't all that helpful.

Then, under the section "WHAT I THINK NEEDS WORK", there was just the following three lines:

"I really think you have a great script here. Just be mindful of the occasional typo's and you'll do just fine. Good luck with this and all your future scripts".

And yes, they spelled "typos" wrong. Which just made me laugh.

In retrospect, it's pretty clear what happened. They had this massive pile of scripts, and they had to wade through them to make the deadline, and clearly during that first cut, they didn't have any time to knock out analysis on every script.

So why that first reader didn't think my script was good enough to make the cut is lost in the ether.

Then, after they requested the .pdf, they sent it to some other guy, to bang out a couple hundred words of analysis, probably in some MadLibs type template.

At least he liked my script. Too bad he wasn't the first reader.

Bluecat makes sense on many levels, because either your script is solid, and makes the next round, or if it doesn't, you get a sense why. That's how it SHOULD work.

Here, not so much.

Lesson learned. Buyer beware.


At 8:14 AM, Blogger shecanfilmit said... least you know they passed on the script because they didn't read much of it rather than they really read it and passed.

I always consider luck as being part of any contest - will my script get read at noon on a Wednesday? 1AM on a Sunday? Or will it even get read? I'm sure what happened to you happens in every contest, even the Nicholl. But since Bluecat offers feedback, they're exposed when they drop the ball.

Though I think the Nicholl pays $25 or $30 a script.

At 12:10 PM, Blogger Christian M. Howell said...

I've been thinking long and hard about the contest route. I think I have enough stress right now.
Since most don't give feedback, if you don't place or win then you never know what was good or, for that matter, bad.
Then it's a few months before you do know anything.

The one good thing is that if you enter enough and win enough you can clear a nice piece of change.

At 6:30 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

I haven't even received my feedback yet.

They sure didn't have a problem cashing my check on time.

At 6:34 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Wow, you were a Nicholl's semi-finalist, Scott! Congradulations. That's a GREAT accomplishment. But for all the hard work you've done in the industry you deserve better than to HAVE TO resort to going the contest route, Scott. With all your years in the books as a professional reader SOMEONE'S gotta have a soft spot in their heart for you. 9,000+ scripts, dude, you deserve better!

A professional reader getting coverage from another reader and find a typo. Sound's like a recipe for some comedy. What'd I e-mail ya earlier, big fella, the nic-name is...

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

At 11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Contests are crapshoots. I was a finalist in Slamdance last year and I didn't even crack the first round in Bluecat. Still haven't received any feedback either.

At 4:07 AM, Blogger Chip Smith said...

Commiserations, Scott.

My experience was a a little better than yours this year - I suspect that was purely due to the fact that I entered in January!

I noticed early on that Gordy was going hell for leather on the marketing side, so decided to get my entry in early to try and beat the inevitable deluge. My coverage weighted in at 745 words, not bad for $45 I guess.

That said, the economics of Blue Cat are interesting - 2300 submissions at $45 a pop = $103,500. 2300 readers at $10 a read = $23,000. Which leaves a lush green pile of $80,500. Not that I'm suggesting for a second that it's run as a profitable enterprise, mind you...

At 7:08 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

The bottom line is that, given that analysis is this contest's one real hook, the one thing that separates them from the others (and which they use as its strongest selling point) they just didn't deliver.

On the contest website, they have samples of solid analysis sent to past entrants, including the 2004 winner. Even he got paragraphs of critical notes.

There's no such thing as a perfect script (even mine). Even top scripts have enough wrong with them to get a solid note or two.

Bluecat is now taking entrants for a new contest, a Lab with three winners. They aren't offering analysis as part of it. I think they've realized what a pain it is.

At 8:10 AM, Anonymous Joshua James said...

I remember reading at that agent's blog (that has been since shut down) that one reader, a pro who works everywhere, doesn't even read the whole script for contests . . . he gives them a few pages and throws it out if he believes it was bad.

This despite the fact that he was being paid to evaluate the whole script.

At 5:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I gotta say then that Blue Cat's duplicitous. I got the same e-mail saying your script is still under consideration and requesting a pdf be sent for the first round cut. Then nada. Either it's been tossed out or it's not. No need to get people's hopes up...

And to be honest, I rather get an apology for not meeting deadlines coupled with notes I can actually use than sloppy, rushed feedback that had both the names of my protagonist and supporting characters spelled wrong.

I've entered once before and had a good experience but this was just plain disappointing.

At 10:10 PM, Blogger Allen said...

I've only entered two contests and that was one of them (last year mind you). My feedback was decent and the feedback was prompt, though based on the feedback I was pretty disappointed by not making the finals. I also entered Find the Funny, an awful awful outfit that never sent me feedback despite the promise of it. They also never returned my polite and staggered emails. I'd stay far away from them (if they're even still around).

As it is, I really wouldn't recommend contests. Pay Scott for feedback instead.

At 9:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had an almost identical experience with Slamdance a few years ago. The feedback on one script included characters and situations that weren't in my story (although it also included characters and situations that were; I guess they just forgot to fully clear the template on that one) and was riddled with typos. E.g., they misspelled "wolves" every time they used it, and they used it a lot.

My other script was an adaptation of an Arthurian legend. The person writing the notes was obviously familiar with the legend and got so carried away talking about it that he/she ended up critiquing non-working elements of the story which I hadn't even included in my version. But at least that reader spelled everything right.

I've never entered Slamdance again and never will. I probably should have written or called the coordinators to complain, but I was lazy. It's a good lesson, though: if the selling point of a contest is reader notes, I'd far rather send my entry money to someone like you, Scott, and get REAL, useful feedback, even if I have to forego the 1-in-2300 chance at a cash prize. I know which of those options is likely to help my career more in the long run. :)

At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Gina Di said...

I've never entered bluecat or slamdance or any contest but I have worked as a reader for one. When I say worked, I mean interned.

And just like a previous post said, "that one reader, a pro who works everywhere, doesn't even read the whole script for contests" is true. This contest does not offer analysis to the entrants and they do not pay their readers. So how do you know your script was even read?

I've also worked for a huge agency ( WM ) as an intern. There I read scripts for free too! So don't think ANY companies who deal with scripts actually pay the readers a decent amount.

Unless you have a direct contact with an executive, your screenplay is being read by the interns and the office assistants. And if you are an office assistant, you dont' get extra in your paycheck for the number of scripts you read that week.

These companies- contests, agencies, and production companies receive a high volume of scripts. It's a hard industry to break into for unknown writers. My suggestion? Make nice with everybody.

At 1:02 PM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

Those of us who submit to contests know that it isn't a wise investment. It is done purely for the action and the idea that you might get recognized even if it doesn't mean much. It's a feather in your cap that says: "I write good."

At 7:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know why you would want to enter a contest that gives you feedback anyway.

Surely when you are ready to start entering your scripts you would have had a ton of feedback already?

Plus, as your recent experience has demonstrated why would you want feedback from somebody whose credentials are unknown?

If you want to enter a contest because you will receive analysis I have heard good things about the Feeding Frenzy competition which seems to act as analysis first and a contest second.

At 12:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The feedback spelt typos as typo's ?

That may not be as wrong as you think.

For a start, in Ye Olde Traditional English it was usual to use an apostrophe for a plural if the word ended in a vowel. They could just be really traditional.

More likely though - the apostrophe is used to indicate an omission - and since typos is short for typo[graphical error]s, it would seem that there is clearly an omission that can be marked with an apostrophe!


At 8:46 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I think if you start throwing apostrophes into every word that used to be a longer word, it'll start getting silly pretty quickly.

I'm pretty sure typo is its own word now. It has shed the apostrophe, and has become a man.

At 4:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I entered Bluecat this year and actually got very good, thoughtful analysis (although not as good as yours, Scott). However, I entered by the earlybird deadline. I actually got my feedback a day or two before it was due (in February, I think).

At 3:36 AM, Blogger Allen O'Leary said...

Hi Scott - a relatively positive event for me. Here's my take and also the full feedback so you can compare the quality...

At 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I particularly like how Mac uses the word "spelt" and then has the audacity to correct you about the "typos vs. typo's" issue. Geez.

At 9:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many of these contests are actually getting movie's made? That would be my question.
Who cares if you get feedback on your script if it's a contest that has never had any of the winners break into the industry.

At 10:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

WHO IS MAKING MOVIES? Slamdance, Script Pimp, and BlueCat seem to be the only ones with production credits.


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