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

Monday, April 20, 2009

Contest Season

For some reason, most of the major contests have their deadlines in the next couple of weeks.

I'm not a huge contest guy, at all. I've submitted to the Nicholl a couple of times, and made the semis in 2006, though that experience was ultimately not all that satisfying: a double-handful of read requests, mostly from managers, that didn't go anywhere.

I submitted to Bluecat, and as chronicled here that was a disaster; when I finally got their vaunted feedback with the script (weeks after it didn't make the next round), it was a rave without a single critical note. Oy.

When I bashed them about it here, they sent me an unhappy e-mail, though they did offer me free entry to their next competition. I didn't take them up on it. Just because I have another eye, doesn't mean I'm going to let them jam their fork in that one too.

But it's contest season again.

The Nicholl semi thing didn't ultimately lead anywhere, but at the same time it does look nice in an e-mail when I'm trying to get someone to read my stuff. It establishes that I'm not a complete noob.

But unless I dust that script off and send it in again, I don't really have anything that's Nicholl-friendly. In the last few years I've written a couple of dark thrillers and a TV pilot, but nothing that is liable to do well in that kind of competition.

It's the TV pilot that I'd like to get out there into the world; it's whining to me about sitting on the shelf all the time.

There aren't all that many contests that cater to TV pilots though. Austin takes specs of existing TV shows, but snubs pilots completely. Nicholl doesn't do TV at all.

There are Scriptapalooza and PAGE, both of which have deadlines coming up soon, and which are both possibles. Anyone have any experience with them?

Share stories here, as well as tales of any other contest experiences, good or bad.

Because it's contest season, and though it's always a longshot, it is one way to be a little proactive with the writing career thing.


At 8:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read for BlueCat -- briefly. Things deteriorated quickly once I questioned their feedback template. In essence they wanted readers to be "positive" and "encouraging" no matter what was received. Not recommended.

At 9:52 AM, Blogger Steve Peterson said...

I was contemplating the Scriptapalooza TV contest too, but I think this message board thread:

is referring to Scriptapalooza -- and it's a freak-show!

CBS Mentoring Program due date is May 1 -- but it's looking for diversity too.

At 9:57 AM, Blogger marcoguarda said...

Got a SF placement at PAGE last year, but SFs are 25 for each [10] genre, so there were 250 semifinalists.

You should make it at least Finals, 100 seats, or better I think, to have some chance of exposure.

I think they try and promote directly the winners [1st, 2nd, 3rd place in each category --> 30 scripts], anyway.

[Amy Garcia & Cecilia Contreras]
was both Nicholl and Page winner.

I read the authors signed with ICM, but I don't know if that was based on their personal [previous?] contacts, or if that was due to contacts established after the win -- and in this case if the contact came through one or both competitions, or if it came along with word of the win itself.

Never made past the entry wall at Nicholl's, so I can't say.

Both competitions' staffs have devoted and decent people IMHO.


At 10:09 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Thanks, Steve. Eye-opening and unfortunately depressing.

And it's amazing how few contests/fellowships/workshops there are out there for a white guy with an original TV pilot.

At 10:13 AM, Blogger Steve Peterson said...

I'd still submit to the CBS mentoring program. IIRC they don't charge anything and it seems they've had candidates of all enthnicities -- including plain old white dudes -- as winners.

And it's CBS! Dust off that Murder, She Wrote spec you got.

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

It's interesting to read the CBS rules, in which they clearly want "writers of color", but aren't allowed to restrict it to that, so they sort of talk around the fact that being white isn't a deal breaker.

But I have no current specs, unless I try to bang out something in the next 11 days.

Maybe I'll pen the lost episode of The Tudors, in which Henry VIII and his Lords take a road trip to spring break.

At 11:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone have experience with this?

At 11:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone have success with Austin or Creative Screenwriting Magazine's AAA contest?

At 3:03 PM, Blogger Grant said...

Rachel was the first honorable mention (4th place) in this contest: with a "Hannah Montana" spec script (plot kinda similar to the movie, only more better). Doesn't seem to have done her much good though. Or anything for that matter.

At 4:24 PM, Anonymous Patrick Sweeney said...

I had a short screenplay reach the semifinals of 2008 PAGE - actually, it's the short version of the 'Ghost Train' feature you read the other week. Very good experience, good feedback, lots of communication, hit their own deadlines. More than you can say for a lot of contests. Did not get any nibbles from it, but it was only a semifinalist.

I don't know if your darker screenplays are horror or thriller, but if so I also suggest ShriekFest and Eerie Horror Film Fest. Again, good communication, good deadlines, very professional, but they don't offer feedback. And I got a studio contact out of placing in the Eerie contest.

At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Anna Hailey said...

Fox also has a Diversity Development program for writers. They only allow spec pilots. Don't know if it would help, but it's worth checking out.

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

The reason they don't have many contests for TV scripts is because that's not really a valid, successful path towards actually getting representation or steady work as a TV writer. Most new TV writers come from fellowship programs, the bigger film schools, writing assistant staffs, the worlds of novels or comic books, or (for comedies) stand up comedy. And more often than not, representation tends to come from these same connections. If you were really interested in pursuing a television writing career, your best bet (aside from a fellowship) would be to try and get a job as an assistant of some kind on a television show and working up from there.

All of this is generally true for feature scripts as well, but the pool is larger and occasionally more generous towards the unconnected and untrained. I know it's not fair, and it's all a dream killer, and it excludes some talented people from ever getting their foot in the door, but it's Chinatown, Jake. In their defense, though, it also excludes the vast majority of amateur writers who aren't willing to give 110% towards a writing career, people who want to live Akron or work full-time jobs or buy homes or any of a number of valid ways to live your life, IF you were not trying to be a TV writer. It also rewards people who are willing to work low paying jobs for years while learning their craft directly from people who know what they're doing.

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Well even most of the Fellowship programs want a spec and not a pilot. Though the Fox Diversity Development thing is an interesting tip, thanks Anna.

Anonymous, your point is well taken, though TV shows also recruit heavily from the ranks of people who have written good screenplays. And it's unclear to me way writing a good TV pilot wouldn't be even more valued.

But yeah, it's Chinatown. Logic doesn't have enough place here.

At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In television writing, independently writing a good script isn't necessarily a benchmark for being a successful staff writer. A lot of television writing is writing to capture a voice created by someone else, writing quickly and cleanly, and being able to work in a room with competing voices. Specs are still the traditional format for TV writing samples because they demonstrate an ability to work with in an existing framework. Pilot scripts don't really demonstrate anything out side of an ability to work within your own world, which doesn't really build confidence in a showrunner or studio looking to hire someone who can get the job done on their terms. For all they know, it took you ten years to write that one pilot script, you are incorrigible ass when it comes to working with other people, and you can't write for anything you didn't create yourself. Some shows do take samples that are pilots, but most of the time when you are getting to the level where you are being considered for a TV writing gig or position, you have a number of established people vouching for your ability as a writer and as someone who would be a good fit on a TV show.

As for the idea of screenplays being a successful path to TV, that is true, in a way. However, the process tends to be: write a good screenplay, get an agent or manager, agent or manager gets you TV work. So in a way, the agent is more directly essential to getting the TV job. In that case, being a successful screenwriter with representation is a good pathway to getting a TV writing job, in the same way that already being a Senator might be a good way to eventually become a Congressman. At that point, you aren't exactly breaking in anymore.

At 1:07 PM, Blogger Christian M. Howell said...

Well, BlueCat was really a waste of my time. I put in two scripts right.
I get the feedback for one. It's relatively positive and actually had "ACTIONABLE" notes. So I made the changes and requested the same reader. It went to a different reader who had AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT TAKE ON IT. I mean NOTHING WAS EVEN SIMILAR.(so to the Anon in the first position - you're better off.

Now the second script I was much more confident about as it was a family comedy and it tends to crack people up - at least my Writers Group.

So I figure it'll be good feedback. Not quite. There is no "template" so people just SUBJECTIVELY read and add their opinions.
I have this set piece that I think is funny. Imagine a kidnapper going to the McDs drive thru.

I'm not even sure the guy knew what a set piece is.

Then the guy says that a comedy should be written like an Oscar movie. Skip the dumb jokes and add what I think should be in it.

That's not an objective view. I'll probably NEVER enter another contest after Nicholl this year. It's a waste of time. You have no way of really knowing what the readers want. I'd be happier if they used the ProdCo graph and grading.
That would be fair and would make the coverage look the same rather than looking like you just have to get lucky that the person who understands the use of scene transitions and juxtaposed personalities is your reader.

You know; the cinematic stuff not the Syd Field stuff.

At 1:09 PM, Blogger Christian M. Howell said...

And it's amazing how few contests/fellowships/workshops there are out there for a white guy with an original TV pilot.OMG!!!! Now that was funny. I'm looking for a contest that appreciates a black guy with female-driven dramas.

At 8:16 PM, Blogger Cathy Krasnianski said...

I was a finalist (top 10) in the Family genre of the 2008 PAGE. Exciting, to be sure, but no one's tried to break down my door as a result.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Eric Myers said...

Had the EXACT same experience with BlueCat. Sent them an email, "Hey, thanks for the glowing review...but my script didn't make it past the first round."

They sent me one back - "Sorry! See you next year!"

Critical analysis probably takes too much time...


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