Archive for September 2012

Paying For It, Part 2

September 4, 2012

It takes talent to recognize talent. Not all contest readers/judges, or agents and managers, are equally good at picking “winners” when it comes to screenwriting. If they were, we wouldn’t have so many god-awful movies and TV shows. But I think screenwriting is so subjective because it relies on the reader creating the movie in their heads — they have to fill in the blanks, pick up the subtext, hear the rhythm in the dialogue and see the visuals conveyed in blueprint format.

The problem is you have no control over how that person reads your masterpiece. If you’re lucky, they will give it their undivided attention. More likely, they will be in a rush to get through it as quickly as possible because yours is just one of many they have to read for that contest or rep who employs them. That’s why I think oddly-formatted scripts or really unusual stories often get more careful reading. Thanks to Final Draft and Movie Magic, anyone can crank out a professional looking screenplay. It takes a true eccentric or arrogant/confident writer to make up their own rules, which could translate to a unique vision. Is it any good though? That reminds me of the old joke about the agent telling another agent he just got the latest script by a hot new writer. The second agent asks what he thinks of it. The first agent replies, “I don’t know. I’m the only one who’s read it!” Reputation can influence the reader.

To me, things like the Black List reinforces that kind of reader-created buzz. It’s like, oh, it MUST be good because other people put it on this list! So you pick it up already predisposed to expect more from the words on the page. Conversely, you might be more inclined to taste sour grapes as you mentally compare that script with your own work and wonder why your script isn’t getting the same kind of praise.

The same happens with contest finalists and winners who can develop buzz by milking it. That is why I recommend you try to attend any conference or film festival associated with a contest you do well in. It gives you an opportunity to network with the contest judges, who may be industry professionals, and make contacts you can hit up when you have a new script to pitch. It’s also good practice for future pitching and meetings.

Contests and queries update: Unfortunately, I’m still eligible to enter contests since I have yet to make that elusive first sale. Had two scripts get the top 15 percent Nicholls note (both had been in the top 5 percent in recent years), had a former Nicholl QF script make the top 10 percent Austin Film Festival second round, had a Page semifinals script (twice) only make the QF this time around… but got a “consider” from a professional consultant who does paid coverage, which might be more important than any contest consideration. I used that analyst’s feedback to get the script read by a manager, who had said on the Done Deal message boards he would read stuff recommended by that particular consultant. More on that in my next post on affordable script feedback services.

I also took advantage of an offer on the Done Deal message boards from a manager at Benderspink, who was helping a repped writer raise donations for a good cause. Basically, he would read 25 pages for each $25 contribution. As it happened, he liked my Amish horror script, SNALLYGASTER… passed on it, but said he would read other scripts of mine. So I sent him my Nicholl quarterfinal script, which has been a finalist in some other smaller contests as well. Figured if he liked SNALLY, which I didn’t even bother to enter in “serious” contests since it was a low budget horror genre flick, he would really dig the one that scored high with contest judges. Wrong. I was surprised, so I sent that script to the paid consultant I mentioned before. That reader’s comments echoed what the Benderspink manager said… and what I’ve heard from other agents/managers.

My point is don’t get hung up on contest results. Sure, positive outcomes can lead to representation or winning money, and getting career-boosting attention. However, there are some scripts that simply make better movies than writing samples. I’m waiting for paid feedback from another highly-recommended consultant, so when I get that coverage I’ll tell you how it compares to the other analyst I used!