Archive for September 2013

Make Your Own Luck

September 11, 2013

As I’ve said before, whether you win, place or get dinked in a screenwriting contest — or any artistic competition, for that matter — it often comes down to the luck of the draw. I made the Nicholl Fellowships quarterfinals this year with an old dramedy because it was the right script for at least two of three readers who rated it among the top 5 percent of over 7,200 entries. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the same response from the semifinals readers, so LOST IN THE SUPERMARKET is done as far as this year’s big contests goes…

Except it’s not dead yet. I’ve been through this before and knew there was a fifty-fifty chance it wouldn’t advance, so I started using the Nicholl QF news to drum up interest before the Academy Foundation officially sends out the list of scripts that made the cut. Industry people who do take the Nicholl seriously will request semifinalist and finalist scripts, but usually don’t get too excited about the QF round. So my thinking was some managers or development execs, looking to get a leg up, may bite on a QF script before the next cut is announced since they didn’t know at that point which ones would wind up going all the way. If per chance I did make the semifinals, no harm done. I could send a follow-up to those who passed or didn’t respond to my query, and give them a second opportunity to take a look at it.

But I didn’t get too far with queries before I got a surprising script request that could be called an amazing coincidence, serendipity, or blind luck. However, it’s the sort of luck you need to work at to make it happen. Many years ago, the American Film Institute used to run an annual TV Writers Workshop program, which anyone could apply for. The year I won a scholarship to attend the month-long program at their L.A. campus, writers had to submit an hour-long script for an afterschool special. Yeah, like I said, it was a long time ago! Back in the day, a few writers who would go on to win Emmys and direct features, cut their teeth on the lowly teen dramas. I knew not many aspiring screenwriters would even bother applying for this one, so the odds were in my favor. (Tip: don’t fixate on just big contests — look for smaller contests, fellowships and workshops that tie into your specific interests, goals or qualifications… including “diversity” if you’re a woman or person of color.)

Instead of writing your basic afterschool special, I created a drama/comedy that was inspired by the suicide of Kurt Cobain and incorporated a lot of rock music, plus dark stuff related to addiction, depression, teen angst/romance, and a high school job working at a funeral home. But there were also light moments related to a baseball coach who spoke in malapropisms and a dad who played in a garage band, much to his son’s chagrin. In short, I was going for a MTV-style afterschool special before MTV ever did any scripted shows. One of the AFI staff even suggested I turn it into a feature script.

Although the AFI experience didn’t lead to any script sales or representation offers, it became part of my networking efforts. I was considered an AFI Alumni even though I wasn’t a graduate of their directing, writing or producing programs. It put me on an email list, along with AFI grads who are working in the biz and making big Hollywood movies and smaller indie films. And I used that connection to promote my LOST IN THE SUPERMARKET script shortly after I got word I had made the Nicholl quarterfinals.

In my email pitch to the AFI alumni, I noted it was a low budget indie project — which is what a lot of the producing grads are looking for — and mentioned it was based on my relationship with the late great jazz legend, Jaco Pastorius, who played electric bass for Weather Report and accompanied music artists such as Joni Mitchell.

Less than an hour later I got a reply from a producer who said she has spent the past two years working on a documentary about… wait for it… yep, Jaco. Her co-producer is  the bass player for Metallica, who I later learned idolized Jaco when he was growing up, and now owns one of Jaco’s guitars. They are in post-production on the documentary and haven’t read my LOST script yet, so I have no idea if anything will come of it. Maybe nothing at all.

Yet it just goes to show that we never know what cosmic twists are out there that could cause your “hard sell” story to fall into the right hands at the right time. But you only get that opportunity if you take risks, have your work read by industry people —  through contests, paid coverage, any way you can — and network with like-minded writers/directors/producers. Then, years after countless rejections, soft passes, and “not for me” responses, you just might get lucky enough to find the perfect match for your project.