Chance or Fate?

Every screenplay or book has a story behind it. Some projects seem to happen magically with all the elements quickly falling into place as if by kismet. Others are a slog, taking years of false starts, periods of dormancy, spurts of progress here and there, before finally reaching the first draft finish line. And then the real work begins: fixing and selling it.

As happy as you may be with the achievement of completing a script or novel, the end results aren’t always what you envisioned — the feedback from friends or fellow writers isn’t what you hoped for. Maybe it even stings. So you enter your screenplay in contests, or send out your manuscript to contacts in the publishing biz, wait for responses… and again, there are passes, rejections, encouragement, platitudes about patience, perseverance, keeping your passion alive. Because it is or isn’t meant to be. Or all your struggles are preparation for better things to come! At a certain point, you think it’s all stupid and pointless, you grow cynical and stop dreaming big dreams.

But then you get an email — another screenwriting contest that offers you a chance to break into Hollywood! They’ll even supply you the logline from an A-list produced screenwriter with major credits. All you have to do is write the first 15 pages, and if you’re one of the Top 10 finalists selected, they will assign you a mentor to consult with you each week until that first draft is completed and submitted to their judges. If you win, they’ll fly you to Hollywood for meetings with a top management company and the A-list screenwriter! Sounds good, doesn’t it?

In fact, the writer of that new Halle Berry series, EXTANT, was a prior winner of the Industry Insider contest run by the Writers Store (different script, although Mickey Fisher credits this contest with jump-starting his success). Another recent winner, Tyler Marceca, wrote THE DISCIPLE PROGRAM through this contest, which topped the 2012 Black List and sold to Universal after a bidding war. If you’ve been reading my blog awhile, you know I advocate entering legit contests — both big and small — as a way of getting unbiased feedback, making contacts, and gauging your progress as a writer.

Yet I never entered the Industry Insider competition because it didn’t seem like my thing — I prefer to choose my own premise and the idea of weekly consultations with deadlines for turning in pages impinged on my sense of “artistic freedom.” However, if you want to be a pro writer, you must learn to take notes, meet deadlines, and produce the kind of work that industry people are looking for. Is that selling out? Kind of. But if you want to stay in the game, you have to write stuff that sells.

So when I got another Writers Store email last month about the final deadline coming up for the Sheldon Turner round (he wrote UP IN THE AIR, which I really liked, and an earlier X-Men movie) I read this premise:  A corrupt detective with one month to live tries to make all the wrongs right in a wobbly road to redemption, becoming the cop — and the person — he always wanted to be in the process.

At first, my reaction was meh. Seemed generic and familiar. Then just before I hit “delete” it dawned on me why it sounded familiar — I started a rewrite of an earlier script that had made the Nicholl Fellowship quarterfinals, but didn’t sell, incorporating notes from my former manager (Cathryn Jaymes) and her assistant (Gary Dauberman, who sold CRAWLSPACE recently and got the assignment to write ANNABELLE, the spin-off from THE CONJURING). The new version I had begun was somewhat similar to this premise.

Now this is where the chance or fate part comes in. I had just read about Gary’s sale on the Done Deal site, so perhaps subconsciously I recalled that aborted rewrite attempt… which was about a corrupt detective who finds out a Japanese fortune teller has predicted he will be the fourth victim of the Inugami (a Japanese werewolf-type supernatural creature) before the next full moon — which is about 30 days.

The problem was I wrote those pages and notes ten years ago on a different computer, using different screenwriting software. Back then I favored Movie Magic Screenwriter over Final Draft. When I began collaborating with other writers, I switched over to Final Draft and stopped updating Movie Magic. Old script files got moved around, forgotten, lost. But I kept hard copy pages, handwritten notes, clippings and script pages in folders that I couldn’t bring myself to throw out. I did locate that draft and was able to convert the old Movie Magic file to Final Draft. It was exactly 15 pages long.

I hardly changed a word, entered it a day or two before the final deadline. Then last week, got the “Congratulations!” email saying I was one of the Top 10 Finalists who will be working with a mentor over the next couple of months. It’s strange though. I was thrilled to learn I had this great opportunity to follow in the footsteps of two writers who scored big deals after their success in this contest… and I am nervous as hell about producing pages on demand as part of this process. I’ll try to post updates about the experience, but time will be tight — I’ve already been struggling to keep up with my “day job” duties of producing my little TV show in Hawaii, and doing other for-hire video projects locally. Now I’ve got to find a way to do this too!

It’s like that old saying: Be careful what you wish for — it may come true.

In case you’re interested in knowing more about the Industry Insider contest, here’s a link to my contest round page. You can click around to read other testimonials and details.

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