Archive for July 2015

Making Sense of Contest Results

July 18, 2015

It’s July, and for unproduced screenwriters this is the cruelest month when big contests like the Nicholl Fellowships and Page Awards send out their dinks or congrats emails for the first round of cuts. Like most of you who are reading this post and seeking solace for not getting the good news you hoped and prayed for, alas I didn’t advance either — in those competitions. Trust me, it’s not the end of the world or last contest you’ll ever lose.

Remember that in the grand scheme of things, negative setbacks in any subjective venture judged by anonymous readers aren’t necessarily an indication that your script sucks. I know people who have never placed in a big contest and now have solid careers making money as produced screenwriters. And I know others who won thousands of dollars in prestigious contests, yet have zero produced credits or actual script sales.

What is particularly vexing for those who have previously done well in certain contests is how one year you could be a top finalist… and the next, zilch. No love at all for your masterpiece, which theoretically is even better since you have “improved’ it in the months between entering that same competition. Like hundreds — nay thousands of prior finalists — been there, done that.

I can see their perplexed, then anguished expressions as they click on the notification email, eyes scanning for one word: “Congratulations!” Once they see the dense block of copy at the top of the message, you already know it’s a fait accompli. Next, your eyes scan for the “P.S.” note saying although the script didn’t make the cut, at least one reader didn’t take a dump on it.

So, you’re sitting there hours or even days later, feeling like Job and wondering, Why hast Thou forsaken me? Listen, God doesn’t give a damn whose script was better. That is the nature of the universe. No one can answer that question. You just dust yourself off, look for other opportunities to sell your stuff or write another script with the hope it does have that bit of indefinable magic you sometimes achieve when all the stars align.

The simple truth is the odds are against you when it comes to the numbers game. To get the highest scores, you need the right person reading the right script at the right time and hope like hell the other scripts the judges also like are a tad less enamored with the competition. Different years, different readers, different results.

Meanwhile, before the latest round of dinks hit my email box, I was contacted by a filmmaker through InkTip. He has no produced credits as a director, but has been working in the movie biz for a few years and made enough connections to scrape together a small budget for his first feature project. He liked my logline and pitch for a big budget spec enough to read it, then gave me a call to see if we could work together to develop a very low budget genre movie. Was it my dream project? Hell, no. But it’s another chance to achieve my goal of writing a real movie, albeit a much smaller, less grand vision of Hollywood success than any of us start out with.

Coincidentally, I turned on the college radio station this morning and DJ Tanya, who I have a crush on because of her voice and musical tastes, was playing an old chestnut from 1980 by The Babys: “Back On My Feet Again.” I smiled, then sat down to write this post. To survive disappointments and rejection, you gotta be tough. You gotta be resilient. You gotta keep writing.