Posted tagged ‘Julie Gray’

Close But No Cigar

October 1, 2010

Contest update: I had two scripts that were still in the running for the Page Awards and Julie Gray’s Silver Contest, which was the subject of some controversy because of a former contest judges’s blog comments. THE DOLL was among the Silver finalists, but wasn’t one of the three prize winners. Since my suspense/thriller had beaten out over 900 scripts to make the Top 10 list, I was pleased to make it that far… but, man, it hurts a little every time you get so close you can practically visualize the check in your hand.

For all the complaining about the Silver judging process, it should be noted that the winning script this year has also won or placed in other contests too. I suspect most of the finalists and semifinalists have had similar success. As I said before, regardless of who is judging or what protocols are followed (or not), the cream usually rises to the top. Not always, but good scripts are hard to put down no matter who is reading them.

As for my LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE spec, which had advanced to the Top 25 semifinalist round of the Page Awards in the family feature film category, I didn’t make the finalists cut. That was a little more disappointing. Then I got a personal email from Jennifer, the contest director:

Dear Rich,

I just wanted to write you a quick note to tell you that, although LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE didn’t advance to the Finals this year, the Judges liked your script very much, and you just missed advancing to the Final Round by a hair.  This was such a competitive category this year, and each of the Judges had their favorite scripts, including yours!  Score-wise, your script landed within just a few points of making the cut, and we would have loved to move it into the Finals — but unfortunately, we set that cut-off point at 10, so we have to abide by our own rules.


Please just know that you’ve written a terrific screenplay, and you should in no way be discouraged by not making this particular cut. In the end, any judging process is quite subjective.  And although we have to go by the numbers on the scorecards to determine who advances and wins prizes, in reality, this business is never an “exact science.”

So thank you again for allowing our Judges to read your wonderful screenplay.  We wish you the very best of luck with it!!

To tell you the truth, I had mixed feelings about getting that note. I had already accepted that I didn’t make the finals, and let it go at that. Then I get Jen’s email, and I started thinking about how close I was to getting read by industry people — possibly agents or producers who are judging the finals. That’s the most important thing to me about contests. It’s not really the money or prizes. It’s about who is reading your script in the later rounds. If those judges don’t have any pull in the movie biz, what’s the point? With the exception of the Nicholl Fellowship and possibly the Austin Film Festival, making the finals of most contests means nothing to agents or producers in Hollywood.

When I thanked Jen for the note and told her I appreciated knowing my script was that close, she replied that she too had mixed feelings about telling writers such bittersweet news. Some writers didn’t take it so well, apparently. But I believe you should try to turn lemons into lemonade. I copied her email and sent it to one of the judges in the Silver contest, who is a manager. Since I hadn’t been contacted by that manager, I presumed they weren’t interested in THE DOLL and thought perhaps a script in a totally different genre might pique their interest. Why not pitch my family-friendly big budget spec? The manager’s assistant said she’d like to take a look at it. So maybe my “losses” in those two contests will still result in positive developments down the road.

For me, contest season is “pau” — Hawaiian for done or finished. And this is probably my last go-round with the contests. I’ve had just as much success getting read through sending out mass  e-query mailings at less cost than entering competitions — yeah, you’ve probably read on other screenwriting message boards that those e-query services are a waste of money. Not true… that is, IF you can write a dynamite query or pitch. More on that in a future blog post.



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How NOT to Succeed in Screenwriting

July 20, 2010

First, spend hours each day lurking on screenwriting message boards or engaging in pointless arguments in those forums about stuff that no legitimate producer, agent or manager cares about.

Second, become obsessed with who’s selling what and analyzing box office numbers — as if it has any bearing on what you’re writing (or more likely, not writing since you are reading things like this blog).

Third, burn bridges by treating Hollywood assistants, fellow writers, and ordinary people with disrespect. I personally have dealt with interns and assistants who wound up being high level execs and produced writers. I’ve also been introduced to movie actors through friends of friends, who had nothing to do with the business. It pays to be nice.

I was prompted to dash off these obvious reminders after witnessing an ugly lynching on a screenwriting site that I actually like quite a bit. Someone re-posted a blog entry by Margaux Froley, who has been on staff of a CW television series — no small accomplishment — and who has also been a screenwriting consultant and contest reader. I know her because when my INUGAMI screenplay was a finalist in last year’s Silver Contest, which is run by Julie Gray, it was Margaux who tried to get my script to agents and producers that were part of their network of contacts.

What set off a firestorm in the screenwriting forums was MF’s casual explanation of how she went through 70-some scripts in a couple of hours, and rejected many after reading just a few pages. Even a writer’s address on the title page was enough for her to pass, given the realities of the TV biz she’s in. And that was the problem: she was honest to a fault. Any screenwriter who’s been around knows what she said is basically true: professional gatekeepers often make snap judgments on scripts or pitches because they have to sort through so much crap.

However, I understood why people were upset. If you pay to enter a contest, you expect that your script will be read — not just skimmed or tossed aside after a couple of pages, based on the whims of one person. In fact, that is NOT what happened with Margaux. She was going through scripts that had already been read and scored in the Silver Contest. Julie Gray asked her to take another look at a batch that had very low scores, because readers are human. They have bad days too or personal biases when it comes to genres they like/dislike.

Compounding the problem was that Margaux and Julie didn’t want to directly answer questions and complaints in those forums, which I think made matters worse. People who tried to defend them just wound up arguing in circles. What was lost in all this though, is that there was nothing to gain by ganging up on Margaux or Julie!

You know what? Margaux will continue to work in the TV biz because she’s a pro who has broken through and gotten paid to write for a network television series, unlike 99 percent of the wannabes on the message boards. And Julie is starting her own production company, so why in the world would you publicly diss her, even if it’s under a fake name? She has legit connections because she’s been a professional reader who has written coverage for studios and A-list talent. People like Margaux and Julie WANT to discover the next big writer or project! (Heck, so do I, since producers usually make a lot more than writers.)

Contest update: As previously mentioned in this blog, my DOLL thriller/suspense made the Top 50 quarterfinals cut of Julie’s Silver Contest (about a thousand entries). Last week, the Page Awards announced their second round quarter-finalists (top 10 percent of over 5,000 scripts). DOLL didn’t even make the first cut in that one. But my LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE family/adventure spec advanced into the Page quarter-finals.

Quick Netflix recs: MARY AND MAX, kind of a weird, dark animated film from Australia that I liked because it was so un-Disney-like. Not for kids!

Also liked A SINGLE MAN very much. In Hawaii, our governor who is a twice-divorced Jewish Republican woman — oh, the ironies! — vetoed a bill that would have allowed civil unions for gay couples. I wish she would watch this movie. Love is love… and discrimination is discrimination. Shame on Gov. Lingle for denying equal rights to gay people.

TAKING WOODSTOCK is a low-key charmer based on the memoirs of the guy who helped make Woodstock a reality. Critics weren’t kind to Ang Lee’s film, but I think it plays better on a smaller screen. Oh, and the protag is a quiet, thoughtful, caring gay man who is still in the closet at that time. Hello, Gov. Lingle? Some people like her are still living in the past.

For an old school sports-as-inspiration story, see INVICTUS. Completely conventional, predictable, and yet, ultimately still moving because of one scene I’ll remember: when the rugby team visits Mandela’s cell, and you realize he spent over 20 years in prison… but his spirit couldn’t be broken. Talk about courage — another movie Gov. Lingle should see.

Oldie but goodie: SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON. Reminded me of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, combined with a botched kidnapping and a touch of the supernatural. This would be a good movie to remake and update!

More Contest Results…

July 1, 2010

Quick update on my last post about Screenwriting Contest Results, in which I told you two out of three scripts I entered in the Page Awards comp made the first cut (top 25 percent of over 4,000 entries). Not making the grade was THE DOLL, a script that had done well in other contests — my point being early round judging can be VERY subjective.

So today I learn that Julie Gray’s well-regarded Silver Screenwriting contest announced their quarter-finalists, except they only chose 50 out of over a thousand entries (top 5 percent). THE DOLL was one of them, but STUNT MEN, which made the Page quarter-finals list, bombed out. So go figure!

Last year, my supernatural/psychological thriller INUGAMI, made the Silver Contest Top 10 Finalist list, but did not place in the money. Still, Julie’s team tried to get some of their professional contacts to read my script, even though I wasn’t among the prize winners. Although none of those producers or managers liked INUGAMI as much as the Silver Contest judges did, I really appreciate the effort Julie and her associates make to help writers like myself get read by top-notch industry people.

Congrats to everyone else who advanced in the Silver contest! And to those who didn’t, don’t give up. Took me awhile before my scripts starting advancing in contests — but even now, it’s still a crapshoot!

“Nothing is random”

May 15, 2010

There are days when you wake up, the sun is shining in a cloudless sky, and with the click of a mouse or flick of a TV remote, a few words or a single image can alter perceptions of time and space. The morning of 9/11 when I turned on CNN while making coffee was such a day. Today, it was reading a blog entry about the suicide of someone I didn’t even know.

I live with my wife on the island of Oahu in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Yet I’m still connected to my past life in New Jersey and New York through the media, internet sites and memories that have dimmed over time. As you get older, tragic news — big or small — piles up to the point you must find ways to reconcile the unfairness or seemingly-random nature of the universe with your personal beliefs.

Since I am an agnostic, who does not rely on faith in a specific God to sooth my soul, and do not believe in Heaven and Hell as afterlife destinations, I am left to find solace in my own concept of a Higher Power. After 9/11, for some reason I remembered a passage from Mark Helprin’s book, Winter’s Tale which was published in 1983 and is set in a magical version of New York City. The words he wrote have stayed with me through the years:

Nothing is random, nor will anything ever be, whether a long string of perfectly blue days that begin and end in golden dimness, the most seemingly chaotic political acts, the rise of a great city, the crystalline structure of a gem that has never seen the light, the distributions of fortune, what time the milkman gets up, the position of the electron, or the occurrence of one astonishingly frigid winter after another.

Even electrons, supposedly the paragons of unpredictability, are tame and obsequious little creatures that rush around at the speed of light, going precisely where they are supposed to go. They make faint whistling sounds that when apprehended in varying combinations are as pleasant as the wind flying through a forest, and they do exactly as they are told. Of this, one can be certain.

And yet there is a wonderful anarchy, in that the milkman chooses when to arise, the rat picks the tunnel into which he will dive when the subway comes rushing down the track from Borough Hall, and the snowflake will fall as it will. How can this be? If nothing is random, and everything is predetermined, how can there be free will? The answer to that is simple.

Nothing is predetermined; it is determined, or was determined, or will be determined. No matter, it all happened at once, in less than an instant, and time was invented because we cannot comprehend in one glance the enormous and detailed canvas that we have been given – so we track it, in linear fashion, piece by piece. Time, however, can be easily overcome; not by chasing light, but by standing back far enough to see it all at once.

The universe is still and complete. Everything that ever was, is; everything that ever will be, is – and so on, in all possible combinations. Though in perceiving it we imagine that it is in motion, and unfinished, it is quite finished and quite astonishingly beautiful.

In the end, or rather, as things really are, any event, no matter how small, is intimately and sensibly tied to all others. All rivers run full to the sea; those who are apart are brought together; the lost ones are redeemed; the dead come back to life; the perfectly blue days that have begun and ended in golden dimness continue, immobile and accessible; and, when all is perceived in such a way as to obviate time, justice becomes apparent not as something that will be, but as something that is.

To me, those words are poetry. I had first read Winter’s Tale before I moved to Hawaii in 1985 and met my future wife, Isabel. When we got married, I asked the minister to read that passage during the wedding ceremony. I’ve told Isabel that I want it read at my services when I pass on, because it sums up how I feel about our brief existence in this world.

Today I’m sharing it with you because a fellow writer, Julie Gray, asked her blog followers to write something this weekend, just as she was writing in an effort to come to terms with the death of her brother, who took his own life. She asked, why? Although none of us can answer that question for him, I think writers and artists — people who are often sensitive to a fault — probably can imagine the kind of personal pain he was going through. Most of all, it’s a feeling of hopelessness. Everything seems meaningless.

Then I reread those words by Mark Helprin, and it all makes sense to me. The internet, media, memories, all like the electrons he describes; flashes of thought and feelings being transcribed into pixels and neurons; connecting distant friends and strangers for fleeting moments that sometimes transcend the morning tragedy that brought us together.

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Here’s a link to Julie’s screenwriting blog. In addition to being a writer, she’s been a professional script reader for production companies and is a highly regarded script consultant. But most of all, she champions good writing and pushes screenwriters to aim higher and to live with passion.