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Archive for June, 2012

Screenplay Competitions Insight Jun 13

Screenplay Competitions

Screenwriting TrophyAt the Great American PitchFest 2012, I attended four free classes. In my last post, I discussed the class that dealt with selling your script. Today’s post gives you the deets on screenwriting contests, courtesy of the following panel:

The free class was called: “Screenplay Competitions – How to Win, Why Enter & How They Can Change Your Life”

That sounded like a something I needed to check out! Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Each of the top competitions receive anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000+ scripts (The Nicholl receives the most). CineStory receives only about 600 scripts (so the chances of winning are greater).
  • For the Nicholl competition, even the quarterfinalists will get contacted by producers, managers, etc.
  • It’s a misconception that companies are getting rich off of holding screenwriting competitions. Everyone on the panel genuinely scoffed at that idea.
  • A common script concept this year has been: “Senior citizens on the run.”
  • A common story conceit has been an opening where a young woman is staggering through the woods, then we flash back to how she got there (or it ends up being a dream).
  • If you want to see how screenwriting contests stack up, head over to The site features user-submitted reviews and ratings for each competition.

The question and answer period was especially enlightening. Here are some good ones (all paraphrased):

Q. Is it a good idea to resubmit the same script two years in a row?

A. If it’s been substantially rewritten, then yes. If it hasn’t been rewritten, the answer was mixed. Most judges seemed to think that it was a bad idea to resubmit the same script, however Joan Wai related a story about a writer who submitted the exact same script a second year in a row and ended up winning a Nicholl fellowship!

It was also noted that quite often competitions will have about 50% new judges from year to year, so it may pay to resubmit if you feel that your script was misunderstood. Until robots get into the game, judging will continue to be subjective. But the bottom line is that everyone’s looking for a great script.

Q. Has the advent of screenwriting software improved the quality of  scripts over the years?

A. “They’re just as bad, but better written.” – Howard Casner

Note: He said it jokingly, but there was truth behind it. Of all the panelists, his passion for finding innovative scripts and quality writing was probably the most evident.

Q. What’s the percentage of scripts that are good?

A. The general consensus seemed to be about 1 in 20. (Note: At the previous panel discussion of script consultants, they said about 1 in 100. Perhaps the quality of writing is better for competitions than it is in general.)

Q. Is there an advantage to submitting your script earlier versus later in the competition cycle?

A. Obviously it’s cheaper if you submit your script earlier, but most seemed to think there was no real advantage. However, one judge admitted that they tend to get tougher on scripts as the competition goes on. But that is balanced out by the fact that later in the competition, a really good script might be fresher in their minds when it comes time to fight over the finalists.

They also agreed that it’s probably not such a great idea to submit your script right at the very last possible minute. It’ll still get read fairly in their contests, but in less reputable contests, it may not get read with as much vigor or interest.

What are your thoughts on screenwriting contests? Any success stories out there?

Category: Contests  | 2 Comments
The 4 Things You Need To Sell Your Script Jun 11

“Let’s Sell Your Script!” – Panel Discussion

As discussed in my quick review of The Great American PitchFest 2012, I attended four free screenwriting classes.

Sell Your Script

The first one was a panel discussion with Ken Rotcop, Melody Jackson, Kathie Fong Yoneda and PJ Smith. I thought one of the highlights of the discussion was when Ken Rotcop mentioned there were four things you need to sell your script:

  1. A damn good script
  2. Contacts
  3. Timing
  4. Luck

Let’s take a look at each of those things.

1. A damn good script

It all starts with a damn good script. At the amateur level, you can pitch the hell out of a story, but if you don’t have a great script to back it up, you’re dead in the water. Having a great script is the most important thing to concern yourself with. But it’s not the only thing…

2. Contacts

So you’ve got a damn good script. Now what? Who do you send it to? Who will read it? Part of the business of screenwriting is developing contacts who will be able to push your script into the right hands. If you have no contacts, winning (or making the finals of) an established screenwriting contest may get you some, as will attending events like The Great American PitchFest (GAPF).

3. Timing

They say timing is everything. Well, it may not be everything, but it’s certainly an important part of selling your script. For example, a few years ago Bob Schultz (one of the organizers of GAPF) had an idea for a vampire movie based in Alaska, where there are months of darkness. The title of his script: Frostbite.

Numerous producers were excited about the idea… and then 30 Days of Night was announced. Poof — the interest in his script disappeared like hot breath in the cold Alaskan air. If he had completed his script a year earlier, who knows what would have happened?

4. Luck

I remember hearing a story about a screenwriter who had nearly given up his dream and was working as a pool cleaner. At one house he noticed that the homeowner was reading a script. Soon the two struck up a conversation. It turns out the homeowner was a Hollywood producer. When the pool cleaner told the guy he was a screenwriter, the producer asked him what scripts he had. Fast forward a few months, and that screenwriter ends up selling his script! Talk about luck! (I’ve forgotten which famous movie or screenwriter this story belongs to, so if anyone out there knows, please post in the comments.)

This story may be an extreme example, but every script sale needs a little bit of luck. How do you cultivate luck? To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson — the harder you work, the luckier you’ll be.

Is this the year you sell your first script?

Category: Industry Terms  | 5 Comments
The Great American PitchFest 2012 Jun 06

Great American PitchFest Adventures

The Great American PitchFest 2012Thanks to Ben Cahan, and his Talentville contest, I won a free pass to this past weekend’s Great American PitchFest (GAPF)! I was thrilled because the event is always so well put together and truly one of the best ways to get face-time with people who can help you get your movie made.

If you’ve never been to GAPF before, it’s basically speed dating — but with Producers, Directors, Managers and Agents. You pay one flat fee that allows you to have 5 minute meetings with as many people as you can see during the course of the day.

Some of the bigger companies have longer lines, so you have to weigh the benefit of waiting a half an hour to see one key person, versus maximizing your time, and meeting with multiple people. So depending on your predilections you’ll end up pitching between 10 and 20 times during the day.

This year the PitchFest offered its Saturday screenwriting classes and panel discussions for free! That means, even if you didn’t buy a ticket for the PitchFest, you could still come down and learn some new things — all for no charge. If you missed it, keep that in mind for next year, if they do it again.


Here are some of my random experiences from this year’s Great American PitchFest.

Bob and Signe

The Great American PitchFest is run by two special people — Signe Olynyk and Bob Schultz. During their “Making the Most of…” orientation on Saturday night, I noticed something quite interesting about them. They genuinely cared about making your experience at PitchFest the best it could be.

The Starter Screenplay

One of my writer friends introduced me to a guy named Adam Levenberg, who was selling his screenwriting book — The Starter Screenplay — at a separate kiosk. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I devour screenwriting books like chocolate. And not all chocolate is created equal.

After talking with Adam (a current Hollywood Executive) for a few minutes, I knew I had to buy his book. I’m only a few chapters in, but I already know it’s one of the best books out there. I’ll post some nuggets from it in the coming days.

Scene Writing Challenge

The lunch break at PitchFest is crazy long — like an hour and a half or something. So what’s a writer to do after he’s stuffed his face? Write!

The Script-A-Thon was sponsoring the PitchFest’s annual scene writing challenge. You had to hand-write a scene up to 5 pages long, while using the following line of dialogue: “If I’d known you were going to be this easy, I wouldn’t have worn these shoes.” You also had to use this object in a creative way: Pineapple.

I’m proud to say that my scene won!

The best part is that I got to learn all about the Script-A-Thon 30 day screenwriting marathon and competition. If you haven’t signed up for it yet, I highly recommend you do so. The chances of winning are much better than in many other contests, and the caliber of judges is impressive.

Some Great Free Classes

Here are the free sessions I attended. They were all excellent.

  • Let’s Sell Your Script – Panel Discussion
  • Screenplay Competitions – How to Win, Why Enter & How They Can Change Your Life
  • An Interview with Screenwriter Rhett Reese (Zombieland, Monsters Inc., GI Joe Retaliation)
  • How to Triple Your Contacts & Get Powerful People Reading Your Scripts

I’ll be posting individual write-ups on these sessions in the coming days.

Surprise Meetings

I got to meet some terrific screenwriters this year. You know who you are!

  • There’s the woman who I struck up a conversation with in line, only to hilariously find out she’s one of my clients.
  • There’s the NASA team member who’s decided to make a run at screenwriting a little later in life.
  • There’s the pitching prodigy who’s appeared on Jay Leno, and is a little nuts — but in a good way.
  • There’s the funny group of guys who were making off-the-cuff comments about the Michael Jackson impersonator who was pitching a movie — in full costume. One guy said, “Is he pitching a ghost movie?” Another guy said, “I thought he was pitching a children’s movie.”

The Pitching

My pitches went very well… for the most part. As I had different scripts to pitch — depending on the person I was pitching to — I felt a little bit schizophrenic at times. But it was a great challenge.

The one thing I learned, is that it really pays to make a connection with the person across the table from you, before launching into your pitch. Every time I sat down and forced myself to ignore the pressure of the time constraint, the pitch went extremely well. Hopefully I’ll have some good news to report on that front soon.

How was your PitchFest experience?

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