The hazardous journey down Contest Road

Flat tire in formal attire
A savvy driver is prepared, no matter what they encounter

I’ve lost count of how many screenwriting contests there are. A whole lot, I believe. But out of all of them, only a handful actually mean anything in terms of helping build one’s career.

The Nicholl. Austin. PAGE. There are others of high prominence, but these three are the ones that really matter.

This isn’t to slight the smaller or lesser-known contests, but someone who’s a finalist in the Nicholl probably has a better shot at being able to use that to their advantage than, say, the Greater Cedar Rapids Screenplay Contest (not that such a thing actually exists, but you get the idea).

As evidenced on my My Scripts page, I’ve done moderately well in some of the bigs, but have also totally fizzled out. I’ve also been fortunate to have done well in some of the second-tier competitions. Every year yields different results.

Sometimes the first thoughts that race through your head when you read that email from the contest organizer that includes the word “Regretfully” somewhere near the beginning makes you think “Does this mean my writing is lousy?”

No. It means it didn’t click/connect with the reader or readers from that contest. A lot of the contests give you at least two reads. Sometimes I’ll receive praise from the first reader, only to have the second one not like it, thereby stopping it in its tracks. Or both readers like it, but not enough to advance it to the next round. Nothing I can do about it. C’est la vie, and better luck next year.

And even if you win, or at least place highly, in a high-profile contest, that’s no guarantee to getting work. I know a Nicholl finalist who had zero traction with their script, as opposed to the PAGE winner who is now super-busy with assigments.

I know writers who’ve never won a contest, and they got work. I know writers who’ve never entered a contest at all, and they’ve gotten work. How? Because the writing wasn’t just good; it was really, really good. That’s what it comes down to. That and somebody liked it enough to want to do something with it or with the writer.

A few years ago, I was a lot more likely to enter almost any contest. And there weren’t even as many then as there are now. Time and experience has shown me that, yes, it’s a nice validation to get that certificate from that small contest you’d never heard of before you entered, but how much did it actually do to help you get your career going?

A lot of contests offer “industry exposure” to the winners, and you do get that – to a point, and it’s probably a safe bet not to the extent you imagine. Your script might get checked out by maybe a handful of reps and production companies, and even then there’s still no guarantee anybody will be interested. I’m speaking from experience on this one.

Contests are just one of the ways in. As someone who’s in it for the long haul, I’ll continue to try my luck with the big ones while also exploring other avenues. Whatever it takes.

And no matter what contest you may have entered this year, I wish you the best of luck. Except for the ones I did. Then all bets are off and it’s every person for themselves.

Fine-tuning in progress

lady-scientists
Aha! Almost missed that extra “the” in that sentence!

As of this writing, the early bird deadline for the Nicholl is about a week away. After some back-and-forth, I decided that, yes, I’ll take the plunge and once again submit my western.

Last year it made it to the top 15 percent, which isn’t bad, but I know it can do better.

And that’s what the next couple of days are all about: taking what I consider to be a pretty solid script and doing a little more editing/tweaking/polishing to make it even stronger.

For a long time I was convinced there was nothing else to be done on this script. Now I’m thrilled to have been so completely wrong. It doesn’t need a lot, but probably just enough to make a significant difference.

Earlier this year, I got some really good professional notes on it that raised some questions I hadn’t considered before. Implementing the suggested fixes really would make a difference.

So that’s what I’m currently in the process of doing. Nothing major, but some little tweaks, modifications, and minor rewriting here and there. And as is usually the case for me, these aren’t as insurmountable as I’d expected.

Part of this also involves going through the entire thing line by line, red pen in hand, just in case anything catches my eye as if to say “CHANGE ME!” Surprisingly, there have been quite a few of those.

I couldn’t say the last time I actually read through the script, but it’s definitely been a while. And it’s probably safe to say that this long stretch of not looking at it has definitely helped in enabling me to identify what needs editing/fixing.

And not to toot my own horn, but gosh this is a fun read.

In retrospect, I probably should have done this before submitting the script to PAGE, but if all this helps it do better with the Nicholl, who am I to complain?

Ask a More-Than-Just-Horse-Sense Script Consultant!*

Tracee Beebe

The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on Tracee Beebe of The Script Coach.

Tracee Beebe is a working screenwriter whose work focuses on damaged characters and their relationships with each other. An optioned screenwriter, she has had screenplays finish among the top 20% of the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship out of 7,000 entrants and as a quarter-finalist in the 2013 Scriptapolooza screenplay competition. As a script coach she enjoys helping writers bring out the best in their scripts as well as learn skills that will help their future screenplays.

Her previous career as a horse trainer, and her work in animal rescue, has flavored much of her work and given her the tenacity to believe that anything is possible if you just work hard enough along with the humility to know that there is always more to learn.

1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

I just rewatched To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar and fell in love with it all over again. Wonderful, unique characters, tons of subtext, and it just grips you right from the start.

2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?

I started out just exchanging scripts with other writers for feedback. After some particularly helpful notes, a Facebook friend offered to pay me to do detailed notes for him, word got out and more and more writers came to me for script coaching/consultation. After about a year of that, I saw an ad on ISA looking for experienced readers to do coverage for a new management company and applied.

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

Absolutely. I think that part of it is innate, but the more scripts you read (both good and bad), the more you can start to really see what makes a great script.

4. What are the components of a good script?

Entire books are written on this topic, but I think the most vital are structurally sound, unique concepts and really strong, interesting dialogue. Without those, you’re in trouble.

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

Exposition is probably the worst and most common mistake I see. Another rookie mistake is coming in to a scene too early and not leaving soon enough.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

There are things that make me roll my eyes and say “really? that’s the best you could come up with?” but thankfully nothing I see over and over again. I will say I am not a fan of anything resembling “Let’s get ‘em!” People don’t say that kind of stuff in real life. Oh, and a personal pet peeve (though not really a trope) is a writer using “we see” – to me it denotes lazy writing.

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?

-Show, don’t tell.

-Don’t write it unless it is important to the story.

-Make every word count.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?

It’s rare, but there have been a few. One was a very clever comedy about a personal chef to a mob boss. “When the mob boss’s personal chef gets wind he’s about to be flambéed, he must find a way to take down the Family before his goose is cooked.”

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

Yes, some of them. Some of the bigger contests are now so flooded it’s not worth entering unless you have gotten solid coverage and done some strong rewriting before you submit. But there are some good contests out there that also provide coverage to entries. I think that makes it worth the entry fee.

10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

www.TraceeBeebe.com

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

Pumpkin, with lots of homemade whipped cream! Now I have to go find myself a piece!

 

*because she works with and writes about horses. A terrible joke, I know, but how could I resist?