SE2 D25: The Writer's Funk
What a difference a year makes. This time last year, the journey was just getting under way and there was a lot of euphoria and optimism. This year the start has been a little bumpier.
There was a lot of build up to the end of the first year of the journey, but once the anniversary passed, I was kind of left with the question of 'now what?' And I'm still not quite sure what comes next. I feel like I should have a set of new and loftier goals but to what end? I'm not sure what I can do differently and continuing the same pattern right now seems anti-climactic.
It hasn't helped that the job front has been less than lousy of late. My bread and butter has come from Reality TV, but there aren't a whole lot of jobs right now in the LA area. There seems to be a lot of work in New York, but that doesn't really help my situation.
On top of that, I made a troubling discovery with screenplay competitions.
The Calling did not advance in the Screencraft Horror Competition. I mean, it didn't advance at all. I had been hoping to at least make quarter-finals. That would at least serve as an indication that I was on the right track. The script has been workshopped and received very positive feedback. It has received some good coverage reports. And readers have been very receptive to the script. So, I was more that a little disappointed that it did not advance in the Screencraft contest.
I probably should have left well enough alone, but I wanted to know how my script compared to others. When the semi-finalists were announced, I did some searching online and found several of the scripts that advanced. Bad mistake.
They were awful. I mean truly awful. Unreadable.
I was shocked, puzzled and completely bewildered. I don't know what the judges saw in these scripts. Now, I didn't read all the scripts, so there may have been some jewels in there, but what I found was coal. But in my consternation, I thought maybe I'm over reacting. Maybe my script isn't as good as I think it is, and I'm just suffering from sour grapes. So, I sent the scripts to some friends for their reactions without telling them why I was sending the scripts.
Their reactions were equally as horrified. Some didn't make it past page 6 on one particular script, and they all wanted to know why I had sent such dreck for them to read. They were quite relieved to learn that these weren't my scripts.
But the question remains 'why did these scripts advance? I have yet to come up with a satisfactory answer. But I was now intrigued by this issue of contests. One member of an online forum I belong to frequently touts his award-winning scripts. They have won or placed highly in a number of major competitions. Consequently, I sought out one of his scripts that has won or placed in several contests.
It wasn't very good either. It wasn't as bad as the others, but it would have been hard to be worse. It wasn't until page 45 that I figured out what his story was about. Even then, the premise that was set up only lasted for about 10 pages and disappeared again until about page 75 where it played out through the end at about page 100. There were some 55 pages of 'stuff' that really had nothing to do with the story or what the plot ultimately was about.
And talk about exposition. The script was loaded with scene after scene of exposition that added nothing to the story. It wasn't even good character development. It was just bad dialogue with no value or forward progression.
And this script has won competitions!
I felt somewhat vindicated by the comments that my readers made, but there was still that nagging question of what did the judges see in this and the other scripts that was missing in mine. I still haven't figured it out.
Friends told me to leave it alone and stop reading the other scripts or I would go crazy. It was too late. I was now obsessed with discovering an answer. That's when I found a collection of winning scripts from the Nicholl Fellowship, the grand-daddy of screenwriting competitions. There are about 250 scripts in this collection.
I've only managed to read a couple of them so far. And you know what?
They're good. Really good. I wouldn't go so far as to say they are better than mine (they are), but I was relieved to find scripts that were well written, had forward progression, strong characters, proper formatting--I mean, really, everything about these scripts are good.
So what is the difference in the Nicholl Fellowship and all the other contests? The Nicholl Fellowship is non-profit; all the others are money-makers. The Nicholl Fellowship is about finding the quality script, whereas the others are making money by processing large quantities of scripts. Some contests have nearly 10,000 entries. That may just be too many to process in the time frame given, so they have to make arbitrary cuts.
Now, I don't know that's the case. It's just a hypothesis, but it now seems the majority of contests are a waste of money. Even if you do win, what is the reward? Sometimes it's a small cash prize or maybe screenwriting software. A few contests offer a sit down meeting with agents, but how long is that meeting? You could go to a pitch festival and sit down with a number of agents in one day for only a few dollars more.
Making that discovery on contests just added to my funk. As a result, I haven't done much writing. None, actually. Plus, the job thing is weighing me down. If I don't pick up a gig soon, I may have to do some reevaluating on my living situation in LA, and that is just going to make it harder to write.
Something has to change soon.