Saturday, 3 November 2007

Screenwriter's Blues

The Bluecat screenplay competition is now open for entries. The major prize is $10, 000 with four runner up prizes of $1, 500, the fee for entering is $50 which is probably part of the prize pool, so if you win you can thank all the hundreds of want to be screenwriters who didn't. Bluecat also offer an analysis for your script, they hold screenplay writing workshops and state that they offer genuine support to all writers.

It is up to you if you want to submit but read on if you would like to enter a discussion about scriptwriting and some of the entrapment's set off by modern enterprise.

I have never entered a screenplay writing competition so this post is as neutrally sided as can be but I tend to think that a writer should know the quality of their own work from instinct without having to have it picked apart by industry folk looking for some extra cash between jobs analyzing other writer's labor. Other writing fields have similar opportunities thrust their way for a fee and the most notorious is poetry. I myself am on Film Victoria's database as an external script assessor, which is slightly different because a group of writers are sent out a script to examine and determine funding possibilities - still we would get paid around $400 for this process per script.

For any screenwriter sending scripts away to be pulled apart by industry professionals can be disheartening, expensive, and frankly not reliable. Writers have done tricks to prove this, back at the poetry level, by sending in poems by acclaimed poets like perhaps Keats or Eliot only to have them torn apart and considered full of defects. An independent assessor is working from a textbook and thwarted by their own biases to what they think makes a good script. The whole thing unfortunately is not a careful process as it should be and targets thousands upon thousands of aspiring writers who really are at wits end or lost after having completed a screenplay. On another side be very careful when throwing away your ideas to someone as the film industry is perhaps the worst for taking another person's idea and turning it into their own. It has happened hundreds of times - search and read up on the cases yourself to get a better perspective of how this can scar a writer for life.

So what are the alternatives? Here are some suggestion that might make your screenwriting life easier and more ground from the word go, or rather from the words 1.EXT. L/S THE CITY AT NIGHT.

A) Get your peers to look over your script, not just buddies who'll love it but people you know around you who will be honest with whether or not it makes sense - making sense is the important part, don't have them impose their own writing aspirations over your craft. Try and give it to a few people and ask them specifically to read the script according to what you know their strengths are, for example you may have a friend who is a musician, have them read it with the pace, tempo, or literally with the use of music in mind.

B) All you may really need is a good proof reader. Proof reading can be payed for but if you find a good one, you may want to sit down for coffee and get to know them a little first. Never blindly opt for services where the person reviewing your work is just an email address and possibly turns out to be someone who really couldn't give a shit about your script but really needs to make a car registration payment and you are going to be the sucker who is run through numerous proof reading re-submissions until it gets payed and you go broke.

C) Don't just read screenplays, but read plays for the theater. There are hundreds of good playwrights and reading the structure of a play can be easier then a screenplay as often you can't be sure at what point of production the final draft was completed for publication. Many highly appraised films where originally plays and I personally believe that any writing requires a broad knowledge of the craft unless you happen to be able to get away with it otherwise as does happen, take Dylan Thomas for instance, he rarely read books but produced superb poetry and plays but then again he started out as a journalist, so we are still mapping the creative process somehow always with the writing process in mind.

d) Give it to a friend who has a keen eye for criticism. We all usually have one friend who is better at gaging what we like and expressing it then ourselves, likely they are always the one who wants to be doing what you are doing but never gets around to it - as reviewers they are invaluable because they are seeing it from a kind of audience perspective.

e) DO NOT just hand it out to an industry professional kindly asking if they may have a look in the hope that they will think it a masterpiece and want to produce it themselves. It wont happen, more then likely they will either shove it in the bin, send it back with a whole bunch of snarly corrections, or steal the idea. If you must give it to an industry professional give it to someone locally who you can personally find again and throw cold sticky ice-cream at if they pilfer your hard earned writing ideas.

f) Always be thinking about your script, re-write, re-write, re-write. You can do the best work on it alone, let it breath, come back to it. Refill your imagination by watching films that inspire you, think about your demographic, your characters, your market, the kind of genre it is. Your script becomes a patient on a psychiatrist's couch, re-examine it, ask it questions, find out what really makes it tick.

g) Last of all, good luck to you. This world needs good writers. Maybe watch Barton Fink, it is a great film from a writer's perspective, always does me good.

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