Tuesday, November 1, 2016

#4 Contests & Such

Despite the discouragement described in Blog entry # 3, I began to pursue some of the recommended activities for selling a spec script.

The most important thing I did was to write more screenplays. I knew that should I actually get lucky enough to convince someone important to look at my writing, I’d better have more than one piece of writing to look at. Besides, I had found writing to be not only psychologically therapeutic but more importantly it was great fun. I loved writing.

Thus my second attempt was another dark comedy about a neighbor of mine, now long deceased, who had been the source of endless gossip. She was supremely annoying and outrageous. Her husband’s death and funeral were beyond belief. Unfortunately, my endless stories about her were not so endless, especially when crammed into a coherent whole. The script came up a bit short: 65 pages. 

Then a friend said something that intrigued me. He pointed out there was no science fiction movie or novel that made a believable argument for why any civilization would mount an interstellar expedition. Faster-than-light travel is a critical component of space operas but in the real universe it is impossible. Thus any such expedition would be highly improbable due to the required investments of time, money, resources, etc. Also, payback for such a Quixotic quest would take hundreds if not thousands of years.

So I wrote a screenplay that overcame all the arguments against mounting an interstellar expedition at sub-light speeds. Written from the point of view (POV) of the Earthlings being invaded by aliens. While I was at it, I populated it with five strong female leads: a theoretical physicist, a police woman, a writer (got to have a writer), a bar tender and an alien who appears as a human woman.  

Then, just for the heck of it, I wrote a second screenplay telling the same story from the point of view (POV) of the aliens. While the first screenplay had been pretty much straight up science fiction with some adventure and a love affair thrown in, the second was a science fiction comedy. It was meant to be more of a writing exercise than anything, but it turned out well and taught me a lot.

Now armed with multiple screenplays, I began researching the usual channels for getting a script made into a movie: entering contests, finding a movie star willing to sponsor it, pitching to a producer or agent, rewriting my stories as plays or novels, self-publishing and self-funding (the uncertain world of independent film making.)

Contests: There are many, many contests for original screenplays. However, they have their downsides. 

First, almost all contests charge a fee for submitting your screenplay for their consideration. I had difficulty overcoming my sense that they should be paying me for the privilege of reading my script.

Second, the prizes pretty much suck. The best may award a few thousand dollars to the winners and some of the prestigious ones advertise that the winners will get to pitch their screenplay to a major Hollywood producer (or, in many cases, a relatively unknown but overhyped movie producer from who knows where). 

Third, while many contests promise feedback from the judges, such feedback tends to be cursory. My brilliant SF script about an alien invasion got a one-line feedback comment “The character Amadeus was interesting.” That was it!

Fourth, in the contests with attractive prizes, you will be competing with hundreds if not thousands of entrants.

Finally, once they have your contact info, they generate an incredible amount of email to your account (can you say “spam?”) Why? Most contests are a thinly disguised strategy for raising money for the sponsoring organization which may run multiple contests per year, offer workshops and other events.

Find a movie star to sponsor your screenplay: This is mostly an exercise in prurient wish fulfillment. Who wouldn’t want Scarlett Johansson or Jodie Foster as the lead in their SF movie? Actually, given some of the SF movies Scarlett Johansson has done recently (“Under the Skin” comes to mind), starring in my movie would be a big step up for her.

Here’s the thinking on this as I understand it from all those books on screenplays and conventional wisdom(?). Movie stars (and directors) are now businesses onto themselves, more than just actors or personas. Aspiring writers scour their home pages where are listed not only PR stuff but also the structure of their businesses. They have managers, agents and even, sometimes, people to whom one can send scripts for consideration. 

The fantasy is that movie stars now wield so much power and money and influence that they can be an effective advocate for your screenplay. (Really? Advocate for someone they never heard of?) That is, if they like your screenplay and want to appear in a movie made from it. Dream on. 

There is one advantage to imagining a particular star being in your movie: it helps you focus on the character’s looks, traits, etc. It’s fun and sometimes helpful to do that, but I am more and more discovering that my characters like to define themselves. Once you get them going, they often will take over for you and write themselves.

About now you may think I am crazy or at a minimum delusional. Yes, yes I am. Aren’t all writers?

Next week: Pitching a script to a Producer

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