Not all screenwriting contests are equal

Not all screenplay competitions are the same

Posted on behalf of Michael DiMartino

There are literally dozens of screenwriting contests that one can enter. Submission fees run from $25.00 to $75.00 each so it pays to be picky. The most popular contests are the most expensive and competitive. They also offer the most exposure. So which are the best contests to enter?

Whether you are an experienced writer or a beginner any contest that offers free or inexpensive professional feedback should be at the top of the list. The Emerging Screenwriters contest offers one submission and full feedback for $99.00. Less than a third of what a consultant would charge. If you are a beginner feedback is invaluable, especially if you are considering entering the more popular contests.

The big three contests are the Nichols Fellowship, Austin Film Festival and the Final Draft Big Break contest. These contests offer substantial cash prizes as well as exposure to top industry professionals. Even if you don’t win, if you are a finalist or semi-finalist in these contests you have a good chance of having your script looked at by an industry professional.

Other contests that offer significant exposure are the BlueCat Screenplay Competition, ISA Fast Track Fellowship, Page International, Script Pipeline and Scriptapalooza. If you are looking for a local contest that offers access to industry professionals check out the Bigfoot Northwest Script Challenge.

Packed house revels in live recording of Scriptnotes in Seattle

Craig Mazin, Emily Zulauf, and John August on stage in Seattle for a live recording of the Scriptnotes podcast.
Craig Mazin, Emily Zulauf, and John August on stage in Seattle for a live recording of the Scriptnotes podcast. (Photo: Bill Murray)

Literally years in the making, screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin finally accepted our invitation to record an episode of their Scriptnotes podcast in front of a live audience in Seattle.

Some 200 screenwriters, filmmakers and actors packed the AMC Pacific Place theater for an evening of industry talk, screenwriting and story development tips, and a few fun exercises in pitching on the fly for open writing assignments.

Emily, Craig, and John take time for a selfie.
Emily, Craig, and John take time for a selfie. (Photo: Bill Murray)

Joining John and Craig on stage was former Pixar story editor Emily Zulauf, who now works for a Seattle-based game company, which at the time of the podcast remained top secret. Emily spoke to how story development evolves at Pixar, and also to what she looked for in scripts as she was seeking screenwriters to work on Pixar projects.

Some 200 screenwriters, filmmakers and actors packed the AMC Pacific Place Theater to enjoy the live recording of the Scriptnotes podcast.
Some 200 screenwriters, filmmakers and actors packed the AMC Pacific Place Theater to enjoy the live recording of the Scriptnotes podcast. (Photo: Bill Murray)

The trio also delved into theme — how it relates to a character’s wants, needs, and motivation — and provided tips on how to further the development of your story.

If you haven’t already subscribed to the Scriptnotes podcast, you can listen to it from John’s official website:

Episode 387 of Scriptnotes was recorded Feb. 6, 2019 in Seattle.
Episode 387 of Scriptnotes was recorded Feb. 6, 2019 in Seattle.

Our members enjoyed a 50-percent discount off the general admission price. Learn more about NwSG membership benefits and see upcoming events.

 

Creating unique characters from a psychological perspective

Randy Webb leads the workshop on creating unique characters.
Randy Webb leads the workshop on creating unique characters.

Posted on behalf of Kristin Raven

Ever get the feedback on your script that all your characters seem alike? Did you frantically search online for “ways to make characters unique,” only to come back with hundreds of results because everyone has a different idea or tool that they use?

Randy Webb, online instructor for NY University teaching applied behavioral psychology, led an informative workshop on using one such tool, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

After a brief introduction to the concepts of the psychological analysis tool, attendees chose a character that they knew well from a movie or television show and completed a chart answering as if they were that character. The results were quite accurate!

Attendees were instructed on the different preferences of personality types and why they would react differently under the same situations based on the strengths and weaknesses of the way they perceive the world.

How does this help shape your characters? Do you have a plot and need to know what kind of person to put in the situation? Or have you created an antagonist and a protagonist with opposing personality types that by definition pit them against each other?

While using the MBTI is a fun and interesting tool, Webb cautions against taking the results too far. Remember, just like actors, we can all pretend to be someone else for a while. Perhaps that is what your character is doing!

This was part of the Northwest Screenwriters Guild 2019 workshop series.

Good friends and thick skins: The importance of thoughtful notes

The Northwest Screenwriters Guild Compendum program provides thoughtful feedback to improve you script

Posted on behalf of David Larson

One of the best things I ever did to improve my screenwriting was join a website called Trigger Street Labs. I discovered it somewhere around 2008 and spent a large amount of time and effort there for a couple of years. The concept was simple: give feedback on other people’s screenplays and other people would give feedback on yours. I learned the secret of the site’s real value pretty quickly: I got much more out of the reviews I completed for other people than I did from the feedback I received on my own work.

The key is giving good notes. They should be honest and helpful. You may give feedback on a script that is better than anything you’ll ever write. I did. It was called PURE, and it went on to win a Nichols Fellowship in 2009. Or you may find yourself slogging through a mess of words that can only charitably be called a screenplay. Either way, your job should be to provide whatever assistance you can with the sincere intent of improving the work.

Honest notes can feel like an attack to a writer. Trust me though, you need them. Reading through that feedback of your work can be so painful, especially early on. That is perfectly normal to feel when someone is critical of a thing into which you’ve poured your heart and soul. If your goal is to improve as a writer, you’ll want to thicken up your skin to the point that you can shrug off the pain and knee-jerk defensiveness and get down to the hard work of making your script the best it can be.

You also want people in your life who will be honest with you about your work. A good friend who will look you in the eye and tell you what doesn’t work about your script without fear of losing your friendship is a valuable thing. If you can be that friend for others, you will find the people you need in your life as a writer.

Trigger Street Labs is gone now, which is a shame. I have heard The Black List runs a similar program these days, but haven’t had the time to look into it for myself. Most of my recent script notes have gone out to members of the Northwest Screenwriters Guild who have submitted work to be considered for Compendium status.

If you are a member of the Guild with work you feel is ready to be seen by industry professionals, I encourage you to get a script in for review.

I look forward to seeing your work.

David Larson
NWSG Compendium Chair

Local screenwriters shine at Seattle Film Summit Pitch Panel

Third-place winner Kara Puerschner delivers her pitch at the 2018 Seattle Film Summit Pitch Panel event.
Third-place winner Kara Puerschner delivers her pitch at the 2018 Seattle Film Summit Pitch Panel.

Posted on behalf of Jeremy Dodd

Last month the Northwest Screenwriters Guild hosted a pitch panel at the 2018 Seattle Film Summit with some of Hollywood’s biggest heavyweights, giving 12 writers a chance to win over a thousand dollars in prizes.

More than 50 Northwest writers submitted 60-second video pitches in hopes of being selected to present their ideas in front of these professionals, as well as a live audience of over 200 people. Grand prize winner, Myra Dietzel, won free admission to TheFilmSchool Winter Writing Intensive along with free software and other prizes.

All writers were fortunate to have their ideas vetted by top Hollywood professionals, such as Christopher Lockhart, who reads scripts for Will Smith, Robert Downey, Jr., Liam Neeson, Michelle Pfeiffer, and more, as head of story at talent agency juggernaut WME. They also got feedback on their movie ideas from Sean Robins, producer of such properties as TAG, Tom Cruise’s KNIGHT AND DAY, among others.

Screenwriters from the Pacific Northwest submitted more than 50 video pitches to compete in the 2018 Seattle Film Summit Pitch Panel
Screenwriters from the Pacific Northwest submitted more than 50 video pitches to compete in the 2018 Seattle Film Summit Pitch Panel.

For those who showed literary promise, we had two managers on hand to field ideas, as well: Josh Adler from Circle of Confusion, and Kevin Parker from Artists First. And of course, if you’re idea was contained and capable of being shot at the right budget, critically-acclaimed indie producer Alex Schepsman, producer in-residence of The Bigfoot Green Room, was there to get your pitch off the ground.

The judges and winners of the 2018 Seattle Film Summit Pitch Panel
The judges and the winners. From left to right: Kevin Parker (literary manager, Artists First), Christopher Lockhart (head of story, WME), Josh Adler (lit manager, Circle of Confusion), Alex Schepsman (producer in-residence, The Bigfoot Green Room), competition winners Kara Puerschner (3rd place), Arthur Rains-McNally (2nd place), and Myra Dietzel (1st place).

After about one hour of hearing pitches, the judges announced winners. Aforementioned Myra Dietzel won first place. Coming in second was Arthur Rains-McNally. And last but not least, Kara Puerschner came in third. All writers are from the greater Seattle area.

Participating in events like the Seattle Film Summit Pitch Panel is just one of the perks of joining the Northwest Screenwriters Guild, where up-and-coming writers connect with amazing resources to improve their craft and make industry connections.

See you at our next event! 😉

From script to screen: Process, production, festivals, distribution

Posted on behalf of Kristin Raven

The Northwest Screenwriters Guild’s first “First Tuesday” event, co-hosted with TheFilmSchool and in association with the Tasveer South Asian Film Festival, featured a panel discussion led by industry professionals across multiple disciplines and covered multiple aspects of the process, from writing all the way through to distribution.

The panelists were John Jeffcoat (Big in Japan, Outsourced), Jane Charles (SOLD, Fat Kid Rules the World), Beth Barrett (Seattle International Film Festival Artistic Director), and Sudeshna Sen (Mehndi), and here are the key tips they offered:

John Jeffcoat:

Ask yourself if this project is something that you can stay passionate about for years because it takes a long time to make a movie.

Having a writing partner can help keep you focus because someone else is depending on you.

Structure your day. Find a time when you can write and just write. Write anything. Sometimes it won’t be good, but the good will come out.

It is important to think about character and their relationships. The more you know them the more the script will flow when you write.

When you attend festivals, find out where the parties are. Meet the programmers. Hang out at the filmmaker lounge. Network.

Jane Charles:

Ask why this movie needs to be made.

What about the movie is important to me, and will be important to others?

It’s all in the preparation. If you prep well, you can shoot well.

When filming overseas it is important to be there, but also to have local support to get the production done.

For anyone new to Seattle, meet locals. You need to become a part of the community. Get to know people who can help you and who you can help. Films are only as good as the people behind them. Start with a small project before a full feature.

Check withoutabox.com for festival locations. Submit to where you would like to travel to anyhow and where the locals want to see your film.

Distribution has changed with technology. Filmmakers need to learn about creative distribution.

Make sure that you have the rights for everything in your film. Shooting locations, talent, music, etc.

Beth Barrett:

If you want to get your movie into a festival, story is the most important element. Prioritize story versus expensive shots based on your budget and resources.

A movie should make you feel. As an example the recent movie 8th Grade made her squirm because it really resonated with her.

Send your film to lots of festivals, not just the big ones. Find your tribe. Maybe there is a festival just for your type of movie.

When submitting your film to festivals, research the festival programmers for your genre. Make sure you get it to the right person. Tell them why the film is important, why someone would want to watch it, and who is the audience. If you have a connection, use it. Play up if you are an alumni of that festival or other festivals. Plan ahead when you know that it will be a premier, some festivals will only except films that have not yet had their premiere.

 

The monthly First Tuesday events, free and open to the public, are held at Roy Street Coffee in Seattle. See the NwSG events and workshops page for upcoming topics.

Come Change the World with Me

Nicole Pouchet speaks at the "Writing Social Commentary Through Genre Film" event in Seattle.
Nicole Pouchet speaks at the “Writing Social Commentary Through Genre Film” event in Seattle.

Posted on behalf of Nicole Pouchet

Last night, the Northwest Screenwriters Guild partnered with TheFilmSchool to present a workshop titled, “Writing Social Commentary Through Genre Film: A Presentation by Ben Dobyns and Nicole Pouchet.” The true goal of the workshop was to prove that film can change the world and to learn how to do it.

We started out the night with some intriguing clips from the Northwest Film Forum’s Local Sightings Film Festival. (If you haven’t yet, be sure to get over to Local Sightings for some fantastic NW-based film!)

Then we continued with my presentation. Dracula, released in 1931, was one of the first talkies. At that time, there was no “horror” genre; it was classified as a “mystery.” Dracula ushered in concepts like sound effects, supernatural themes, and actual horror. While this film didn’t exactly change the world, it started the horror genre and made implausible subjects acceptable to filmgoers. Dracula allowed for horror, fantasy, and science fiction to exist in the future.

We also examined the films Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Philadelphia. Both of these films helped change global mindsets about marginalized people. With its 1968 release at the same time as the Supreme Court case, Loving vs. Virginia, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner helped ease some reluctant Americans into acceptance of interracial marriage.

Philadelphia was released in 1991, during a time when AIDS was called the “gay plague.” According to studies done by Columbia University, the film’s sensitive handling of homophobia and discrimination “changed the national conversation about the disease.”

The 2004 science fiction, The Day After Tomorrow, did more to convince the world that climate change is real than any film before its time. Released two years before Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, The Day After Tomorrow generated more than 10x the news coverage of the 2001 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Even though the science of the film is questionable, it helped change global views on climate change, and even directly contributed to successful fundraising campaigns for Greenpeace and National Resources Defense Council.

Jordan Peele won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay for the horror/social thriller, Get Out, in 2018. For a film that Peele thought would never be produced, this is amazing. Get Out highlights police discrimination as a tool of horror, something for audiences to accept rather than question as part of the narrative. With commentaries like these, Get Out started conversations about the micro-aggressions and racism of suburbia.

After reviewing these five films and understanding that film does have the power to change the world, I had a conversation with Ben Dobyns, the executive director of Zombie Orpheus Entertainment. For the past two decades, Ben has worked with a diverse team of storytellers to develop and produce projects that seek to normalize women’s rights, LGBTQ identity, racial justice, indigenous cultural revitalization, and economic justice through the lens of genre comedies and dramas.

We discussed many topics, specifically the importance of using a relatable character to explore current topics. With each of these films, the emphasis was on a relatable character facing a conflict. These characters wanted the same things that everyone else would want: love, respect, family, and safety. By the end of these films, audiences were forced to consider the main characters’ plights, regardless of whether or not those specific struggles matched their own. The audiences learned something while being entertained.

There’s so much more to discuss on this topic. We can change the world with our writing. It’s up to us to dare to try.

Our Q&A with BlueCat founder Gordy Hoffman

Gordy Hoffman
BlueCat Screenplay Competition founder and judge Gordy Hoffman

Written by Erin McGhee

In Seattle for one-on-one script consultations, Gordy Hoffman, founder and judge of the BlueCat Screenplay Competition spent an evening with Northwest Screenwriters Guild members for a moderated Q&A where he discussed screenplay competitions, what sets the BlueCat Screenplay Competition apart and how writers can hone their craft.

Hosted at the Seattle Film Institute and moderated by NwSG member Arthur Rains-McNally, Hoffman talked about his trajectory from shooting his own films in elementary school in the woods around his hometown of Rochester, NY to attending the University of Kansas to writing and producing screenplays in Los Angeles.

He founded the BlueCat Screenplay Competition in 1998 and remains its judge. Asked why BlueCat consistently makes all the top 10 lists of the most important screenplay competitions in the industry, both for screenplay and television script writing, and what makes it special, Hoffman elaborated: “Transparency sets us apart. You know who’s reading your script, you know their credentials and what they’ve done in the industry and we pay them accordingly so we can attract and retain the best.”

Asked how one goes about winning the BlueCat Screenplay Competition and whether it favors any particular genre, he explained that it all comes down to good storytelling and strong relationships between characters. They’ve awarded the top prize to any variety of genres – horror, comedy, drama and everything in between, but the winners all had a couple of elements in common: unique characters, relationships between those characters that are compelling and that the audience cares about and a strong storyline.

It’s the same commercially: “Whether it’s Black Panther, The Meg, or Black Klansman, they were all great screenplays because you care about the characters and the relationships between them. And the high quality storytelling.”

Hoffman also talked about the importance of writing and producing short films, particularly for new writers. The short film format forces writers to develop compelling characters and compelling relationships between those characters quickly, and to create an emotional connection with the audience quickly. He explained that it’s also easy for new writers and producers to work in their communities to produce shorts, rather than attempting to bring a full screenplay to fruition. Hoffman’s short film Dog Bowl had its world premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and went on to screen at over 50 festivals around the world.

In addition to the Q&A on Friday evening, August 17, Hoffman sold out all available slots for one-on-one script consultations for aspiring screenwriters in the Seattle area on August 17 and 18. BlueCat Screenplay Competition offers a variety of other services for screenwriters, including:

  • Written, Skype and in-person script consultations, for features, TV pilots and shorts
  • Workshops, and
  • Online screenwriting courses

Visit BlueCat Screenplay Competition for details.

Compete in the 2018 Seattle Film Summit Live Pitch Panel

Last year's Seattle Film Summit pitch panel was so much fun we thought we'd give it another go!
Last year’s Seattle Film Summit pitch panel was so much fun we thought we’d give it another go!

 

The Seattle Film Summit Live Pitch Panel is returning for its second year.

The Northwest Screenwriters Guild is partnering with SFS for this exclusive opportunity.

Eight to 10 finalists, chosen from video submissions, will present 5-minute pitches to notable L.A. Industry professionals in front of a live audience during the conference.

Pitch participants will also compete for a one-year membership to the Northwest Screenwriters Guild and an additional opportunity to pitch to a visiting industry professional during that year.

  • Video submission details will be announced on the NwSG events page and included in upcoming NwSG email newsletters.

Prepare to wow the judges because as active members of the Hollywood film community they are in a position to further your material and career if your story peaks their interest.

Not ready? Nervous? Check out NwSG.org/events for upcoming pitch practice sessions. Or, just watch and learn how it’s done for next year! Either way it’s sure to be a great time!

The summit will be held Nov. 17-18 in Tukwila, Wash., and you can register for SFS now (early registration ends Sept. 15).

 

Key takeaways from screenwriter Britta Lundin

Britta Lundin and Arthur Rains-McNally
Britta Lundin and Arthur Rains-McNally

 

Posting on behalf of Staci Bernstein, NwSG Events Committee Chair

Three things I learned from Britta Lundin that will help you stand the test of Hollywood
If you missed Britta’s talk you probably don’t know what “Ship It” means. Here’s what Google says: “A ‘ship’ is the concept of a fictional couple; to ‘ship’ a couple means to have an affinity for it in one way or another; a ‘shipper’ or a ‘fangirl/boy’ is somebody significantly involved with such an affinity; a ‘Shippingwar’ is when two ships contradict each other…” This is relevant because Britta’s feature film and now book Ship It not only launched her screenwriting career but landed her a publishing contract. How did she do it? And what can you learn from her success?

First, work hard. Yes. It’s not a shocker she attributes her success to hard work. I haven’t met a working screenwriter yet that didn’t list hard work as part of their secret sauce. But everyone seems to have their own definition of hard work. For me, it’s taking the garbage out before I watch TV. But when Britta says “hard work” she means, after getting a degree in political science go back to school and study film. Then move to LA and work 40 plus hours per week as an assistant in the film industry. Need time to write? Wake up 2 hrs early every day before work. So that’s what working hard means to her. Oh, and when she got staffed on Riverdale and hours ranged from 40 per week to insane, she still got up 2 hrs early to write because she took on a book contract.

Second, Britta networked hard. She said that she looked at her life as having three jobs. The morning writing job, the assistant job, and the third networking job. About three days a week she would go out for drinks with other assistants and colleagues. Lucky for her she’s really nice and extroverted. She made time on her holiday to come talk to us at the NWSG, so I think she’s pretty extra special. Oh, and did I mention she’s super funny and likable? Any sane person would want to be in the room with her.

Third, and hardest of all, she had faith in her process. I know that all writers face setbacks and Britta mentioned that early on she got feedback from her writing groups on a feature she wrote that while it was good and gritty, her voice wasn’t coming through. I asked how she managed the discouragement of that setback and she said she knew that if she worked hard and treated people well she would be a staffed writer within five years. I’ve noticed a lot of writers one or two years into their careers becoming disheartened and blocked when their first and second features don’t blast readers’ socks off. If you’re realistic about where you are on the learning curve it’s much easier to put in those two hours in the quiet of the morning. I’ve heard that the average time for successful writers to “break in” is about ten years so Britta’s running ahead of schedule.

She said lots of other fun and inspiring things, too, but at the end of the night these were my strongest take-aways and I hope that even if you didn’t get a chance to see her speak they can help inspire you.

Work hard, make friends, and have faith in yourself. Maybe in a few years you’ll be writing for one of the hottest TV series out there, and publishing your own book.

By the way, Britta’s book, Ship It, is available on Amazon.