Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I Hate Contests


Never liked 'em much, never trusted 'em.

Okay, sure, there are some contests that will unquestionably help you if you win. I went to an awards dinner about five years ago and sat at the same table with three Nicholl Fellowship top ten folks. The room was rife was industry types. Gale Anne Hurd was also seated at the our table. Producer Sid Ganis came over to say hello. And I asked the three winners about how things were going for them, and all of them said they were getting tons of meetings and offers to sign with big agencies and management companies.

Me, I entered a script into Nicholl 11 years ago. I only made the quarterfinals, but I actually got a manager off it. Out of the blue, I got a call from this start-up management company (a pair of former UTA agents) who were hustling for new clients. They read my action script and signed me.

Okay, that's a good contest.

Then there are the others.

I've entered quite a few of them over the years, and in general, disappointment and a depleted bank account were the only results. Of course, that's to be expected, right? Not everyone can win. But it wasn't that long ago that I had a script make the top ten of a contest that I shall not name here. I only found out I'd placed 6th through a friend's chance web search, and he called me up and said, "Dude!" The contest management did not even bother to notify me. No prizes, not even postcard. Nothing.

Okay, that's a bad contest.

Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous. And so over the years I've entered several others. In a few of them I was eliminated in the first round; in others I made the top ten. One I even won (along with five others). But there was one thing all those non-Nicholl contests had in common:

Nothing ever happened because of them.

Okay, the one I won, I did get a few meetings with some low-level agents, and none of those guys seemed all that interested, frankly, in doing any actual work. But the others, nothing.

And so it was with these hesitations that Greg D'Alessandro--himself a multi-contest winner--and I sat down to brainstorm our own "nontest" which would eventually become Writers on the Storm. We agreed that never hearing anything back from a contest is hugely annoying. Contests like American Accolades and Slamdance give you feedback or coverage. So we decided to do the same--only cheaper. That's the second thing that bugged us about contests--the cost. That's one expensive lottery ticket.

But the single biggest thing is that: our contest had to mean something to the winner(s)' careers. And that's where we figured we could make a real difference. Because first off, we know some guys. So when we send the winners out with our recommendations, it will actually mean something to those folks. And second, since we're Coverage, Ink, we can use our team of pros to help the winning writer polish up that diamond to a blinding gleam before submitting it to the industry. Because if this thing does not pluck some writer from obscurity and launch their career, then what the hell is the point?

I still hate contests... but with any luck, after your winning script sells for $500K against a million, we'll raise the bar for all the other contests. That's what this is all about.

--Jim Cirile

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