Monday, August 28, 2006

Thoughts from Behind the Curtain

The past few weeks I've been working with the Writers on the Storm Top Ten. I've had lengthy chats with each of them -- talented writers all -- and we've been going through the scripts with my feedback, and in some cases, with the feedback from the CI analysts who covered the scripts.

What I've discovered is pretty interesting. The first thing I noticed is that two of our winners have Masters Degrees in Screenwriting, while another two went through the UCLA Professional Program (our winner, Bob Rhyne, starts next week at the UCLA Professional Program.) And another one of our Top Ten has taken classes at UCLA Extension and Writers Boot Camp. That's six of the Top Ten who have had higher education in screenwriting. Mind you, we had no idea of this going in, and contest judge Hal Ackerman, co-head of the UCLA Screenwriting Dept., insisted that the scripts be anonymous -- we tore off the cover pages before we sent them to him. Interesting, eh?

A few of our top ten are represented; but only a few of them are actually satisfied with their representation (big shocker.)

But here's the most interesting thing. The very talented Keli Rowley, who wrote the animated comedy/adventure Danny Longlegs, told me she placed 3rd in this year's Scriptapalooza contest. That's two strong contest showings in a month -- a true testament to that fact that cream rises. But when I spoke to Keli, I'd discovered that Scriptapalooza had already sent her script out to their list. This baffled me. No slight against her or her script, but why would any contest do this?

We've spent the better part of a month developing the top ten scripts with our Writers on the Storm winners so that when the scripts go out, they can put best foot forward. Some of the writers embraced the process and really dug in; a few others were less interested in doing so; that's fine in either case. But here's the thing: we are putting our reputation on the line when we send out that list (later this week.) It is VERY important that these scripts be as good as they can be for both the writers' sakes and our own. In the case of every single script, we found issues that could and should be addressed. As a result, our top ten scripts are ALL better than they were a month ago. So the scripts we are sending to the town we are confident in.

It boggles my mind how a big contest like Scriptapalooza can simply throw their scripts out there to the town. Again, no slight to the writers. I'm sure their scripts are good enough as is to attract attention. But are they as good as they CAN be? As a writer, wouldn't you want to do every single thing you possibly can to make your script as good as it can be BEFORE it goes out?

Anyway, that's not what we're about. We are going to do everything we can to get these writers attention, and that includes helping them up their game and their craft and marketing savvy. Because damn it, that's what a contest should be, don't you think?

--Jim Cirile


Anonymous said...

But what does that say for those guys who got all that eduication and still have to enter contests. if i spend 20 grand on a masters at usc or whatever i'd like to think it helps get a job working in the biz! i wonder why these guys are entering contests is all i'm saying...


Ah yes... Contests. Love'em...


What Fascinates You?

What FASCINATES YOU? --finale... Last sword in the horse.


Anonymous said...

I have a friend who has an MFA from UCLA and is still scrambling to find work just like the rest of us, so I don't think that's worth jack!

Anonymous said...

I would think it extremely unprofessional to trash your competitors, Mr. Cirlie, don't you? It's not like your contest has been any picnic. Just looked at the feedbacks on Moviebytes, and they were far from pretty.

Most of the commentators, you will note, are highly suspicious of your contest, and trashing a well known, and respected screenplay competition, only adds to the suspicion!


Anonymous said...

Annoyed, you make a good point. But I wasn't really trying to slam a competitor, but bring up what I believe is a valid point. How does your suspicion of our contest diminish the validity of my logic--that scripts should be as good as they can be before they're sent out? I have nothing against Scriptapalooza, and in fact I think their taste is very good.

Now let me take a moment to comment about Moviebytes. I read the comments posted by some folks, and I have to say I agree with them. here's the response I posted on Moviebytes:

Hey guys, I'm the founder of Writers of the Storm. Let me quickly respond to a couple of the comments here. First off, of course the contest is a promotional tool for Coverage, Ink, just as every other coverage service's contest is a promotion for them, too. So I'm not exactly sure how that invalidates the contest. Now had it been the case that we only advanced Coverage, Ink clients, then that would be meaningful. But in fact, only one of our top ten--Brad Henning, who wrote Heavens to Betsy--had been a previous Coverage, Ink client. The rest all entered the contest cold. In fact, not a single CI client who sent in their script during the contest period made it to the top 10.

As for the usefulness of the mini-analysis comments, I take these comments to heart. We've had a nice debate going on at our blog ( about this, and while some people thought the mini-analyses were cool and helpful, others--like some of you who posted here--thought they were iffy to full-on useless. I take these criticisms to heart and frankly view that as a personal failure on our part. I know we're not going to please everybody. But by the same token, as a writer, I would not want to get 4 lines of vague and generic feedback either. Damn right I'd be disappointed, too.

We have had several meetings to address this issue and are trying to come up with a more innovative solution for the next go-round. I also offered, on the blog, to personally read the first 30 pages of any script where the writer felt they'd been unfairly dismissed or gotten useless feedback, and i did wind up reading about 4 scripts. While I agreed with the judges' opinions, in some cases I did agree the comments were vague and I offered pages of notes to clarify.

To sum up, yep, we are a coverage company. It's what we do. And the contest is a part of that. But at the end of the day we are still a company run by writers, for writers. And we will keep trying to get it right.


Michael Ferris said...

I've talked to a number of friends who've judged for Scriptapalooza and the sloppiness they display by blanketing the town with scripts is pretty indicative of how they run their operation. They don't care about actually helping their writers so much as the ability to say their scripts are being read by so-and-so and such-and-such agency on their website.