Friday, July 20, 2007

Writers on the Storm Top Ten in Depth

By Portia Jefferson

Hi, Stormies!

On behalf of the WOTS administrative staff and our fantastic team of professional readers, I want to thank everyone who entered this year's Writers on the Storm Screenplay Contest. It was a pleasure reading your scripts! As mentioned previously, the general quality of scripts from all entrants was at a higher level than last year, and we were impressed with much of the writing. It was a difficult task making each of the cuts -- Quarterfinals, Semifinals and Top Ten. At some point, it does become a subjective process, but that is how the industry works -- your script has to appeal to that one person (producer, agent, manager, studio exec. etc.) who holds it in his or her hands. Many entries had great concepts, but
the execution was not strong enough to move it forward. Many other entries had great writing, but the story had a weak narrative drive or was unfocused and/or unclear.

If you were eliminated in our first round, does that mean either you’re a lousy writer, or we’re idiots? Oftentimes the difference between a “pass” and a “consider” is one rewrite that solves a key story problem, or one adjustment to your craft that makes the read snappier, punchier, more dynamic. If you keep working on the craft, keep developing your stories and rewriting them, making them as strong as possible, your chances of success will rise, even as others give up and pull out.

Everyone will tell you how hard it is to break into this industry, but actually it's quite easy -- write a great script. Not an okay script, not a good script -- a great script. Write something so strong that it will be impossible for someone to turn down. Make it a page-turner. Easier said than done, right? Right. It is a wonderful achievement to simply finish a screenplay -- it is so difficult. Everyone should feel proud. But just because you made it to page 120, does that mean it’s ready to kick booty? If you’re like me, you probably have about 10 or 12 more
drafts to go first. Seriously! Hey, that’s just me. Maybe with y’all it’s only 6 or 7 ;)

Now, go... write, write, write, and... make it great!

Below are the loglines for the Top Ten scripts along with some of my comments. Not only is the writing exceptional on these scripts, but also the concepts are strong and the execution near flawless. We are in the process of rereading these scripts... and we will have another very tough decision to make on July 30th as we select our WINNER and two runners up.

Congratulations to the Top Ten Finalists - you deserve it!

The Writers on the Storm 2007 Top Ten, in alphabetical order by title:

1) BEDLAM by Dennis Shutty
Logline: A tabloid reporter unravels a 300-year-old mystery.
Genre: Supernatural Thriller
Comments: The script has great suspense and intrigue. Dramatic tension is strong throughout the story -- the readers were engaged on every page. There are a number of good surprises and twists which also make it a fun read. The "supernatural" element is unique and woven nicely into the narrative. The industry is always looking for great thrillers (and comedies) and this story should attract interest.

2) EXIT MARLOWE by Matthew Scarsbrook
Logline: 1593, Elizabethan England. The playwright Chris Marlowe struggles to expose a conspiracy against him before he is executed for atheism.
Genre: Historical thriller
Comments: We received a large number of period pieces, which typically do well in contests but do not garner much interest from the town because they are expensive and have limited audience appeal. But, there are some stories that are so compelling that even though it is set in the past, are too strong to overlook. This is one. Strong writing, strong story, strong execution.

3) FAMOUS NEIGHBORS by Patrick Baggatta
Logline: Two rival couples battle it out for the attention of the celebrity couple who just moved into their high-rise apartment building.
Genre: Comedy
Comments: We were surprised because of the small number of comedies submitted this year. Comedy still is king in this town, and if a writer can "write funny" then he will have a good shot at success. This is an energetic, fun, lively script that sucks you in, and the author has a strong comedic voice.

4) GRAVE CONSEQUENCES by Curt Burdick & Scott Burdick
Logline: Two ex-cons work in a graveyard - robbing graves. But "all hell breaks loose" when they rob the jewels of a famous dead gypsy.
Genre: Supernatural Comedy
Comments: Another strong comedy -- with a wonderful supernatural element to it. The authors are extremely inventive. The story is fresh -- we had not seen a story like this before, and there are some great twists. Funny!

5) MS. HALL OF FAME by Raenell D. Jones
Logline: Athena Michaels’ love for football leads her on a difficult task to reach her goal to join the NFL.
Genre: Family drama/Sports
Comments: This is a strong premise. A sports story that also appeals to family -- which makes it extremely attractive to potential buyers. There is a strong female protagonist (African-American) whom the readers could not help but root for. That's what you want with a good script -- a protagonist whose goal is clear and that the audience can get fully invested in. Story is clear, simple, fun and... emotional.

6) ORIGIN by John Unger Zussman and Patricia Zussman
Logline: A biopic about Darwin and the story of his life during the years that he was writing (living) The Origin of Species.
Genre: Biopic/Period Drama.
Comments: Another strong period piece -- from our Writers on the Storm 2006 runner up. This one is a biopic on Charles Darwin. The authors did a tremendous job of researching Charles Darwin's life, his work and getting to the heart of his theory. The story is also important and resonates today. Excellent writing, excellent subject, wonderful execution.

7) SOLE PURSUIT by Jason Siner
Logline: Female bounty hunter struggles to go it alone after her husband and partner is killed. While pursuing a prison escapee, she finds herself up against a corporation that's hiding the convict's location to protect a deadly secret.
Genre: Crime thriller
Comments: An engaging, entertaining action thriller by 2004 CS Open Winner Siner. This one has a strong, empowered female lead and a handful of exciting action set pieces. The author has a wonderful writing style and clearly is strong in the crime/action genre. A page-turner.

8) SOMETHING FOR ME by Juan Sebastian & Jacome Moreano
Logline: A selfish and rebellious Ecuadorian single mother learns to care about her nine-year-old child as she struggles to migrate to the United States.
Genre: Drama
Comments: An awesome story set in a unique world. Great, complex characters with a strong emotional underbelly. The mood and atmosphere are both solid, as is the conflict/tension throughout the story. Story is fresh and the combined voice of the authors is unique, fresh and emotionally gripping.

9) SULTANA by Laqueta Lewis
Logline: An Islamic queen struggles to retain her power and sanity as she finds herself ruling Egypt in the midst of a Crusader invasion.
Genre: Period Drama
Comments: This writer had two other scripts that could have been in the Top Ten. She is an exceptional writer. Each of the scripts she submitted to us were very well-written, compelling, and were executed at a high level. Of her three scripts, this one was the one that had the most promise commercially (as well as being the best overall story). Everything from the locations to the dialogue feels totally authentic and believable. A joy to read.

Logline: Christmas barely survives when Santa is waylaid by an evil elf and his rebellious teenage daughter Sandi, who takes over, uses the toy run to get to a Christmas Eve talent competition that she's in.
Genre: Family Holiday Fantasy
Comments: Christmas scripts are a tough sell because producers, execs etc. put them in a special "seasonal" pile that they may, or may not, ever get to. Also, Christmas stories all tend to have familiar elements. Not this one. This is fresh, fun, and very engaging. It is hard to create something unique in this overdone genre, but the author has done so. The characters are all strong. Very merry and jolly!

Good luck to the Top Ten!


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting these top ten details. Reading the loglines and qualities of submissions that generate excitement is an eye-opener and education in itself.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the encouraging commentary, Portia! Good job, everyone! :)