Living the Good Death – Scriptapalooza 2015 top 10 Runner up!

After scoring an 8 on The Blacklist, making the quarter-finals of Cinequest, achieving listing on Spec Scout with a 76.8 rating, and recently making it to the Scriptapalooza finals, my dark romantic dramedy Living the Good Death was just announced as a Runner Up (top 10 out of over 3,000 scripts) in the 2015 Scriptapalooza Screenplay Competition.   

Needless to say I’m thrilled and honored the competition’s readers enjoyed my little tale about a quirky young woman claiming to be Death incarnate who finds herself locked in an insane asylum. That they liked it enough to warrant a top-10 ranking… well let’s just say those heart-cockles or mine are certainly warmed.

Ya know, they say writing is re-writing, and Living the Good Death has certainly gone though many revisions before arriving at the draft we have today, and it’s been a fun, frustrating, but ultimately rewarding process. So what does this particular bit of good tidings mean? Why it means it’s time to do exactly what I was doing when I heard the news… keep working on the next script in the pipeline. Writing is like a shark in the ocean… keep moving or drown.  That and it’s just so darn enjoyable.

Here’s hoping the next one will be as much fun to write and as well received. 

The Value of Good Script Coverage

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A little something I posted to Pulse covering some of the better services, as well as the full (and quite detailed) scoring criteria used by SpecScout. Perhaps you’ll find it useful.

The Value of Good Script Coverage – On Pulse

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Scoring High on SpecScout

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After several revisions and some great notes from friends and co-workers, Living the Good Death was recently submitted to SpecScout for coverage. The result? It is one of the very few non-agency submitted scripts to score high enough to warrant listing on SpecScout’s pages. For comparison, Living the Good Death actually scored higher than an Austin Semi-Finalist and a Script Pipeline Grand Prize winner, both recently listed on SpecScout.

Another plus is Living the Good Death will now be highlighted in the next Scoggins Report.

Obviously I’m thrilled, and though a few folks have recently expressed some interest in the script, achieving this positive traction (the script received two “Recommend” and one “Consider” ratings) is a wonderful validation of a story I hold dear.

Whoopeeeee!!!

For writers looking for really good coverage, I highly recommend checking out SpecScout (and no, I’m not a shill or on their payroll in any way).  I’ve also used The Black List (this same script scored an 8 from an Industry Member) in the past but felt their coverage was quite sparse, even though the price is lower. Ultimately it’s up to you which, if any, service to get coverage from.

And now on to the fun part. Writing another one.

The Value of Friendly Critiques, Script Doctors, and Story Coaching

Some script doctors are amazing at what they do, possessing an almost uncanny ability to cut to the chase and highlight what works and doesn’t in a story. An old friend of mine has this ability, though she is not in the industry, rather working as an attorney these days (but with a solid theater background). She’s fond of saying, “I can’t write to save my life, but I can dissect a story like nobody’s business.”

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach, but our industry may be one of the more notable exceptions to that rule.

I’ve read a lot of aspiring writers rant about having a script doctor review their work only to discover that person has not produced or optioned work of their own. While in many industries you need to have that sort of accolade in your CV to be considered an expert, in the writing game the amount of people with that type of success is miniscule given the quantity of writers out there. Literally thousands upon thousands of scripts are written in L.A. alone every year, but how many do you ever hear about? And of those, only a handful will ever be optioned or win the Nicholl or Page, but that doesn’t mean the other submitting writers lack talent. Some are exceptional, their work just may not have been to that particular reader’s taste on that particular day. In the non-contest world I think it translates to sending out a great script that unfortunately just doesn’t make it to the right desk. It’s a daunting task no doubt, and as we know this business is certainly as much about connections and relationships as the quality of your work.

Is it worth paying for a bit of outside critique?

At a certain point most people of the creative sort wish for some external feedback on the work we’ve poured hours, weeks, or months of effort into. However good or bad the reception is by our friends and family, an objective outside opinion can be quite beneficial, especially if you are open to critique and can read negative points with an open mind. Even coverage that you don’t agree with will most likely hit on a point or two that have validity. The hard part is putting ego aside and being willing to consider that your baby you’ve been tirelessly working on for months on end may not be the perfect and unique snowflake that you believe it to be. That’s why you pay for that outside opinion. Friends may be reluctant to be totally blunt, but a stranger has no such problem.

That said, I  feel writers should have faith in their work and not take a set of script notes as a simple checklist of what to fix or change to make your story great. Guess what, your script may be amazing as-is and changing things per those notes might work great for that one particular reader but may also diminish the work for the larger audience. This is where we need to take a step back and digest the critique, then revisit our work with fresh eyes at a later date to better see if the points have merit. It’s like that trick when writing an angry email, you know the one where you draft it but don’t send it until later. It feels great to get it out of your system, but if you come back to it the next day you’ll almost certainly be glad you didn’t send it and will have a plethora of ideas (no, not piñatas) to make it better.

Now some writers want to keep their Precious safe from outside eyes, choosing rather to hold it close and tight. As for me, I personally like to get as many eyes as possible on my work. Sure, some critiques are great, some not so much, but every single reader, even those I disagree with, has given me something to think about as I walk the road to bettering my writing.

Not all Script Readers are Created Equal

As writers, I think most of us would agree that it’s pretty fair to say we all tend to have a fairly well developed sense of self-worth, at least when it comes to our writing. Though our styles may vary wildly, we like our work and believe in it, otherwise we’d have given up long ago. So when we finally manage to get a script in the door at an actual reputable production house, that means we’ve finally got a chance to have our craft appreciated by people who “get it”, right?

A fellow writer just informed me that his son is now a reader for a well-respected Hollywood producer. His kid is the fabled gatekeeper we have to entertain if we hope to make it past those high walls and onto the producer’s desk. There’s just one problem. This kid is an idiot.

Now I don’t have anything against him, but his own father said as much, lamenting that a kid who doesn’t know the first thing about scriptwriting, formatting, structure, or basically anything crucial to telling a good story, is now (purely through social connections and no actual skills whatsoever) the guy who determines who makes it to round 2.

Disheartening? Well, it certainly doesn’t inspire a dance of joy, that’s for certain. Now we all know that it’s a crapshoot with readers anyway. If you’re like me, you’ve had great reviews and horrible reviews, sometimes concurrently for the same unedited piece of work, so perhaps having a neophyte rating your work doesn’t surprise you. It certainly explains those outlier reviews that leave you scratching your head, wondering, “Does this person know the first thing about moviemaking?” But having those worst suspicions confirmed is still a wee bit lamentable.

Funny enough, I posted recently on the need to write for you, to not try and tailor your work into what you think a gatekeeper wants. Everyone’s taste is different, there’s no pleasing them all, and we almost never know who is going to be reading our scripts. If, however, you happen to know your reader has a non-entertainment background such as my friend’s son (and if the gatekeeper is also the reader, this is where being friendly during phone calls can pay off ) perhaps a bit more flourish to the script to appeal to their taste might help you make a favorable impression. Personally, I’m of the belief that directors and actors should decide the beats that work for them, but then again, before they can turn our words into action we must first entertain the gate-reader enough to score that sought after “Recommend” so our scripts can make it to their desk in the first place.

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Screenwriting Contests: Worth It?

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Not too long ago, my pilot Blowback was a semi-finalist in the Industry Insider Television Writing Contest. I was elated. Even if I didn’t make it further in the rankings (no, I didn’t make the finals), it was still good to feel my concept was perceived as a viable television show (a very Burn Notice-esque show with a “Blue Skies” type appeal). Anyway, since then I’ve been looking into other contests and competitions to see which, if any, might be beneficial to enter my feature and pilot scripts.

We all know by now that there are a bevy of contests to enter, but so far as I can tell, only a handful appear to have a sound enough reputation to bolster your script by your doing well in them alone. Nicholl, Page, Trackingb, Austin, Blue Cat, those are among the handful that seem to have the clout to make that kind of a splash, but I think a common question we all have is is it worth submitting to others, especially the lesser known ones?

My personal opinion is unless you’ve got a track record, it can really be worth while to have your work judged completely objectively against your peers. More than just getting an idea if a particular coverage reader likes your work or not, a contest can give you something a Pass/Recommend doesn’t; namely an idea where your work stands when directly compared to others. If you make quarter or semi-finals, you know you’re on the right track. Make it to the finals or even place? That’s great validation of your work.

Another benefit is the ability to give someone a reason to go into your script hoping for or expecting a good read, not fearful of stumbling into a bad one. Which would you be more likely to assume will be at least a decent read, a Scriptapalooza semi-finalist or an unknown writer’s cold submission? Of course contests can be expensive, so we all have to decide if the benefit is worth the cost.

Now some people enter every contest under the sun, which is fine, but seems a tad excessive in my opinion. Personally, when I see a list of a dozen contests for one script I can’t help but feel the writer would be better served by listing the key wins or rankings, then offering further accolades upon request. Maybe it’s just me, but too many contests listed looks cluttered and just reminds me of resumé padding. Again, that could just be my skewed perception.

Ultimately there is no right or wrong answer. Contests are great for some and not for others, but I do believe there is something to be said for a competitive environment where you don’t just get notes, but also get to see where you stand in the pack.