Contest Readers Need Love Too

The Single Screenwriter has been pulled violently out of an endless string of bad dates pumping out script pages by a life altering revelation --

I'm in the wrong business.

I've sacrificed the security of those hefty by-monthly-paycheck careers and turned my back on any doors my higher education opened, in favor of the constant uphill battle of a screenwriting career. Retirement savings are for losers and wimps, not those of us driven by passion and vision.

I've lived like a hermit on only coffee and cheesecake, venturing out only to alienate the few non-Hollywood type people left in my life. I've done so willingly and obsessively with no regrets - until now.

What sparked this sudden need for a career change? A blog post that has the screenwriters of the world in a tizzy. It was posted by a reader for one of the bigger contests, and was very quickly removed when the poster didn't get the love she clearly deserved. The post offered a glimpse into the contest reader's modus operandi, and contained gems such as:
Last night I managed to get through 75 scripts in about 3 hours. How are you so speedy and brilliant, you might ask? Easy, the 10 page rule. It’s true. All those stories about “make sure you grab ‘em in the first 10 pages” are absolutely true.

Honestly, I can tell in 2-3 pages if you are a writer. Then I give you 10 pages to show if you are a GOOD writer. If you’ve kept me going that far, then I’ll read further to see how you develop your plot. If you understand how to construct a midpoint, battle scene, and satisfying ending. And if your voice continues throughout, or if it tuckered out when the heavy lifting came into play.

Of the 75 I read last night, I advanced 20 to the next round, which was actually more generous than I should have been. What can I say, I’m a bit of a pushover.

I kid you not. This was a very real blog post by a very real contest reader. A lively discussion about it is taking place as I type over at Done Deal, and a pdf of the full transcript can be downloaded at The Academy of Film Writing (note: you need to register to access the pdf).

Let's review the pertinent points:

- she got through 75 scripts in 3 hours
- 20 advanced

Now, I've been a contest reader. I provided notes, so the pay was a little higher. That being said, they pay wasn't great, and the time I spent on each script, meant that I was working for just about enough to cover my coffee costs. I read every word, no matter how bad the script, and provided thoughtful notes.

Boy was I doing it wrong! I need to thank the above quoted blog poster for pointing out the error of my ways. Seventy-five scripts at even ten bucks a pop adds up to seven hundred and fifty bucks. Not a bad rate for three hours work.

That needs repeating: seven hundred and fifty buck for three hours.

Instead of expressing outrage at the poster, we writers should be getting down on our knees and singing her praises for showing us where the real money in Hollywood is made. Forget sweating blood over a script and jump on the reader bandwagon. At 250 bucks an hour, it's enough to sway even the most dedicated writer.

Just use her handy-dandy script checklist and the money will start rolling in.

1) Title page is a little off? Chuck it.
2) Contact info that contains an actual physical address? Chuck it.
3) Is the story set outside of LA or NY? Chuck it.
4) Does the writer use adverbs? Chuck it.

That should take care of most of the scripts in under two minutes. Of the remaining:

5) Doesn't absolutely grab you in the first 3 pages? Chuck it.

Don't bother reading the remaining; just pass them onto the next round. Who wants to spend more than three minutes on a script?

That is how you make the big bucks. How could I have been so blind to this golden opportunity? Who cares about story, inciting incidents, turning points, character development, and all that other stuff?

But if you really want to maximize your profits, I suggest starting up a contest of your own and setting a nice entry fee of, say, fifty bucks a pop. Hire a bunch of readers off of Craig's List for 10 bucks a script and pocket a cool forty bucks. That way, if you still want to see that script of yours on the big screen, (you know, the one you slaved over for months or years), you'll be able to finance it yourself. But who is kidding whom - you'll be too busy spending all that money to care about that silly little script.

Yes, we writers should thank her for showing us the error of our ways. Now get out there and land yourself a sweet contest reading gig!

But if you're still hell bent on writing, then you must be stupid 'cause you're turning away free money stick to legitimate contests with proven track records of readers actually reading the material and giving half a shit about the effort writers put into their work like the Nicholl Fellowship. That's not to say that all other contests are shady, but do your homework on them and avoid this reader like a bad STD. I know several readers for various contests, and none of them are like this piece of work.

There are good contests out there and there are phenomenal contest readers.

And there are slime balls. Be warned, be smart, and keep writing.

Now you'll have to excuse me while I go set up my very own license to print money script contest.

great pic by movimente


  1. This is the money grab-- er, business opportunity we've been waiting for! I'll gladly toss out scripts/be a reader for you! :D

  2. Then who would I spend all that money with? No, you my dear are a contest administrator. We'll get the readers off of Craig's List.

  3. She's not doing notes. She's evaluating whether the script is good enough to go to the next round. I have read thousands of scripts myself, and I have never had a script get radically better after page 10.

  4. Alex,

    Thanks for commenting. I have no problem with contests having a 'ten page rule' (although to be fair, they should state that in their contest rules). Reading a bad script beyond ten pages is downright painful. That being said, cutting scripts based on title pages and making snap decisions because of writer location, goes beyond unprofessional and, in my opinion, enters fraud territory.

    I read your blog regularly and really respect your opinion. Honestly, could you give a fair shake to 75 scripts in three hours?

  5. I could easily give seventy-five scripts a fair shake in three hours. Considering she says some of the "scripts" weren't even scripts (treatments, just dialogue quotes, etc) it's even easier. I take gross issue with your math as far as compensation - saying she made $250 an hour based on nothing but your own experience in a completely different contest with completely different expectations is absurd.

  6. Hi Samuel,

    I'm not going to out the competition on this blog, but it's easy to find out if you're interested. There was a hefty fee, so my math was actually generous. Where did you get treatments and/or dialogue quotes? This was a feature screenplay comp.

  7. "Where did you get treatments and/or dialogue quotes?"

    From her follow-up post "Congratulations":

    "Some scripts got 20 minutes, some got 5, and yes, some that were a 10 page treatment instead of an actual script, or the ones that were a 14 page word document of random dialogue, or ones that had the first ten pages of ALL ACTIONS lines got three minutes."

    **You really should have read everything before publicly accusing someone of breaking the law** (which is exactly what you do above with your "fraud" comment to Alex).

    ...and Yeah, I'm commenting anonymously. Because the pack you're running with at DDP were talking about hiring a P.I. to find Margaux. Creepy, way over-the-line stuff you're dealing in now, TSS.

  8. Anonymous,

    I have no pack. And I found the exchange on DD to be very entertaining.

    My original post was meant to be a tongue in cheek blog giving new writers a heads up that not all contests actually read their scripts.

    And I stand by my suggestion that it smells like fraud. People are paying to have their script judged, not eliminated for putting 'a screenplay by' on the title page.

    A direct quote from the blog in question:


    So what were the dealbreakers?

    I had a few things pop up last night that immediately made me pass on a script.

    1. Incorrectly formatted title page.

    Yes some people do interesting things with their title font, which I am not a total hardass about. But things like:

    A GREAT BIG ADVENTURE: A screenplay by Anonymous Writer

    Really? You put ": A Screenplay" next to the title? What did you think I thought I was reading?


    Boy that was worth the entry fee for that poor writer.

  9. Wow - you found folks calling her a bitch and saying they wanted to track her down "entertaining"? Continuing to personally defend this type of behavior is not gonna help your credibility in the future.

    Different strokes, I guess...but if you really *do* respect Alex, you'll read his response to you on his blog. Not many actual pros speaking out in favor of the position you've now so publicly assumed.

  10. Anonymous,

    I'm not condoning name calling or threats. What I found entertaining was the original blog poster digging herself in deeper.

    Clearly you're not 100% comfortable in your position or you'd be posting with an actual name. I stand by my position and know several industry pros who are of the same opinion.

    How about we let people read the blog post in question and decide for themselves.

  11. "I stand by my position and know several industry pros who are of the same opinion"

    Ignoring Alex now, huh? He answered your question - yet it's radio silence from you on the point he answered on his own blog. That speaks to the lack of strength in *your* own position.

    And I already said why I'm posting anonymously - because I'm frightened by your side of the fence, who either openly threaten strangers...or encourage it with posts like the one above.

    "How about we let people read the blog post in question and decide for themselves."

    Your extreme position has made the above post into something about who *you* are now. Imagine two years from now when someone comes across your blog - and then reads what you unapologetically call "entertaining".

    Bad stuff. Just a bad way to represent yourself, dude. But you've said more than enough to impugn your position. I won't comment again.

    Good luck with the blog - you're gonna need it after this debacle.

  12. I had an internship as a script reader years ago. I dutifully read every page and wrote reports to my boss about each script. But the truth is, I probably didn't need to read all the way through.

    Of about 200 scripts I read during my internship, three were paint-by-numbers competent; you could produce them and they'd be okay, but they didn't have anything that made you want to devote a year of your life to producing them.

    One script out of the 200 was great. Absolutely great. And it was great on page one. I could tell by page 3 that I was reading the best unproduced script I'd ever read in my life.

    Rejecting something because of the title page is bitchy. But the 10 page rule isn't. When you're in a bookstore, how many pages do you skim through to decide if you want to buy it? If you're flipping through the TV channels, how long do you watch something before you decide if you'll change the channel? Probably not 10 pages. You really can tell much faster.

  13. I have seen scripts get phenomenally better after page 10. Anyone who hasn’t? Probably just never reads past page 10.

    Anonymous, might I suggest, if you want anyone to take you or anything you have to say [a great deal of which looks like fabricated hyperbole] seriously, you stop posting under the name “Anonymous”?

    Writers, my dear “Anonymous,” stand behind their own words.

    My name is Max Adams. And you’re dicking with a friend of mine. Use a name or get out of the sandbox.

    [C, this was a very entertaining post. Don’t take crap from anonymous punkasses on your own blog. Block is your friend.]

  14. I would defy the poster above to name one such script -- that is, a script that was horrible throughout the first 10 pages but got "phenomenal" later.

    (And no, I'm not the same "Anonymous" as the reader -- I'm just too lazy to create an account to post this one comment.)

  15. Sorry folks. Anonymous posts have been disabled. Too much crap and outright lies flying around without accountability. Not classy.

  16. "Horrible throughout the first 10 pages."

    That is you being too lazy to accurately quote people too right? Listen if you just want to argue with your own made up crap I do not really need to be here for that do I?

  17. Dear Single Screenwriter,

    I have a comment on this... from someone who wrote one of those screwed up looking, mis-formatted, bound in a clear plastic ACCO report cover 130 pages scripts that would have, if formatted properly, been 175 pages long... and it is this:

    Thank God my script went to a contest with fair minded readers (people who read scripts in their entirety because, well, that's what they're getting PAID to do) because that screwed up script finished in the top 50 in the Disney Fellowship that year. It got me a phone interview with Buena Vista's creative execs (and when I had that call, the first thing out of the exec's mouth was "Everyone here has read your script and we just love it."). It also got me a very encouraging letter from the VP for creative affairs that still hangs on my wall to this day.

    So big deal, right? To ME, it was a very big deal. This was the first screenplay that I had written (oh and the contest was FREE! Go figure), and even though I didn't win the fellowship, I was extremely encouraged and now, 9 years later, I have earned enough from screenwriting to no longer be eligible for contests. Would I have quit if I never heard anything back from Disney? Maybe... maybe not. But the point here is the reader in question did not take it upon his or her self to summarily reject my script because it didn't "look right" (and I guarantee you my title page was screwed up, too).

    So, maybe I was the exception to the rule. But the thing is, if a person is getting paid to read these things, isn't that what they should do? Think about all the times you readers (who I'm assuming in most cases are also writers) have received help, encouragement, criticism, etc. from peers or mentors. I should think, just from a moral point of view, you'd want to give another scribe the same respect and consideration you trust YOUR work receives when you send it out there.

    Everybody has to start somewhere... and to the vast majority of readers who do go through and read every word of every script they are paid to read, I salute you. And to the person reading for Disney that year who got past my clear plastic report cover and other screw ups and actually read my very first script, I thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt. Your dedication to story helped me to become a better writer and storyteller. And isn't that what this should really be all about?


    Robert Manley

  18. Just have to chime in, there is no evil pack of destructive trolls that The Single Screenwriter runs with. I know because I am an actual friend and writing comrade of hers. She is someone who felt terrible for the new writers who are getting their scripts tossed without a fair chance at a contest that takes fees to read the whole damn thing. And she blogged about it.
    It's interesting that people who disagree with Julie Gray are becoming evil loser trolls who kick the crutches out from under the handicapped. Please.
    Nancy Bilyeau

  19. Thank you, Nancy. It's amazing how new comments dried up as soon as I disabled anonymous posting. Guess I banished them with my troll-like powers.

  20. i'd leave this alone but the smug tone of the blog author is just too much. grow up.

    contest judges aren't paid to read. judges are chosen to judge. people who've won the nicholl and disney fellowships should understand how contests work - it's about picking the best script, not giving insecure people the security of knowing they're baby was read beginning to end. since both of the "pros" are now script consultants themselves i see the appeal of piling on the band wagon

    max, what's the script you're referencing that got so much better after page 10? how bad was it to begin with?

  21. hey ! Real useful blog, especially as a writer working on my first book, need to know what i need to do to ensure the transcript at least gets read!!!