Is That Magic I'm Stepping In?

The Single Screenwriter is taking a brief time-out from her regular rantings to pause and reflect on serious matters.

No, hell has not frozen over, but in light of the highly charged emotional responses spewed all over my previous blog post, I figured that it was one of those rare occasions where seriousness was called for.

A contest reader from one of the larger contests has come out and publicly stated that she not only does not read script entries past page ten, but also that she eliminates many without ever reading past the title page.

I am not putting words in her mouth or stretching the truth. This is fact that can be verified by simply reading the original post. This confession evoked strong outrage from writers and even stronger justifications from readers and contest directors all over the net, which indicates that this practice is much wider spread than the contest in question, and begs the question - is it time for a complete overhaul of the script contest industry?

Contests, take this as your wake up call. Be transparent about every step of the elimination process or suffer from pathetic submission rates, because if I can find out that your contest sucks and your readers brag about eliminating scripts with lightening speed with just a few simple clicks of the mouse, so can every other writer on the planet. Writers everywhere will now assume that you're just preying on their dreams for profit. They will no longer believe that your goal is to help them, not when readers have emerged in large numbers to defend the practice of giving each script less than 3 minutes of consideration.

Contests were supposed to be the unproduced writer's back door into Hollywood. A chance to get a serious read from someone on the inside, but that is utter B.S. Writers are on to you. It is beyond disgusting that writers get a fairer shake when getting a read from a hard-to-get-to producer than a contest reader. The naysayers will scream that I lie. But that's how Hollywood actually works. If you get a producer read, it's because he or she has requested your material and actually wants to read it. For free. They may read it themselves or have one of their staff read it. It will be read cover to cover, and not by someone who has 74 other scripts to get through before lunch. (Readers are unionized, people, and no reader gets 75 scripts dumped on them, and no good contest would put that kind of pressure on their 'professional' readers - not to mention no 'professional' reader worth anything would take on such a crappy job!).

If you want your contest to be taken seriously, man up and tell the writer exactly what they get for their money. If you may not read past the first 10, say so. If you're going to chuck out scripts based on title pages, say so. If you're going to make sure every script gets a full read say so. That way writers can make informed choices, 'cause right now, I suspect that your days of getting the benefit of the doubt are over.

And for those defenders of the 2 or even 10 page rule, let's get back to basics.

Do you remember that moment in a darkened theater where you suddenly realized that movies were magic? It may have happened in Lawrence of Arabia, or Star Wars or The Matrix or some not so familiar B flick you snuck into because it was damn hot and the local screen had A/C. I won't tell you mine because it would date me and my age is none of your damned business (unless of course you're cute, then I'm twenty-nine.)

Sorry. That just slipped out. I'm not used to wearing my serious face. And frankly, I don't want to wear my serious face. Magic isn't serious. Magic is... well, magical.

Everybody in this industry has that magic moment. The one moment that nailed you to the movie making cross and sealed your fate. I bet you can remember it down to every last detail - the smells, the euphoria, and if you're old enough, even the haze of smoke from the cigarettes in the back rows.

News flash: If you're in the industry, you've been chasing that moment ever since. It's what drives you and gives you a reason to live. It gets harder to find as we get older. We become more critical, our tastes evolve - we grow up. It sucks. But we still chase that moment. That's why we're here.

My position has been called extreme. Let's review my only position on this matter. I think that contests that eliminate based on title pages alone or writer location are crap. If a contest reader is participating in this behavior, they should be unceremoniously canned or the contest is crap. That is my position.

I'll go further to say that the better contests have their readers read the entire script. There is an argument to be made that you can tell good writing by reading only 10 pages, or just 2. I agree 100%. Hell, you can usually tell in the first few lines. And it sucks monkey balls reading a badly written script. And yes, a hell of a lot of contest entries must suck big hairy monkey balls.

What you can't tell from ten pages is story and heart. That's where the magic is. Is it there most of the time? Probably not. But when the hell did readers get so jaded that they stopped looking for it?! An amazing story with craft that's rough around the edges is still an amazing story. Craft can be developed. But craft without substance gets passed up the chain with the 2 or 10 page rule while magic gets stomped on.

You can tell me that this is the way the industry works, but you'd be full of shit.

I refuse to believe that everyone in Hollywood is a dick. That hasn't been my experience at all. The real pros don't need to be dicks. They're too busy looking for magic.

If I ever get so jaded as to think that I can go through 75 scripts in 3 hours and rate them fairly on the magic meter, somebody please just shoot me 'cause I will have become the Hollywood equivalent of the lousy waitress you refuse to tip because she has no people skills and can't be bothered to give a crap about her job.

I love movies. Even the bad ones. I'm a hopeless magic chaser. And I don't want to do business with anyone who isn't. And anyone even remotely connected to the industry that doesn't feel the same way should maybe consider a career change.

I'm closing this post with a few quotes from others:

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

Nicholl readers read the scripts. All of the scripts.

Max Adams

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?

Margaux Froley, on judging the Silver Screenwriting Comp

pic by h.koppdelaney