Tuesday, August 12, 2008

(Belated) Competition Re-cap

Since this site is about our climb up the screenwriting ladder, from the ground up, it's only fair that we document our lack of success, as well as our successes. As you have probably read, most of us tried our hands at the competition circuit this year. Three of us entered the Scriptapalooza Screenplay Competition, and four of us entered the PAGE International Screenplay Competition. While scriptapalooza is a lump competition, PAGE is divided into genres; Onyx submitted his historical script; Zombie sent into the comedy category; DOA entered her thriller, and I was Mr. Action/Adventure. July and August was results months.

The first round of results brought good news; all four of us in PAGE advanced to the quarter-finals. Of 3,865 scripts, we had all made the top 25% - impressive, but to be honest, I think we all felt entitled to that. We didn't want to jinx ourselves, but after our four years of formal training and our continued writing since, I don't think any of us saw the results as a surprise.

Next, though, came a big hit. Not one of us advanced in Scriptapalooza. Before I go on, I should mention that we had a feeling (correctly, it turns out) that Scriptapalooza, without its genre breakdowns, would be more of an uphill battle. Of nearly 4,400 scripts, just barely the top 9% advanced. OK - we weren't in the top 9%. Unfortunately, we had no way of knowing where we stood. Were we in the top 15? The top 25? No way to tell. Good thing we were still in PAGE, at least.

For a bit. PAGE announced their semi-finalists not long after Scriptapalooza's news came out. Onyx and I were actually on our way to D.C. that weekend. We both got out of work early and were hoping to catch a 4PM bus. I'd asked Zombie to text me if word came in after 3PM, when Onyx and I left for the bus. At 3:06, my phone dinged. Results were in. After bumbling on the sidewalk for a minute, trying to decide whether we had to know right then or if we could wait an entire bus ride from NYC to D.C., Onyx and I decided to head back to my office and see if we'd made it. Again, disappointment across the board. Not one familiar name popped up. C'est la vie.

While we were on the bus, Zombie actually shot me another message, saying that one of the guys who had advanced in Onyx's historical category had actually won first place in another competition a year earlier. That got me thinking: what do the competitions accomplish? In theory, they can earn a writer representation or a deal. In practice, it seems that so few of the winners get anywhere with their scripts because of the competitions, and those that do most often find success with small companies based in Europe or elsewhere. I know I have no right to be picky at this point, but the truth is that the magnitude of the script I'd submitted was such that I don't think I would have felt comfortable with a small, Eastern European company I'd never heard of producing it for a couple million dollars. I'd submitted a blockbuster, a behemoth of an action movie the likes of something Warner Brothers would do.

We ended the competitions feeling a bit down, a bit turned off to the whole process. Then, came one last email. PAGE informed all contestants that the competition was extremely close this year, and a tie-breaker round had been used. Ok, fine. Well, it turns out that DOA, Onyx, and I had made it to that round, and though we didn't advance, we were informed of the strength of our scripts and urged to refine and keep submitting them places. It actually took me some time to decide how I felt about knowing that. One the one hand, it was solid reassurance that the script I'd worked on for a year and a half was not complete crap. On the other hand, the script wasn't good enough to move forward, and I wanted to know why. Of course, that information didn't come.

In the end, I decided to feel good about my script, rather than ruin myself wondering why it didn't go further. Success in the competition circuit, much like finding an agent or a producer, is probably dependent upon luck - at least after a certain point. Maybe we got a judge who just wasn't into our stuff, or not digging it that day, or just in a foul mood. Maybe we had one typo, whereas the competition had zero. Maybe it just wasn't our day. Maybe we have work yet to do. At the end of the day, though I didn't win either competition, I wouldn't say I failed. I don't think any of us did. And we're certainly not giving up. The climb continues.

4 Quadrants of Growth

Working at a small movie distribution company in the less-than-usual nonsense New York, I don't really get much big company pep talk. I do, however, have them relayed to me through my sister. One snippet that really caught my attention was the Quadrants of Growth (or something like that). Here's how it goes: you start out Unconsciously Incompetent (1), and move to Consciously Incompetent (2), then (hopefully eventually) move to to Consciously Competent (3), and finally one day you (will hopefully) be Unconsciously Competent (4).

The example given is driving. You start out as a kid sitting on your dad's lap turning the steering wheel and thinking you can totally do this. That's Unconsciously Incompetent (1). Then come 16 and first few days at driving school, you realize, wow, I totally suck, and become Consciously aware of your Incompetency (2). Because of this, you start practicing, and with hard work you become Consciously Competent (3) where you can actually drive well. But only when you pay attention and not be stupid and cocky. This is why there are so many teen driving accidents. Then over the years, driving well (should technically) become a second nature and you are Unconsciously Competent (4). Congratulations.

If you don't factor in the talent limitation and go for the be-all-you-can-be view, this quadrants can easily be applied to writing. Everyone who writes continually are moving their way through the 4 quadrants. The question is, where are you? The thought deeply bothers me. There are time which I feel I'm at Consciously Incompetent (2) moving toward Consciously Competent (3). During my more cocky moments I feel I'm already at Consciously Competent (3), and soon I'll become Unconsciously Competent (4). This is usually when I finish a draft (usually the first draft) and feel, hell yeah, this rocks! Give it 2 drafts and I'll be done ...Then the first round of critique comes around and I go home thinking, wow, I'm probably still Unconsciously Incompetent (1), moving to being consciously aware that I REALLY GOT TO STEP UP MY GAME. After sleeping on the comments, I then usually look back on the script and think, it wasn't bad, it just wasn't good enough. Yet. Hopefully. Maybe. Please?

The other question is, how long before I become Unconsciously Competent (4). There are days and nights which I wave my fist at the sky and think (due to poor sound proofing) I WILL BE GOOD DAMN IT! But when? 30? 40? 50? The number keep growing. I don't mind hard work, but traveling two-steps-forward-one-step-back is a honest but slow journey. A friend recently told me that she does believe that my writing has improved. But how much? An inch? A pound? If 1 is for monkies at typewriters and 100 is for the Bible/Shakespeare/What-Will-You, where am I? Meanwhile, I guess there's nothing to do but to keep trucking along. At the very least, I got my inciting incident happening at page 15 this time. I can still hear Zombie cheering at the news.