The Screenwriters League recently had the privilege of interviewing screenwriter Gordy Hoffman (Love Liza) about his writing and his work founding the BlueCat Screenplay Competition. Founded in 1998, BlueCat has grown tremendously in over a decade. In addition to boasting a top prize of $10,000 and four Finalist prizes of $1,500, BlueCat offers something extremely valuable (and unique, as far as competitions go) to every person who enters - written screenplay analysis! Whether a writer takes home the top prize or not, screenplay analysis is an incredibly useful benefit (and well worth it - many professional consulting services charge more than the cost of entering this competition).
Gordy had a lot of great information for writers about entering screenplay competitions, the BlueCat Competition and his goals to help emerging writers, and about pursuing screenwriting as a career.
Thank you for agreeing to speak to The Screenwriters League about your writing and the BlueCat Screenplay Competition. As you know, our site is dedicated to chronicling the journey from unknown to produced screenwriters, so to start things off, can you tell us a little bit about how you got into writing? Did you have any training in it when you wrote your first play? How did you break in professionally?
I did not have any training in writing plays. I wrote poems and stories from my first memories, and my experience acting since I was a child oriented me towards plays. I did write and direct and star in a short film when I was eleven! Shot on Super 8. So the impulses have always been there.
I started mounting my own work when I lived in Chicago in my 20's, but I did not get paid until I moved to Los Angeles and someone gave me a few thousand dollars to write a script. Then came LOVE LIZA.
Can you talk a little bit about Love Liza (DVD Alert for all you readers who haven't seen it)? What inspired you to write it and what was your process while doing so? When did your brother become involved?
I was a cab driver in Chicago for 3 1/2 years. I saw many things and wrote down many ideas. One of these was "normal guy huffs gas." So one summer, I started to write this story, imagining what might propel a man to do such a thing. After I wrote the first draft, I was home on Labor Day weekend 1996, and my brother was home as well. I thought I had written something special so I showed it to him. He told me he wanted to play the part of the man. This was the start of our process towards what you see today.
When did you decide to launch the BlueCat Competition? What prompted you to spearhead such a large undertaking and what were your goals setting out? What was the attraction to helping writers break into the industry and why did you feel able to help them?
I always had an idea to start a screenplay contest. Maybe I thought it could be profitable, wow, that was wrong! Ha! But very quickly, I got the wonderful rewards of helping other writers. I became a stronger writer in the process, it led me to teaching at USC, and now I'm directing a screenplay written by a writer who submitted ot BlueCat. So it's changed my life, and made me richer, in the best way.
What have been your experiences managing the competition so far? Can you talk a bit about what you have learned about running a competition and other "insider info" about screenplay competitions our readers might find helpful?
Writers need to be themselves and write stories from their own imaginations and lives. If people were able to read submissions to a screenplay contest, they would quickly realize how much borrowing is done from movies already made. If they knew this, they would realize they better follow their own voice, or they're gonna sound like everything else!
The competition has grown tremendously over the years. How do you guarantee that each submission receives equal consideration?
Every screenplay that enters BlueCat receives a written analysis. How do I guarantee my taste will match each and every reader I employ? We cannot. It's all subjective, people. Reactions to your work are simply the opinion of one human being. It doesn't count for much, in the end of the things. But what we do is give you something to think about, and that's why people keep coming back. BlueCat is a pioneer in providing feedback to writers.
BlueCat offers a great service to its entrants in the form of written screenplay analysis, something that is unique among screenwriting competitions. Why was it important to you to offer this extra service?
It's important for us because it supports our mission of helping develop writers and it establishes our integrity as a contest. Our process has yielded very successful results. I hold our alumni up against any other competition! This is due to our commitment to give each and every writer intelligent, challenging notes for every submission to our competition.
When are the submission dates for the next BlueCat Screenwriting Competition? What other advice can you give to people who are contemplating submitting or have submitted but have not yet taken home the grand prize? What are some of the most common red flags that people can easily avoid when submitting this time?
Our Final Deadline is soon, April 1. Make sure the proofread your work very carefully, the readers tend to be distracted by typos. Most importantly, if you don't feel like it's ready, don't send it in. Learn to give yourself notes, and don't submit because it's easy. Submit because you're ready for someone to look at your screenplay.
What – if anything in particular – has set past winning scripts apart from all other entrants, in your experience? You spoke briefly about writers establishing their own voice. Is there anything else that really helps a script stand out?
Trust what you care about when you write. You might not think what you love is going to be good enough for a story, or it won't be commercial, or help your career. Ignore these fears and have emotion for what you create. The winning scripts have always made me cry or laugh out loud. If this doesn't happen for your own work, you're probably not going to win BlueCat.
Looking at the state of the industry for a second, I think that it’s a pretty daunting time to be an emerging writer, just like the Leaguers are, just as people who are submitting to competitions often are. We hear a lot these days about development freezes, giant mergers, and less activity for writers across the board. As someone who is active in the industry, do you have any insight into the situation or advice to people who are hoping that BlueCat (and other avenues) might be their key to breaking in during these difficult times? Is it really that bad a time to try to make it as a screenwriter?
People simply are only buying the best stuff now. I don't think the market's dried up, the standards are simply higher. So okay scripts with great conceits won't sell today, as they might before. The bar has been raised on what will sell, but the great compelling script that sold a few years ago will sell today. In short, we need to write better scripts.
Thanks for all the great advice and information, Gordy. Is there anything else you would like to say about BlueCat, writing, Hollywood, or anything not related to any of the above?
Please stop focusing on getting an agent and write more often. This is the best way to achieve your dreams. Create today.
Thanks again, Gordy! As he mentioned above, the final deadline for submitting to this year's BlueCat Screenplay Competition is April 1 - just around the corner. To submit, go to http://www.bluecatscreenplay.com/submissions/call_for_entries.php.