Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The League Interviews - Jennifer Arzt, Script Frenzy

April is Script Frenzy month, and to help kick it off and spread the word, The League recently had the chance to ask Program Director Jennifer Arzt about the month long challenge. For any of our readers who are new to Script Frenzy, the Frenzy is a writing challenge issued to any and all writers who wish to participate. Entrants are asked to try to meet a goal of writing 100 pages of original scripted material in 30 days - screenplays, stage plays, TV shows, short films, and graphic novels are all welcome. There is no fee to enter Script Frenzy, nor is there any penalty for not hitting the 100 page mark. The goal is to motivate people to write, and here at The League, we think that's just the bee's knees. 

Hi Jennifer, thanks so much for taking a moment to speak with The Screenwriters League about Script Frenzy. What a great program! Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for this event - whose idea was it and how did it first come about?
Thank you for having me!

In 1999, Chris Baty started National Novel Writing Month, which has since grown into the largest writing competition in the world. Chris founded the nonprofit Office of Letters and Light in 2006 to run National Novel Writing Month and launch new events. In 2007, the curtains rose on the very first Script Frenzy.

I'm very excited for our fourth year! We already have thousands more writers signed up this year than in 2009, and the registrations are still going strong.

This is a really unique program compared to all other competitions and contests. Script Frenzy is so much more about a writer's challenge with him or her self than with other entrants. How has the response been from writers so far (both this year compared to others and in general)? Do you find that the program has helped a lot of writers get words on the page?
It is unique especially when compared to a competition or contest because there are no prizes per se. It is a challenge. The competition is between the deadline and the writer.

As far as I know, most participants' response to this is very positive. I think folks like having the deadline to keep them motivated. It also works as a great excuse to skip out on other events, cleaning, and errand running.

I've seen it really inspire first-time scriptwriters to fall in love with the form. And, I've seen it rekindle a love of writing in Hollywood professionals who had become burned out by working on scripts for other people.

Thousands of writers win the challenge every year. Even those who don't win report writing more during Script Frenzy than they otherwise would have.

So, 100 pages in a month. What a great challenge. How did you settle on that, and do you find that most participants accomplish that goal (or at least something close to it)?
100 pages is the average length of the typical feature screenplay.

In Script Frenzy's first year, the goal was 20,000 words. The idea was pulled from our sister event, National Novel Writing Month. It was quickly apparent that counting words just didn't fit the screenplay format, so we changed the measurement to pages.

Each year about ten percent of participants cross the 100-page mark and thousands come close.

We have a total-page counter on the website (it appears on April 1). It is really exciting to see that number start exploding upward. This year, there are already more folks signed up to take part a few days before April 1 than at the end of last year's event! I'm excited to see how many total pages are written this April!

How does Script Frenzy track writers' progress throughout that month? Do you ever get to see the finished products that people submit?
Every person who signs up gets a profile page. Each day writers track their progress and can keep track of how consistent their writing has been by checking their chart.

They can also check the status of their writing buddies. It is amazing how motivating it can be to see a buddy jump ahead of you.

I get addicted to the page-count bar on my profile. I keep the website up when I'm writing just to see how far I've both come and have to go.

We never read what gets submitted for verification at the end. Participants upload a PDF, a supercomputer robot counts the pages, verifies the total pages, then deletes them. Because there are no “best scripts” singled out, we don't need to do anything other than count. With two exceptions...

There is a place in every profile for a script excerpt, but this is completely optional.

Also, at the Headquarters wrap party, we string up clothes lines and folks pin up a few pages that they want to share. The grand finale of the party involves a few members from the very funny improv group Killing My Lobster performing a page or two (with no rehearsals!). It is side-splittingly funny and not to be missed! This year our wrap party will be in San Francisco on May 8.

Is there anything else you want people who are considering participating to know?
You have nothing to lose. Honestly. Script Frenzy is free and is designed to get you writing. That's it.

Script Frenzy starts on April 1 and ends on April 30.

It is one month out of the year that you get to devote to your writing. I look forward to it every year, panic when it is just around the corner because I'm not ready, and then dive in anyway on April 1.

There's really no downside to a challenge like this. And the great thing is that Script Frenzy is run by people who are all also writers, correct? Have you learned anything about your own writing and cinematic pursuits from running Script Frenzy?
You're right! There is no downside.

I am a filmmaker and a writer. I fell into writing by accident when I was trying to make movies. I found that it is hard to direct something that isn't there, so I started writing. It is mostly free and doesn't require a crew, a distributor, or an audience–yet.

Even though I was fully committed to writing, I was still having a hard time getting to the end of the first draft. I would find a plot hole in the middle of Act 2 and go back to fix it. When I returned to the middle of Act 2, I would see that a character would have been better set up a different way. So, I'd head back and rewrite. I just could not arrive at the end. But when I finished my very first full-length, beautifully flawed script with Script Frenzy, I learned that all first drafts are meant to be first drafts. They are meant to get done, be read by friends for feedback, and rewritten. I knew that “writing is rewriting” but it took me actually getting there to really understand it.

So as you know, The League is dedicated to helping other aspiring writers launch their careers by sharing our experiences while trying to start our own. Is there anything else you want to say about Script Frenzy or writing in general, that our readers might like to know? Any advice?
(I'm also still trying to get something huge, wonderful, and career-launching off the ground, so take my advice with a grain of salt.)

In a nutshell, my advice is: Write until it's done, then celebrate what you've done before starting the next thing.

Once you've started a story, spend time with it every day. Every. Single. Day. Don't let it slip out of your hands, or out of your subconscious. Creativity works in funny ways. I'm not doctor, but I can tell you that your subconscious works to puzzle out what it's currently involved with. So, let it work for you. I can always tell how good of a job I'm doing by how many awesome ideas pop into my head while I'm in the shower. If I've been away from the story for a few days, those moments just don't happen.

In an industry where so much is dependent on things that have nothing to do with the quality of your script (who you know, did a similar story just get picked up, did the economic climate hit the next ice age), take time to celebrate getting a script done–no matter what happens to it next. Finishing a screenplay is a huge accomplishment. A lot of people set out to do it and never cross FADE OUT. Just getting to the end of your story is worthy of champagne, confetti, and a high-fives.

Thanks Jennifer. This is a tremendous program. Kudos to you and everyone on the Script Frenzy team from everyone here at The League!

To join Script Frenzy or for more information, go to www.scriptfrenzy.org. Happy writing!