Jake Barnes has kindly shared his rejection for this year’s Oscar Moore competition (in which they’ve announced they’re not going to have a winner at all). It’s fascinating stuff, and will probably provoke a wide debate on the quality of UK screenwriting that everybody bemoans about around award season. Here’s the rejection:
“It has been an interesting year for the competition for reasons that I will come onto, but you might like to know that yours was one of 154 scripts submitted; showing a continued high level of interest in the competition and evidence of the standing that this Oscar Moore Screenwriting Prize has now come to enjoy.
As in previous years, all the entries were carefully considered by a panel of approved readers before being passed for second-reads and ultimately for the eventual short-listing by the judges. It is a long and careful process, as you would expect.
This process has reached its conclusion now and I have to inform you that The Oscar Moore Foundation has decided not to make an Award this year. There will be no winner of the Oscar Moore Screenwriting Prize in 2006.
As trustees of the foundation (as well as judges), the final panel has the responsibility of ensuring that the good standing of the Oscar Moore Screenwriting Prize is maintained and its judgements are consistent with the qualities of previous winners. This year, though a number of scripts were deemed notable either for the quality of writing or originality of premise, it was the final opinion of the judges that none reached the requisite quality to merit receiving the prize this year. It is noted that ‘comedy’ is often claimed as one of the hardest genres to write for.
As disappointing as this news is, it is only by reserving the award in years where the requisite standards are not achieved, that The Oscar Moore Screenwriting Prize can continue to be a mark of high attainment and a competition worth winning.”
It’s an incredible ballsy decision by them not to give the award to a script they thought was better than the rest, after all, isn’t that what a competition is about? As an independent observer, I can respect and admire their choice but for someone who’s entered, this decision must be the most hair-tearing and frustrating announcement ever received. It’s got to be exceptionally disappointing to think that your script is good but not good enough to beat a lot of scripts that Oscar Moore has deemed mediocre or rubbish.
How could this be? The question needs to be asked. Everyone has read at least one screenplay book and attended an equal number of courses. They know the craft, they know the procedure, so what is it about this year’s entries that have failed to make the grade?
As the chairwoman of Oscar Moore says herself, it is the hardest genre to write for. A comedy script has to make you laugh. End of. Unfortunately, ‘comedy’ is the Lord of Personal Taste, proudly chuckling over his subjective kingdom while his loyal subjects ‘Drama’, ‘Thriller’ and ‘Horror’ scurry around in the forecourt. It’s usually easier to make something dramatic, thrilling or scary than it is to actually make someone laugh.
But what about the Oscar Moore competition itself? Let’s break it down: it’s the UK’s leading and highest profile screenplay competition. It doesn’t cost anything to enter (a donation can be made at your discretion, no-one’s putting a gun to your head) and there’s a great song and dance within the industry once the winner is picked (ahem, usually). They give you ten grand and you get to meet just about every mover and shaker in the biz at their award party, which doubles as a film quiz (usually hosted by Jonathan Ross).
Then they send you to Italy with Arista for an intensive development session and after all that exposure and hijinks you’d probably get an agent if you didn’t have one already, and you’d option your winning script with a production company (but to-date no winning script has been made).
It really is a terrific opportunity and a great prize. But only 154 people entered a free and extremely high profile competition?? A genuine chance to get your career off the ground? And all they wanted was one good comedy script but not one screenplay could tickle the judges’ funny bones? Oh dear. This is not good. I don’t know if the announcement will be of interest to anyone outside of the industry - whether it will get a mention on any news item anywhere - but it’s not good news for new writers.
I doubt that an award jury would choose NOT to pick a best director or best comedian from similar minded competitions because it just wouldn’t wash. But for writing, and screenwriting in particular, it seems it is easy to target the writer and say: “sorry, not good enough, we’ve got standards y’know.” Wait till you get a chance to read a couple of comedy scripts that are on companies’ development slates. Some of the howls you’ll hear won’t be of laughter; I can guarantee you that…
Heartfelt commiseration to the ‘Oscar 154’ (let’s coin a phrase shall we?). At least you tried.