Sunday, November 11, 2007

RPP: Overview

Writers put up with a lot of rejection. And with rejection come a host of bothersome platitudes or conflicting positives: “The writing is good but it’s not for us.” “We really liked your script but we’re going to pass.” “We have something similar in development”. Equally, the typical announcement from screenplay competitions usually chimes in with: “the standard of entries was extremely high and it was very difficult to choose a shortlist/winner”.

These remarks, and the latter in particular, are widely regarded as sugar-coated euphemisms that are really saying: “your scripts sucked and you suck, too, loser.” At least, that’s what they feel like. However, in the wake of the Red Planet second round shortlist, this is not the case at all. A large proportion of the 2000 + entries were of an impressive standard which made it difficult to whittle it down into a viable shortlist (just how many got through? guess a maximum and minimum number, split the difference, and you’re probably around the right ball park).

On average, the entries displayed a solid sense of style, presentation and format. People aren’t stupid. They’re doing (or have completed) their MAs in screenwriting. Attended the seminars. Read the books and blogged themselves to death. The result: better writing all round. And because the competition was open to just about everyone who could spell their name, regardless of age or experience, the submissions varied from the ‘poor’, the ‘polished’ and the ‘professional’. I don’t mean professional writers here; entries with a little more edge and interest.

The ‘poor’ submissions usually wrestled with the old chestnuts of dodgy format or erratic/confusing storytelling. The ‘polished’ shone through with the right kind of style and presentation while the ‘professional’ displayed a more discerning touch of storytelling skill that stood apart from the rest. Then there’s that grey area of subjectivity between all of the above, but particularly the polished and professional entries, which made it so difficult to choose which scripts went through, and which ones had to be put aside.

Some may argue that you can’t accurately judge a script, or a writer, from the first ten pages of a script but, in truth, you can tell a lot about the writer’s talent, and the script’s potential, much earlier than that, probably from the first two pages alone. And then there’s that ‘samey’ quality that a lot of scripts share. Not a very original premise, confusing set-ups, poor dialogue, badly used techniques like voice-over and flashback, or the trickiest of them all, voice-over flashback. Sometimes, you’d read the first ten pages, thinking it was a drama, and then the synopsis would tell you it’s a supernatural comedy, but you saw no signs of anything supernatural or comic in the first ten pages. The style, presentation and format might have been dandy but the tone, characters or world of the story just weren’t coming through.

So, a lot of the entries walked a fine line between the ‘slightly dodgy’, the ‘perfectly acceptable’ and the ‘now that’s interesting, let’s see more of that’. A good number of the ‘perfectly acceptable’ entries would no doubt have made the shortlist if the competition was just about the kudos of winning but the contest is much more than that. It’s about securing a guaranteed TV commission and helping the career of a writer who’s already got the goods with his/her professional style and approach (note: not a whiny internet geek, or people being rude about the contest’s organisers. We had lots of them, thanks very much, and some who had actually entered: way to make a good impression).

A few people have contacted me to bemoan the lack of bloggers that didn’t get through. Come on. Although the prize was partially inspired by the good folk who share their writing wares online, having a blog was by no means a guaranteed passage into the second round. Nevertheless, as far I’m aware, three people from the scribosphere made the second round, which is a fairly good representation, so well done them. Certainly, the standard of scripts from the blogging community was mainly in the ‘polished’ section of submissions, which is a heartening sight. Just because a script was rejected doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad script, or that the writer can’t write, or that the story doesn’t have merit. We had to take a hard line on what got through; much tougher, I suspect, than most competitions.

Whatever the decisions and outcome, the contest has been an exciting and worthwhile venture, and all signs indicate that it’s going to be an annual fixture on the screenwriting calendar. That’s got to be a good thing. I've got a few new observations about some of the regular stuff that crops up at the beginning of scripts so I need to update the top 10 clichés (link from August 2005), so I’ll address that in my next post.


Unknown said...

It really takes five good years to learn the craft because there are so many unspoken rules in every kind of writing. In my screenwriting class, I miss the script readings and the doctoring we had in playwriting... or maybe my teacher is not helpful enough???

Anonymous said...

This is the only contest of this sort that does not publish its shortlist.

Anonymous said...

It's the second round, not the finals. They can do what they like. Get over it.

Lucy V said...

"Just because a script was rejected doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad script, or that the writer can’t write, or that the story doesn’t have merit."

The script I sent in is my best script, had loads of coverage, got loads of meetings because of it and a placing in another contest. But OH NO! It didn't get through THIS contest... This must mean I must junk said script and beat myself with a thorny bush 15 times a day and tell everyone I'm a bad screenwriter.

This screenwriting malarkey is difficult to judge - what's good to one person sucks to another. What's great at one place is "hhhmmmm ok" at another. Personal preference, zeitgeist, talent, professionalism, whatever are all in one giant melting pot and it may all come out as lovely chocolate like bars which you could eat forever or it may come out as disgusting ick you wouldn't feed your dog.

Not exactly sure where I'm going with that, so move along, nothing to see here, but in the words of Anonymous: get over it. And write another script. And send your original script to more people. I thank you.

Word verification on this post: UKOKH - an omen, perchance? I thinketh so...

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately for me, I sent my 10 pages before showing it to my mentor.
My mentor picked out the issues in the first ten pages for me, but I had already submitted.

So I rewrote bits to beef it up and it's now with a producer, who knows what will happen...

Think of some the great scripts which were turned down by some studios.

Speilberg said of 'The Ultimatum' in 1990, "It's one of the best 3 action scripts I've ever read."

The film never got made.

Anonymous said...

I'm told *everyone who's anyone* has a great script that for some reason never makes it past those hurdles and into production... That's what I keep telling myself, anyway.

Anonymous said...

i wonder though, do you think maximum on the shortlist, say 1000, and minimum 50??? i don't really know how they do these sorts of things... then 'split the difference', does that mean 1000-50= 950, divided by 2 = 475 people on shortlist?? or maybe i'm being a complete idiot about this scenario... what does everyone else think (about the shortlsit, preferablly not whether i;m an idiot or not)?

Jon said...

The best idea can be written badly; the worst idea can be written beautifully. Not all people will be taken by all things and even the best idea written brilliantly might be off-putting if it's on a hideous subject. What am I trying to say? Er, probably something about subjectivity vs. objectivity... and that sort of thing.

I don't understand people slagging off the competition if they actually entered though. Seems like try to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I really hope that I didn't do any of that 'cos I certainly wasn't thinking it. The word 'opportunity' kept springing readily to mind!

Jon said...

Min.: 50
Max.: 1000
Difference: 950
Split: 475
Then add back to the baseline 50 to get 525 entries.

...or that's how I think it works! Do not quote me... or let anybody else know! I may well be wrong!!!

Paul Campbell said...

One of the biggest lessons I've learnt in this business is to let the misses go.

There really is absolutely no point whatsoever thinking any more about this competition if, like me, you didn't get through to the next round.

What the **** does it matter how many people got short-listed? You weren't one of them. Move on.

If you spend your life worrying about the past and insisting you've been treated badly, you'll miss the opportunities that lie right in front of you.

This was a free competition. Hurrah for Tony Jordan and Danny Stack! I didn't get through. That's the way it goes. What can I do next?

rob said...

"Certainly, the standard of scripts from the blogging community was mainly in the ‘polished’ section of submissions, which is a heartening sight."

Does that mean you cross referenced scripts with blogs?!

I'm just grateful for a fantastic opportunity. I didn't make it through but now I've got the best part of a year to prepare for Red Planet 2008. It's easily the best competition there is for scriptwriters. You chaps rock the house.

Oh, and good luck to everyone who DID make it to round two.

Anonymous said...

Cheers, Danny. It's a good thing you guys are doing.

I'd love to learn more about the scripts that made it through. Maybe at some stage, a few of your favourite loglines?

Lucy V said...

Drop by at my place if you want to know why you didn't make it through

Anonymous said...

It may also be because RPP decided to forego the shortlist, and head straight for finalists: "We've now let all the finalists know they've made it through. If you haven't heard anything, then unfortunately you haven't made it through this time.

We will, of course, be running the competition again next year so keep writing."

Gavin Williams said...

Gotta agree with Paul. Let it go. Move on.

If I've learned anything about writing it's that the rejection to acceptance ratio in your career will be something like 90% to 10. By the time you've made a going career of it you WILL be able to paper your house with those "thanks but no thanks" slips. What's the alternative- give up? Then stick a fork in ya, you're done.

Tenacity is what you need to succeed.

RP was a great opportunity, we didn't get through. Deal with it. Decisions like these are subjective. If you believe in what you are doing, then you should get up, dust yourself down and get back into the saddle!

The 4Talent Pilot scheme deadline is in a week. That's the therapy I'm using to get over the sting.

And, yeah, good luck to all whether you made it through or not!

Thanks to RP for the opportunity.

Zed K. Minhas said...

So how did you guys know whether you got through or not? Did you get an e-mail or is there a list?