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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

You've Won! Now What?

So you’ve entered a screenwriting contest and, miracle or miracles, you’ve won! Or you’ve placed or made the semi finals. Maybe it was one of the major contests like Nichols or PAGE. So what happens now? Are you set? Should you quit your job and move to LA? What do you do next?

The answer depends on what’s happening with you and what you really want to achieve. There are a few things to keep in mind.

1. The phone probably won’t be ringing off the hook

The winners and finalists of the major contests will get be getting phone calls or emails. But don’t expect a Rich and Famous contract. Winning or placing in a contest does give you an opening, but it’s up to you to exploit that for all it’s worth. Some contest coordinators really go out of their way to help out their top writers, again PAGE immediately jumps to mind. However it is up to you to make the most of those opportunities. Sometimes you have to do all the work yourself. You want representation, call up a manager and say you were a winner or finalist in the Austin Screenplay Competition. That will get their attention. And keep a running tally of how many contests you win or place in. A track record of excellence is always impressive. The last thing you want to do is sit at home, stare at the phone and wait for it to ring. If it rings, it rings, in the meantime, get off your butt and get yourself out there.

2. Don’t impulsively run off to LA. But do think about a planned move

LA is a big expensive city. It’s one thing to be confident of success. It’s another to throw all caution to the wind. If you have a good paying, secure job, don’t walk into the office and give your boss two weeks notice. But…in this business it is vital that you make real personal contact with the people who work here. You need to work with managers, agents, and eventually producers and executives. And they all live and work here. It’s very hard to really get into the LA scene without being in LA. There are exceptions but they are exceptional exceptions. If you win the Nichols chances are that yes, a major agency will shell out the cash to fly you down here and interview you. But they aren’t about to make a habit out of it. If they want you to be at a meeting at Sony, they don’t want to spend $1000 and set it up two weeks in advance. So unless you plan to rule the local independent movie scene, do plan to move out here to LA. Plan is the key word there. Find a good paying job and a cheap apartment. If you have family or loved ones it’s a much bigger deal. That’s a decision you’ll have to make.

3. Be aware that many contest winners aren’t necessarily commercially viable

Biggest problem with beginners is they think all contests are alike and that a contest win equals an automatic greenlight. In fact many contest winning scripts have no chance of being produced. Some contests, the PAGE again being example A, due put an emphasis on commercially viable scripts. But that hasn’t always been the case. A lot of contests tend to reward “prestige” scripts like historical dramas. The market for historical scripts by unknown writers is exactly nil. I had a conversation with my manager about contest winners and he told me about one writer who routinely placed and won screenplay contests. He never came close to selling any script but he knew how to write a script that contest judges loved. You don’t want to be that guy. Remember your goal. The contest is just a step on your way. It is not a goal in and of itself. Once it’s served its purpose move on and concentrate on writing a screenplay that can be sold and made.

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