I have the fortunate opportunity to be a reader for one the most respected screenplay competitions in the country. I know this is a great competition, because it is the one I had targeted for my best screenplay (before I signed on as a reader) and also because my favorite blogger and mentor on all things screenwriting, Julie Gray, has it listed in one of her recent posts, but mostly because I followed every one of the steps in the short list that follows of what to do before you enter a screenplay contest (really they apply for any writing contest, but if the stack of scripts I have for the AFF are any indication, they must be repeated, repeatedly!)
#1) PERFECT YOUR FORMATTING
This may sound like old, un-necessary advice, but trust me I’m seeing some doozies.
Learn what a slugline (and the action line that follow is) and the difference between that and a transition, if your character has a name that is what his/her dialogue header should be. Don’t include things that go into a shooting script, such as scene numbers and for god sake read it out loud word by word for those typo’s! Common sense right? Wrong — some great stories are coming across my vision but you can’t expect to make it in the toughest business to break into if you don’t know the rules.
Be creative in your writing voice not your writing format.
#2) RESEARCH THE BEST COMPETITION FOR YOU AND YOUR STORY
Check out past winners — chances are the same readers will be there this year. The fact is, most first round entries are read by a slew of readers in that competition’s region, and they are relied on year after year, it is only after you’ve impressed them that it will move on to the top level readers and judges.
Check out the prizes — you may not need that software. Check out the judges – will they appreciate your genre/style? There are some comps specific to genre such as horror or fantasy, don’t send them a tear-jerk drama. And while I’m on the subject of genre – enter in the right category for eff sake! I have had to review comedies with no laughs and sadly dramas that make me laugh.
#3) REGISTER WITH THE WGA
In most cases this fee is less than the competition entry fees and worth every penny. Let’s face it, there are some suspect competitions out there and you want to be protected.
#4) KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS WELL ENOUGH TO GIVE THEM A NAME
It amazes me how many characters that have a main role are given monikers such as COP #1 or FANCY MAN. Unless they are only on for one scene, please give them a name, it makes the story so much easier to follow, especially considering #5…
#5) DIAL IT DOWN
Dialogue. You’ve heard it before I know, but dialogue must be distinct to EACH character (especially if they don’t have a name!) Anywhere you can show a discovery, insight, reveal, reaction, whatever, take the NIKE ® approach… do it – don’t say it!
And please oh, please do a table read with someone over beers and cut out everything that is overstated! I see pages of dialogue to the point I forget where they are in the non-descript slugline, see #1…
That’s it for my list but do visit my favorite effing blogger Julie Gray to read some staggering statistics from her (screenplay) readers.
I’ll be posting soon about that BEST SCREENPLAY so stay tooned!
P.S. Unless you’re writing a sequel with Danny DeVito, stay away from stories with twins they seem to be all the rage this season.