GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – “SCRIPT ACCESSIBLE” AND STRATEGIES FOR SUBMITTING TO SCREENWRITING CONTESTS

It was five years ago when I first thought of Script Accessible, a screenwriting contest to promote writers with disabilities as well as non-disabled writers who write about disabled characters. As a writer with one usable hand, (which was the result of falling on my head as a kid), creating Script Accessible has meant quite a bit to me. I’ve always wanted to do something for writers with disabilities and I’ve longed to promote more characters with disabilities on screen and on the tube.  Besides, there’s been a noted increase of disabled characters in the media over the past several years. For example, I love that South Park has two disabled characters, Timmy and Jimmy. Glee has disabled “gleester” Artie, Friday Night Lights has the wheelchair bound, former golden arm quarterback Jason Street, and even Nemo from Finding Nemo had one fin smaller than the other – a fin, I might add – that saved the day. So, although I was armed with recent precedences and good intentions, I had no viable platform to launch from.

Then, a few years ago in the ever-so-frigid Park City, I shared my idea with Slamdance guru Peter Baxter. Luckily for me, Peter was immediately receptive to Script Accessible and he offered to host my little contest through the Slamdance Screenwriting Competition. So, with me creating and sponsoring Script Accessible and Slamdance hosting and administering it, we awarded our first winner during The Slamdance Film Festival in January 2010.

This brings us to last Wednesday, October 27, 2010, when I awarded the second annual Script Accessible award to R. Ian Simpson, for his wonderfully honest and hauntingly poignant screenplay, Below The Waist. I gave Ian his most deserving “prize envelope” during a very hip awards ceremony for the Slamdance Screenwriting Competition, at the Writers Guild of America-West offices in Los Angeles.

As I stood there at the awards ceremony in front of several talented writers, dedicated Slamdance staff members and supportive WGA-West executives, it dawned on me that Script Accessible needed to be more than an annual check to a great writer. It needed to become as great of a screenwriting award as the two amazing scripts that won it so far (along with this year’s winner R. Ian Simpson, Gia Milani won the first annual Script Accessible award for her awesome script All The Wrong Reasons.)

Now I’m on a mission to turn Script Accessible into a not-so-little source of hip and poignant disabled-based material, that is a catalyst to getting these visions on screen. What good is awarding great scripts if you can’t help getting those voices heard and those stories produced, right? Call me crazy – everyone else does – but with the help of Peter Baxter and Slamdance, I think we can do something special here. I know nothing happens overnight, but something positive will happen. It has to. It deserves to. I will certainly keep you posted on how we progress with making Script Accessible more bionic (bigger, better, and stronger.)

While Script Accessible is in its infancy, there are several well-established screenwriting contests, which may help your script get produced and distributed. I briefly listed a handful of these “upper-crust” contests in my Going Bionic article titled “Development Hell.” Here’s an excerpt:

“The contests that will get you noticed if you win them include: The Nicholl Fellowship, Chesterfield, Sundance, Slamdance, Zoetrope, Bluecat (very cool because every script submitted will receive notes back to the writer), Scriptapalooza, Script Pimp and The Austin Heart of Film.”

Since my previous article did not go into the strategy associated with submitting to screenwriting contests, I’d like to give you a bit of insight now.

Know The Intention Behind The Screenwriting Award
Since I’ve just laid out our intentions with Script Accessible, you know where Slamdance and myself are coming from. But, not all screenwriting contests are so forthright. While most above-board screenwriting contests are there to promote fresh new writing talent, some lesser ethical ones are there solely to make money off the submission fees. While there is NOTHING wrong with making money – especially since maintaining a screenwriting contest requires years of tireless dedication – making money on submission fees, while having absolutely no interest in even reading the scripts submitted, is shameful.

That’s right; some of these fly-by-night screenwriting contests get a few hundred screenplays and teleplays submitted at $50 each (200 scripts at $50 each is $10,000 in fees), and then they pick one random script out of a massive pile of unread scripts and call it their “$500 Grand Prize Winner.” They make $10,000, pay out $500, and pocket $9,500 without ever reading anything – including the winning script! What a scam!

Look Up The Screenwriting Contest’s Previous Winners
Have any of the previously winning scripts been made into a) films and b) good films? Have they been optioned? Did their writer(s) get an agent from winning that particular contest? These are all important questions to ask and find the answers to as you decide which contest to apply to. Remember, every screenwriting contest will brag about their past and current successes, so this information should be easy to discover.

Research Their Validity In Hollywood
Have you heard of them? Are they a household name? Would  winning their contest impress your mom, significant other, or future distributor? If the answer is yes, then you should consider applying. But, if you, or anyone else in your cinematic circle of friends haven’t heard of them, then you may want to do more research before you cut them a check.

Read Their Rules!
This is the one thing that most writers don’t, but should do. You need to read ALL of the rules, to make sure that you’re not losing the rights to your script for a prize of $500 or less. Now don’t freak-out, I’m citing an extreme case. Most screenwriting contests are well-meaning entities run by hard-working people. I’m just trying to stress the importance of reading the rules and regulations associated with the screenwriting contest(s) that you’re applying to.

Do a Genre Match With Your Script And Several Contests
Your script, no matter how amazing it is, will not be a perfect fit with every screenwriting contest out there. Thus, you should look at their previous winners and find out which genre’s they’ve awarded in the past.  Of course, awarding a comedy script last year doesn’t mean that only comedies will win this year, or ever again for that matter. But, if you look at all of the contest’s previous winners, you may be able to discover a pattern of the types of stories they tend to award.

Contact Them With Your Questions
I am by no means giving you the green light to call or e-mail a screenwriting contest that you’ve submitted to every day, every week, or even every month. I am merely saying before you submit your script, you may wish to contact them with any questions that will give you more clarity about their contest. All credible contests will be happy to answer your concerns and questions. But, you do not want to contact a screenwriting contest more than they want to hear from you. Doing so will only agitate them; we all know you’ve worked too damn hard on your masterpiece not to give it the best shot you can.

Submitting your scripts to screenwriting contests is like getting married: while the right decision will bring you decades of bliss, the wrong one will bring you decades of regrets. Okay, that’s a harsh comparison, but you get my point!

So, as I hunt and peck for the final few words to this week’s column, I thank you for lending me your eyes and I’ll see you next Tuesday!!!




Posted on November 2, 2010 in Features, Going Bionic by
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