Thursday, March 4, 2010

2009 CHAMPION ENTRANT SELLS LOW BUDGET SCRIPT


Champion Screenwriting Competition's Co-coordinator Kathryn Cottam interviewed one of last year's entrants who sold his script because of the contest. The writer entered the contest under the pseudonym Solomon Grundy and now, as you will read, has even more reason to keep the project anonymous.

WHAT IS YOUR SCRIPT ABOUT?

Well, for the time being the producer wants me to avoid saying too much about the script. He's considering some unconventional marketing approaches for the finished film, so until he sorts everything out he wants to keep the script "under wraps."

I can say pretty generally that the script is in the low budget horror genre.

WHAT'S YOUR BACKGROUND? HAVE YOU WRITTEN ANY OTHER SCREENPLAYS OR TELEVISION SCRIPTS?

I did a little graduate work in English Literature, then switched over to Law, so I guess my background is in Law. I'm a pretty new writer -- I've written a few other short scripts, but this is my first feature-length script.

WHY DID YOU ENTER THE CHAMPION SCREENWRITING COMPETITION ANONYMOUSLY?

I use a pen name because it's easier -- cleaner -- to keep my writing life separate from my work life, and just avoid any unpleasant complications at work. You can probably guess the kinds of complications I'm talking about. Will people at work find out that I'm writing? What will they think about it? Will my bosses resent me for it, or take it as a sign of laziness -- "if you have a life outside of work, then clearly you don't have enough work to do"?

Using a pen name also has benefits that I didn't anticipate. For one thing, it makes rejection a little easier. When I get a rejection letter ("Dear Solomon Grundy, your screenplay sucks, love, Film Festival"), I tend to shake off the disappointment a little more quickly because it's not directed at me personally; it's directed to that other guy. That Solomon Grundy guy. Yeah, it's a silly psychological trick -- but whatever, a benefit's a benefit.

HOW DID YOU CHOOSE YOUR PEN NAME?

I picked "Solomon Grundy" because I've always liked the nursery rhyme ("Solomon Grundy, Born on a Monday, etc."). I always thought it was kind of cool and creepy.

WHAT MADE YOU ENTER THIS PARTICULAR CONTEST? HAVE YOU ENTERED OTHER CONTESTS WITH THIS SCRIPT? IF SO, THEN HOW DID YOU DO?

I entered the Champion Screenplay Competition because I was intrigued by the special prize for micro budget horror. My script is a low budget horror script, so I thought there might be a good match there.
I did enter some other horror contests too, and did pretty well in a couple of them. But doing well in a horror contest does not compare with the experience of actually optioning your script and joining a team of smart, creative people who are trying to turn that script into a great movie.

WERE YOU HAPPY WITH THE CONTEST ADMINISTRATION?

Very happy. Early on in the competition I sent an email to ask a technical question about the competition rules -- to my surprise, I received a very friendly response the next day. Now, I'm not going to name names or bash other script competitions, but let's just say that kind of responsiveness is rare -- I can only think of a handful of competitions that provide that kind of attentive service and The Champion Screenplay Competition is one of them, for sure.

WERE YOU GIVEN ANY FEEDBACK ON YOUR SCRIPT FROM CHAMPION? IF SO, DID YOU FIND THE FEEDBACK HELPFUL?

The Champion Screenplay Competition has provided me with tons of amazing feedback on the script.

I have to say that Jim Mercurio has been incredibly generous with his time, and has made himself 100% accessible to discuss the script at any time and in any format -- email, telephone, whatever. Last week, he spent hours on the telephone with me discussing the script, everything from larger structural issues and "what if" scenarios right down to the tiniest details. It seems almost an insult to call it "feedback" -- basically, he gave me a free "master class" on how to make my script the best script it can be.

HOW DID CHAMPION HELP TO FACILITATE THE SALE OF YOUR SCRIPT?

The Champion Screenplay Competition was instrumental in getting my script optioned. Instrumental.

Jim contacted me initially to let me know that there was a producer, who happened to be a contest judge, interested in the script. Then he helped to initiate the negotiating process and was with me every step of the way, guiding me through the process from beginning to end.

So, without the festival and without Jim's help, there is no way that my script would have been optioned.

WHAT WERE THE NEGOTIATIONS LIKE FOR YOUR SCRIPT?

I'm a lawyer, so of course I know how the negotiating process works generally -- but I'm not an entertainment lawyer and I've never negotiated an option agreement for a script before, so really I had no idea what to expect. But looking back on the whole negotiation process, I can honestly say that it was pretty painless. I think I was fortunate to be working with people I liked -- the producer was very reasonable and, as I've said, Jim made himself available to me every step of the way.

The whole negotiation process was very friendly, very civil and was wrapped up quickly, in a couple of weeks.

WHAT IS YOUR STRATEGY -- AS A WRITER -- NOW THAT YOU HAVE WON CHAMPION AND HAVE AN OPTIONED SCRIPT?

My strategy is pretty simple -- I am going to continue working diligently on my rewrites and make sure that I deliver (on time) a final polished script to the producer.

The Champion Screenplay Competition has given me every opportunity to succeed. I know very well that opportunities like this don't come around very often so I feel a responsibility to take full advantage here.

COULD YOU SHARE A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR WRITING PROCESS?

I've never been a huge fan of The Who, but there's this Pete Townshend quote I've always loved -- he said something like, "I smash guitars because I like them." That's kind of how I feel about my writing process.

Before starting a new script, I outline -- obsessively. I'll spend inordinate amounts of time crafting the outline, revising it, agonizing over every detail of it. But once I finish the outline and start writing the script, invariably I'll either ignore the outline completely or throw away large portions of it.

It seems like an incredibly inefficient way to write a script, writing an outline and then discarding it. But I think writing that outline is important for me procedurally because it helps me to absorb the universe of the script, to understand the people and the places and the "rules," so that once I begin to write I can do so with a lot more poise and confidence.

So, that's why I smash outlines. Because I like them.

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PIECE OF ADVICE YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN AS A WRITER?

Be budget conscious when you write.

If you want to get your script produced, then there are obvious practical advantages to writing something that anybody can pick up, read and then think, "You know what? I could make this movie." I mean, you can go ahead and write a script with lots of amazing stunts and huge explosions and eye-popping special effects, but just remember that there are only a handful of people out there with the power and resources to actually produce that kind of script.

WHAT'S NEXT? ARE YOU WORKING ON A NEW SCRIPT?

Right now my only concern is polishing and finalizing my current script. After that? I'm not really sure. I've written two other scripts that I'd like to begin revising and readying for market, and there may be a couple other cool opportunities out there. I guess we'll see.