Winning Screenwriting Competitions: Lessons Learned
Years ago when I received word that my screenplay, Control; Alt; Delete, had won not one but two screenwriting competitions, I believed that all the hard work, years of struggle, self-doubt, and rejection had culminated to a glowing achievement that would forever wash away the specter of failure: I had climbed the mountain to see my shining new horizon as a working screenwriter.
And it was marvelous.
Things just seemed to be going my way: I got an agent, a manager, and a well-known producer who was going to make my script into a feature. I had meetings with big production companies with studio deals, pitched projects to major producers, was courted with screenwriting assignments – it was my time to shine.
And then it unraveled.
Not suddenly… no. It was more like an incremental closing of a window that you thought was wedged open by accolades of your winning script. One thing happens, and then another, and another.
In and of itself, not one was a devastating setback, but collectively they amounted to an avalanche of overwhelming loss. My agent left the industry, my manager ceased being a manager, and the producer moved on… so did those screenwriting assignments.
In the end, I was back to where I started from, a scribe in name only with little to show for but a glimpse at what could have been.
Was I crushed? You bet. I questioned everything I did; every decision made. What could I have done better? Was I too cavalier? Was I too dedicated? Did I try too hard; could I have tried harder? Was this window of opportunity squandered forever?
Well, was it?
It’s not an easy question to answer. I do believe that those changes have come and gone like that girl you didn’t kiss when you should have: that magic moment will never be replicated.
However, I did learn a lot from the experience – the stuff you don’t learn in film school – call it the film school of hard knocks. And with that, I would like to share some of those lessons learned.
Are You REALLY a Screenwriter?
For years I asked myself the question, am I a screenwriter? You would think it’s an easy question to answer. Living in Los Angeles I’ve rubbed shoulders with those who could answer “yes” to that question within the span of a heartbeat; however, for me the moniker held so much emotional baggage that to answer it with a resounding yes was virtually impossible.
Partly because to call yourself a screenwriter is to give yourself a label that requires proof on several levels:
1) Have you’ve been paid to write?
2) Have you sold any scripts?
3) Do you do it full time?
4) Has anything you’ve written been professionally produced?
5) Are you currently writing something that will be optioned, purchased or produced?
6) Do you have a literary agent?
7) Do you have a literary manager?
If reading this you felt the illusion of calling yourself a screenwriter quickly dissipated by the stark reality that you answered no to most of these questions, then you’re in good company.
At one time I was able to answer yes to four of the above questions, yet even so, I felt the unease of embracing the title because to call it a full fledged career had been as elusive as Tom Cruise winning an Academy Award™ — eventually you think it’s bound happen…eventually.
So maybe you do what I did when someone asked,
“what do you do?”
Squirm a little, furrow your brow, and say with a withered response,
“um, I… write.”
Hopefully that would be enough information, but invariably I would be expected to elaborate.
“Um… I write screenplays.”
I would then proceed to fill in some of the blanks,
“Nothing produced yet, but I’ve come close.”
So are you REALLY a screenwriter?
Well if you simply reserve the title of screenwriter to only those who are gainfully employed doing it, then yes, there’s only a few who can legitimately file their income tax return with the epithet “screenwriter.”
But, what if instead answering the above questions that focus more on the accomplishments of a successful screenwriting career, you were asked a series of different questions:
1) Do you make the time (not just find the time) to write everyday?
2) Have you completed a script? Better yet, have you completed multiple scripts?
3) Have you shared your writing with others and are accepting of constructive criticism?
4) Do you constantly seek ways to better your skills in the craft and discipline of being a screenwriter?
5) Are willing to forgo other career possibilities and weather through years of rejection, disappointment, and at times abject failure?
6) Do you actively search for stories to tell with a unique voice to share with the world.
7) Do write not because you choose to, but because you HAVE to?
If you answered yes to most if not all those questions, then as far as I have come to discover you embody the true essence of what a screenwriteris.
And it is only by answering yes to the later questions that you will ever be able to answer in the affirmative the former questions. So the question remains, are you really a screenwriter?
Am I? Let’s just say in my soul I am and for that reason I proclaim YES!
David R. Flores is a writer and artist (aka Sic Monkie) based in Los Angeles. He is the creator of the comic book series Dead Future King published by Alterna Comics and Golden Apple Books.
Website: www.davidrflores.com& www.deadfutureking.com
Twitter: @drodflo @deadfutureking@sicmonkie
Tumblr: davidrflores.tumblr.com& deadfutureking.tumblr.com
Facebook: Dead Future King
Online Screenwriting Courses:
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- Storytelling Blueprint: Hero’s Two Journeys
- How to Write a FAST Screenplay
- WGA Presents: The Art of Screenwriting
- Screenwriting Masterclass: How to Write Fascinating Characters
- Screenwriting Masterclass: Craft Complex Characters
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