Inside the mind of screenplay contest readers [Act I]

07/04/2012
This is Act 1 of a three-act blog post. You can tell I’m a screenwriter, because I even blog in three acts. Read part two and part three.

UPDATE: The Ice Boy, my screenplay which is discussed here, was a Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship 2012 Quarterfinalist.

The Contest

One of the hardest things about entering a screenplay contest is losing.

The next hardest thing is not knowing why your particular script was eliminated. It’s tough because it plays into the natural doubts most writers, especially those who are not established yet, have about themselves.

I’ve been a contest judge myself, but that experience hasn’t really opened up any insight as to why my own screenplays sometimes don’t even make the first cut. In fact, it’s more troublesome because I know first-hand the mountainous pile of crap that gets submitted. How can I not be chosen over a mountain of crap?

I recently entered the BlueCat Screenplay Competition and one of the unique features of this particular contest is that you receive the analysis of two separate readers with your regular paid submission fee.

Many contests offer “coverage” for additional fees, which I always pass on. I’m curious, but not enough to pay extra. And who knows if the quality of the coverage would be worth-while.

BlueCat’s stated mission is to help writers develop their screenplays, and they are true to their word in the way they run their contest. Unlike any contest I’ve ever heard of, you can use their feedback to rewrite and then resubmit your (hopefully) improved screenplay for an additional (but lesser) fee.

I entered BlueCat’s competition and recieved my two reader  responses very quickly. I’d like to share them with you along with my own thoughts and snippets from the screenplay itself to help illustrate the analysis.

In this post (Act I) I’m going to give the context — what my script is about and what I care and don’t care about as far as feedback goes.

The Script in Question

Here’s the logline:

THE ICE BOY

Noir sci-fi thriller

Cynical cryobiologist Grace Larson goes on the run from nefarious government agents to protect a reawakened 30,000-year-old Neanderthal boy who holds the key to the survival of the human race.

The script is actually much more insane than the logline lets on. One important detail:  the script actually tells two stories, seperated by 30,000 years. In the Neanderthal boy’s time, we see Homo sapiens encroaching and driving the Neanderthals to extinction. Rune (aka the Ice Boy) has deep-seated reasons to mistrust modern humans.

If you’re interested in subjecting yourself to a more thorough synopsis, you can expand it below by clicking on the “+” in the link below:

[show_hide title="Ice Boy Synopsis (click to expand)"]When brilliant cryobiologist GRACE LARSON brings a frozen Neanderthal man back to life, he promptly wrecks havoc in her lab and rips the arm off of her ex-fiancé, KYLE. Grace kills the beast, but the damage is done. When she receives word that Kyle has died from his wounds, Grace quits her position at the super-secret government facility known as “The Shop” and retreats to teaching and alcohol.

Ten years later, Shop director DR. WINTERS tracks down embittered Grace with news that a new “experimental subject” (i.e., a frozen Neanderthal)  has been obtained and offers her a chance to try again. It’s an offer that Grace, haunted by her failure, cannot refuse.

Grace’s fears of a repeat disaster are mitigated by the fact that the new subject is not a hulking Neanderthal man but rather a young Neanderthal boy. Grace successfully revives the boy, known as RUNE. She attempts to gain the frightened boy’s trust but it is slow going. Deeming Rune’s lack of cooperation a hinderance, Dr. Winters orders Grace to lobotomize him. Grace refuses to harm Rune and together they make a harrowing escape from the Shop.

On the run, Grace and Rune are soon caught in the crossfire between pursuing Shop agents and an equally deadly enemy — The Preparers of the Way of Swords and Tears, an apocalyptic cult that believes the “resurrected” Rune is instrumental in fulfilling the prophecy of Christ’s second coming. As Grace fights her way through traps and double-crosses, she is contacted by someone offering her a safe-haven — but can she trust a voice on the phone when it sounds like a man she long thought dead?

As men the world over suddenly succumb to a mysterious plague, Grace begins to piece together the reasons behind Dr. Winter’s true interest in Rune — he may in fact hold the key to the very survival of the human race. [/show_hide]

What Was I Thinking?

Now, you might be asking yourself why I would write such a batshit crazy script. You really shouldn’t try to cram two entirely different stories into a screenplay and then top it off with apocolyptic cults and humanity-ending plagues and whatever not.

I did because I wanted to.

I’ve been writing scripts for a long time, and nearly all of them are fun, popcorn adventure stories featuring plucky kid protagonists. And I love those stories. But it seemed I was running into a lot of requests for darker, grittier stuff. Which I enjoy. And which I can write…to an extreme, some would say. So.

After writing feature screenplays exclusively for a long, long time, I figured I’d go out with a bang. I’m stretching out into other forms as a writer, and this might very well be my last screenplay. Thus — fuck it, I was going to pile it on and write the most insane story I had in me. Because I like movies like that. Isn’t it true that we write the movies no one else will make for us? It is for me.

So there’s the context of my contest submission. This was a balls-out screenplay that I mostly wrote for myself. Gritty. Intense. Violent. Bloody. And uncatergorizable. It’s noir and sci-fi and sweeping historical epic all rolled into a big, loud, noisy ball of multiple protagonists and past and future timelines.

It’s not for everyone. But is it for anyone? I sent my script off to a handful of contests to test the waters.

Continue to Act II of this post to read the first reader’s response.

In the meantime, feel free to comment. Want to know more about Ice Boy? Do you feel screenplay contests are a waste of time? Do you have your own contest experience to share?