Almost a year ago, I submitted a first draft of a feature length script to the Academy Nicholl Fellowship.
I know, I know, you’re scratching your head wondering: “What are you doing submitting a draft to the premiere screenwriter’s competition? The one put on by The Academy—that awards their winners with $35,000 to encourage them to write an entire script in the following year? The one with over 7,000 entrants from all over the world? The one where they only choose, at most 5 or 6 winners out of the entire pool?!”
And you’d be right to ask.
The sad fact of the matter is that I really, truly hate editing and re-writing my work.
It’s my writer’s Achilles heel.
I sailed through high school turning in first drafts, stumbled through college doing the same, and nothing has changed since I graduated nearly 5 years ago.
In the real world, that’s obviously not going to fly.
HOWEVER—even with the handicap of not sending in a polished script, I ended up placing in the top 10% of the applicant pool. So I’m somewhere ranked between 700 and 380, where the cutoff for quarter-finalists falls (my script fell short of advancing to the quarterfinals by two-to-six points). Landing here entitled me to receive a comment over email from one of the two to three readers that rated my script. Usually when screenwriter’s submit to competitions or submit to find representation, they get almost no feedback beyond a casual and curt “no thanks.” This was a pretty significant “get” for me. The comment was equally encouraging, constructively critical, and reaffirming.
Just think what good may befall me if I add some discipline into my life and concentrate, for goodness sake!
That small accomplishment lit a fire in my belly that told me, “Hey. Maybe if you try harder you can actually make your mark in this industry. So stop being so freaking lazy.”
The Academy hosts an award ceremony for the winners and it was just my luck that it was in Los Angeles (hey, I live there!) and also FREEEEEE to attend. What better way to see what it takes to win this puppy than to hear from the writers that won this year.
4 scripts won (2 dramas, a comedy, and a sci-fi), 5 writers (2 were part of a team and will then split their $35k) received their awards and gave a short speech, and 4 actors (check out that line-up!) read a scene from each of the scripts.
On Stage (right to left): Clancy Brown, Ansel Elgort, Tessa Thompson and Jack O’Connell, with Rodrigo Garcia at the podium.
You can find more information on each of the winning scripts and screenwriters right here, but one of my favorite parts of the night was hearing about one winner in particular.
Sallie West, the writer of the winning screenplay “Moonflower”, had just been laid off of her job working for the US government after decades of service. She was a technical manual writer for the technology aboard Air Force One when they made her job redundant. She sat at home, reeling from the news (this happened right around the holidays last year) and decided to try her hand at writing creatively. Even at middle age, she thought she’d try her hand at something new. She wrote her screenplay, submitted to the contest, and told herself that there was no way in hell she would win.
Fast forward nearly a year later and she’s accepting the award to a thunderous round of applause and sitting on thousands of dollars worth of free money that will enable her to hone her new craft.
And the only thing that separates her from other people with raw, but tremendous, talent is the fact that she got in front of her computer and wrote. She thought of an interesting and original concept, sat down, AND WROTE.
That’s what I keep telling myself I need to do. There’s no use in planning, and worrying, and daydreaming if I’m not willing to sit my bootie down, shut off the internet, and freaking put the words on the paper!
For the 2015 competition, I’m submitting an edited script from the competition last year, I’m submitting a second new script this year, and my ultimate goal (that has a bit more optimism than realism) is to submit a third, any genre (you’re allowed up to three). Entries are accepted from January to May. I’m writing this here on the blog so that friends-of-the-blog and real-life-friends, alike, can keep me focused and motivated.
Keep checking back with me.
To stay up-do-date on all of Short and Feisty’s posts, click the Follow this blog button at the top right of this page.