Long time, not speak. I’ve been neglecting my blogging duties over the past few months, but I have no been a total slacker during that time.
Back at the end of August, I staged a table read of my dramatic coming-of-age feature script. The reading went great and I got a lot of nice positive feedback which was great to hear and boosted my confidence. Using the recollected actors’ scripts I was able to do a quick pass for grammar and typos — hey, 10 pairs of eyes are better than just mine! I followed that up with another pass to fix a couple of small issues that appeared from the reading and feedback session. By the end of September, I had what I consider my final draft– and more importantly, my first feature script I feel confident and comfortable showing people as a representation of my work. That’s a huge step forward for me. While this was my fifth feature script, my previous work I never felt fully confident in; even the final products feel like unfinished drafts to me, so I eventually put them down on the shelve to collect dust.
Shortly after coming down from the dizzying high of “finishing my screenplay” after registering my baby with the WGA, I sent out copies to a select group of friends whose opinions I trust. And then I let the project settle for a few weeks. I had taken a quick look through withoutabox to see what film festivals and screenwriting competitions where taking submissions and approaching on the horizon, but I didn’t act. I thought a little break was in order before taking any other steps. So I took on a month long project of helping a musician friend of mine set up (and manage) an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for recording a record.
The high of finishing a screenplay is so exhilarating! After so many hours and months of hard work, to be done is euphoric. But coming off that high, or maybe more accurately, riding that high leads to some stupid decisions sometimes. While perusing WAB, it was really tempting to submit my screenplay to the quickly approaching Final Deadlines or Extended Late Deadlines of the last festivals happening in 2014 (actually the first half of 2015 festivals). I’ve written about this before but it bares mentioning again. Submitting to festivals should be carefully researched endeavors to make sure you are getting the most bang for your buck considering your goals. Of course that assumes you know what your goals are. This is the reason I didn’t jump into submitting right away.
First of all, there really isn’t a reason anyone should be submitting to a festival under the highly expensive Late Deadline and Extended Late Deadlines. You can easily double the number of contests and festivals you submit to if you have patience and submit under Earlybird Deadlines. Naturally, this is hard because (I don’t know about you, but in my experience…) I crave attention and approval. I’ve finally finished my screenplay, I want the accolades to come rolling in…NOW! I want everyone to think it’s the best screenplay ever written, and I want it to see for beaucoup de bucks!
Breathe. Take a breath and let the emotions settle. Putting the screenplay down for a moment while giving some friends and opportunity to read it and get back to me with extra feedback, allows me to see the final product more clearly after the euphoria settles. Also, if the additional feedback is astute with any great ideas, I now have the ability to make the screenplay even better before sending it out into the world. During this break I also have the ability to decide what my goals are for the project. I’m not talking about the dreams of fame and glory and big dollar spec sales, but the more realistic and tangible goals.
In the case of my screenplay, there is a very real possibility of me shooting this myself as a ultra-low budget film. There is a specific type of location where a bulk of my story’s action takes place which specifically comes from a job I worked near my hometown. So if I could secure the ability to shoot at that location, the project becomes highly doable. So that has been bouncing around in the back of my mind, but I’m not 100% convinced I am up for the challenge. It seems daunting and I feel like I don’t have the unbridled energy and optimism I had, say, 10 years ago. I haven’t been focused (read: dreaming) on a directing career, so… whew! Needless to say, the possibility is still rattling around back there amongst the cobwebs of my brain.
So what do I want to come from this project? A sale? A cash return on my investment of time and energy? Sure that would be nice, I won’t lie. Do I want accolades and acknowledgement? Do I need a pat on my back, an award I can brag about, so tasty footnote that will get me the attention of an agent or producer? Yeah, of course.
Since I don’t have representation myself, and since I have no ties to any production companies directly, connections and contacts are my main goal so I’ve decided to submit my work to contests and competitions where I might be about to get some more confidence if I can win or place. I would also have a nice resume point of I win or place in some contests– heck, even getting accepted into some contests are note worthy accomplishments. Additionally, if I could win some prize money in any competitions, I might have more incentive to take the leap and try to produce the script myself on a low budget level. (The way I see it, prize money not only helps by adding $$ to the budget, but the fact that the script is good enough to win a contest can also help influence potential donors/investors to get on board as well.)
With the first goal in mind of creating industry contacts (and leaving the secondary goal of possibly shooting the film myself in the background), I can now look at film festivals and competitions that will reward me along the lines that intersect my goals. I feel like the biggest contests with the most cache and notoriety like the Academy’s Nicholls Fellowship are really long shots since so many people submit. I don’t mind gambling, but I don’t want to rest all of my hopes on the biggest of the big contests. I haven’t ruled out submitting to Nicholls, but again, taking these types of chances should be done at the cheapest (Earlybird) levels.*
Smaller festivals might provide me with an easier route to getting some notice but won’t carry as much brag-ability. Who cares if I won the Sheboygan Screenplay Contest? No offense, Sheboygan. And I’m leery of smaller film festivals that have a screenplay contest attached because the resources for the screenwriter/screenwriting prize might be more of an after thought. So after some thinking, I’ve decided to search for A) mid-level screenwriting contests, B) film festivals with screenplay competitions that have decent prizes and/or events that are screenwriting focused, C) film festival and screenwriting competitions that are near where I live (NYC and the tristate region) as well as ones in places where I have friends or family, so that I could attend any competitions I do get accepted in. Going and participating in the festivals and contacts is a great way to expand my network, so being able to attend should definitely be taken into consideration. Lastly, I have a Wildcard category of festivals and competitions that are outside these three focus areas but for one reason or another I’d like to keep my eye on and possibly submit to even if they are long shots.
I think it’s important to note at this point there’s no rush to submit to everything. Since festivals happen throughout the year, the deadlines are always rolling and changing. A festival that is currently in Late Deadline mode, I’ll have to wait until next year to submit to. That’s alright. I don’t need to submit to everything right now. Submitting to one or two festivals a month might be all that my budget can handle. That’s $50-75 I’m spending per month on festival fees. To submit to every festival for the upcoming year, might cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. My thought: put a lid on it. Focus on one or two every month that are the best fit for me out of what is available to submit to. A contest with a 12/31/14 early deadline might not hot enough in October, but by December might be better. Who knows?
Enough theory, what have I done? Where has my money followed my mouth? I submitted to two festival this week. The first was the Hoboken International Film Festival which has a screenplay competition attached. It’s right across the river, so I could attend should I be accepted and it was in Earlybird Deadline so it’s the cheapest level of submission fee. I also submitted to the Atlanta Film Festival Screenplay Contest despite it being in Late Deadline because the prize for being accepted is a trip to a writers retreat with seminars during the AFF. The prize was right, and even though the late entry fee was $50, I felt like it was worth a wildcard chance.
I’m continuing to keep an eye on other festivals and contest through the Watchlist feature of withoutabox. I also plan on checking out Festival Focus which is an indie competitor to the WAB (Amazon owned) goliath. Also, I’ll be getting my screenplay up on inktip.com which is an online database designed to match industry with context. I’ll probably look into The Black List too which offers a similar service though I don’t know anyone who has any experience with it.
And that, my friends is where I’m at. It’s nice to feel good about something I’ve written and it’s great to be in a slow and steady submissions phase with it. I have another screenplay that is in rough draft mode. It’s a comedy and more commercial, so I’m looking forward to diving in, ripping it apart, upping the antes and polishing that sucker up. Being able to slowly reward myself with new submission for my completed drama is a great way to keep my spirits up in the creative work for my other project. Hopefully, my next draft will be complete by the holidays.
*Finding a festival of contest that I might think is interesting or potentially worth submitting to, I add the festival to my Watchlist on WAB for which I can set up an email reminder a couple weeks before their Earlybird Deadline (if the festival has already announced this years dates). I like to plug really interesting opportunities into my iCal as well. I add it to a date at the beginning of the month when the deadline is, giving myself at least a week before the deadline to get everything in order. I include the website for the festival and maybe make a couple of notes as to why it’s a potentially good fit. Some festivals that aren’t my top priority, I still might submit to if I come into extra money one month. So having this information in the peripheral vision is a great way to stay prepared.