Sunday, June 13, 2010

Contest Notes

Over the last couple of weeks I was reading scripts for Script Doctor Eric's contest. Eric, if you haven't encountered him, is a script consultant in the reasonably priced category, and he just had his first contest.

I'm always skeptical of new contests, but Eric did this for the right reasons and is a stand-up dude. That much was clear when he and the three other judges got together this weekend to discuss the finalists. I was really glad he asked me to read these and would definitely do it again. There's something really interesting about reading a series of scripts by amateur writers and not having to make any notes other than honest, immediate reaction. I also really enjoyed finding some great writing.

I'm not going to say anything about the scripts in particular because the winners have not been announced, but I thought it might be interesting to post some of the notes I made as I read. I ranked the script from favorite to least favorite. Here's a portion of my notes to myself in order of rank.

1) I love this goddamn screenplay.

2) Great tone, great dialogue, great characters. Okay story, attempt at theme. The theme is pushed largely through dialogue, not through action. This is a good script, not a great one. With another rewrite this could be terrific, but right now it's just short.

3) This is genuinely funny and has great potential. There are a few behavioral inconsistencies, and it would help if the characters were more extreme. They don't feel their emotions enough - there need to be more foils. And in act 2 this thing comes to a dead stop. Fortunately it picks up again, but there are some real gaps in energy level.

4) There are GIGANTIC plot holes in this story and the dialogue is completely on the nose. Why are these people even doing all this? I'm perplexed on the entire premise. The moral dilemma is interesting but never explored to satisfaction. However, the writing is clean and easy to read and there is a clear tone, and action description is exciting. The writer has mastered writing, but not storytelling.

5) Good dialogue. I actually laughed. Yay! This is a really clever idea and the writer could have really played with the themes, but great opportunities were missed. I kept waiting for the characters to figure out what I already knew and it took entirely too long. The story fizzles because our characters keep talking without doing. I could use a ticking clock. I'm sad to say there was potential for a great story here, but it didn't happen.

6) Writing is clean and easy to read. Good action description. However, I am on page 15 and have no idea who the protagonist is. Plus I've seen this in like a million other movies. I mean every single scene is something we've seen before multiple times. And it's exposition heavy - like REALLY heavy. Some scenes aren't too bad, but I had to wade through a lot of garbage to get to them. So all in all, writing pretty good. Story terrible.

7) Too much exposition, not enough action. And isn't romantic comedy supposed to be funny? This is not funny. I feel like the third wheel between two very boring people on their first date. The story gets interesting on page 46. Why did it take 46 pages for something interesting to happen?

8) I'm not particularly opposed to voice over, but this is not used well here. There's a lot of passive voice and odd structure stuff. The protagonist is unlikeable, but not in a fun way. Based on the title I was expecting all kinds of antics, but this falls flat. There's no story.

9) Too much prose. It's written like a novel, which makes the pacing feel slooooow. Once we get going, interesting premise. But the way the story is carried out is just not cool. Not cool at all. I'm confused and unhappy.

10) You can tell the writer desperately stretched this out to make page count. It's difficult to follow. It may have a great story but I don't know because I don't understand what's going on. There's like thirty thousand characters in the first ten pages and I don't understand what any of them is doing.


  1. Interesting reading those - thanks for posting Emily. I try to give constructive criticism myself from time to time (for friends and on Triggerstreet) and it is heartening to see the sorts of comments I make being made by someone of your obvious talent and experience.

  2. Anonymous7:54 AM

    Hi Emily,

    Just curious - did the other judges' lists match yours or was there a spirited debate over the top positions?

  3. Thanks, Matt. Kudos for Triggerstreet. I gave notes on one script there once and then decided I didn't have the attention span to do anymore.

    Anonymous, I wouldn't say spirited debate so much as a respectful discussion. There were no arguments, but we definitely did not agree on several scripts.

    One judge had as his first pick the script I put dead last, and for reasons as legitimate as mine. He would forgive anything if the story had a good concept, and I would forgive anything if it was well written, so we disagreed on several points. One of the other judges and I were in agreement quite often.

    What I loved was hearing other people's judgment of a script. Some of the notes Eric had, for instance, were things I had not noticed but seemed obvious once he pointed them out. And vice versa I'm sure.

    I don't know who Eric eventually chose as his top three, although I do think I know who his number one choice is. It was not my number one choice, but it did rank highly.

  4. I am bummed I missed it. I bookmarked his site. Will catch it next year!

    In a typical competition, how many times does your story get read in the first round?

    If your story lands in front of someone who's cranky and gives it bad marks are you through?


  5. That depends on the contest and the reader, I would think. I know the Nicholl has as many as three readers in order for your script to advance, but I believe in most contests the first round gets one reader.

    To be fair, this is the only contest I've ever read for so I can't speak to what a normal reader feels. Ideally no, a cranky disposition is irrelevant. Personally when I grade papers, if I'm in a foul mood I put them aside until I can be more objective.

    In this case, my mood was more reflective of the scripts. A good script lifted my spirits. A poor script irritated me.

  6. Anonymous1:05 PM

    It's interesting that your least favorite script was another judge's favorite. I guess it just shows the subjective nature of these contests.
    And I do agree with you, I prefer a well-written script over one with a great concept but poor execution.

  7. Anonymous7:04 AM

    Script Doctor Eric has announced the winners of his contest. Where did you top pick land? Any surprises regarding the other choices?

  8. The grand prize winner was indeed my first pick. The others I understand why they were chosen, even if they weren't at the top of my list.

  9. Emily, thank you for being a judge in Script Doctor Eric's Contest, I really appreciate your time & input offered.
    Best regards,
    Traci P.

  10. Hi Emily,

    Thanks for taking the time to judge. Since the results are out, would you mind telling me which of your comments is about my script, Pick Your Kids? I've been trying to figure out which one it is. :)


    Jonathan K

  11. Oh hell, judging was fun.

    Your would be number 3. Drop me a line if you want more detailed notes.


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