“Writing is a lonely art. You tend to sit on your own in a room without a whole lot of feedback, and frankly, your mother’s feedback, your dad’s feedback is not really what you want because they love and adore you. You actually want to read the tough feedback from professional readers or from the agents or managers that you submit your material to in your great quest to get representation.” – Peter Samuelson, screenwriter.
Contests are a great way to get feedback that every writer needs—to understand what is working in the script and what’s not. I chose to enter my drama screenplay, Coaching Class in the Finish Line Competition in 2016 because they promised to give me feedback for my script. What’s more, based on the evaluation, I could re-submit a revised draft. This enabled me to improve my script taking it to the top of the contest table and winning a first runner-up place.
While a contest win can be a great ego boost, it actually is much more than that. It enhances a writer’s credentials. Being ranked among the winners of credible contest improves your chances of getting a foot in the door and having your work read by people who make films and are on the lookout for great scripts.
The Finish Line competition gave me the confidence to approach a number of top production companies, both in India and in Hollywood as well as agents. Meanwhile, the most prestigious screenwriting contest – the Academy Nicholl Fellowships – which is organised by the same people who run the Oscar Awards came up. And I decided to enter Coaching Class in Nicholl’s. If it ranked well, the chances of it being read by industry professionals across the world would improve manifold. If not, I had nothing to lose!
In July, results season rolled in. And to my great surprise—and delight—Coaching Class had made it to the Quarter Finals. It was one of 361 (out of a total number of 7100 entries) to have made the cut. Excitement kicked in even though I knew the next leg of the contest would be much tougher. By August, I was informed that my script was only one of 151 scripts to advance to the Semi Finals round. I was well and truly stunned and super happy, once it began to sink in.
The feedback from the judges was also sent to me. One judge said, “This drama, set in India, has an interesting, involving story that is full of tension and conflict. Careful attention has been paid to structure and both the main plot and the subplots have strong development.”
Another remarked, “The characters are richly detailed and their goals and dreams feel appropriate and unique to each of their character arcs. Even the ancillary characters…have interesting backstories.”
More importantly, they pointed out what needed work in the story. Unlike Finish Line though, I did not have the chance to submit a revised version. But reaching the Semi Finals of Nicholl’s has boosted my confidence and given me the calling card I need for future interactions with film industry professionals.
Samuelson puts it succinctly: "There is no great victory in writing a script that isn't produced unless it was a stepping stone while you were perfecting your craft in order to be able to write a script that did get made into a film. You just need to do it."