For today's guest blog we're delighted to invite Phil Gladwin, Writer, Editor, Founder of Screenwriting Goldmine Awards
In the last few years we've seen screenwriting contests move ever more mainstream.
There are stacks of them in the USA, and several really notable contests in the UK.
Many more agents, producers and script editors are open to the idea that getting a
result in the bigger contests is a legitimate part of getting the kind of momentum new
Winning a contest is great, but don't get distracted and see it as an end in itself. It's
really only valuable if it helps towards your real goal - getting hired as a screenwriter.
What's more, these contests often charge an entry fee - and that can add up.
So how do you decide how to spend your money?
[I have a vested interest I must declare - in 2012 I founded the Screenwriting
Goldmine Awards, so this article is written from that perspective.]
1. Does the contest have clear industry links?
Look for evidence of interest and support from the industry you want to join, either
directly on the judging panel, or in affiliations to agencies, particular production
companies, or broadcasters.
At the Goldmine we have a taken an independent stance. We have no specific
affiliation, but we do have 35 senior figures from across the British TV industry who
read all the finalist scripts, and who decide the eventual winner.
2. Try to check the background of the readers in the initial stages
Skilled people are not cheap, so some contests will use people with little or no real
professional script-editing experience to do the first pass and read the entries as they
You've taken months, perhaps years to write this script; do you really want it to be
assessed by someone who started in the industry last week?
3. How many entries do they get?
In some of the bigger American contests they get literally thousands of entries, all
competing for a handful of prizes.
Given that you need to win outright, or at least be in the very last short lists a couple
of times, to make an agent or producer pay much attention, you have to do the maths here.
Are you happy with the odds
4. Pick a contest that aligns with your aims
If you really want to write massive crowd-pleasing shows for a mass market, you will
probably not find a terribly receptive ear at the Channel 4 Screenwriting contest.
Similarly, if you want to write a small domestic sit-com for British viewers, the odds
are that won't go down TOO well with Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope contest.
And finally one test that you should run on yourself:
5. Do you LOVE your script?
If you don't think it's practically perfect, however will the rest of the world fall in love
with it? Which translates practically to you not entering a script you see is a good rough
If you know there are problems, but you expect the judges to see past the bits that
don't work until they find the good bits, well, you may have a problem.
The standard is much too high at the top of these competitions. Winning scripts tend
to be technically polished well as full of brilliant ideas.
Apply these tests, and you can be just a little more confident that your entry fee is
being well spent.
The Screenwriting Goldmine Awards run every year. We are currently accepting
scripts until 31st January 2017.
More information at: https://awards.screenwritinggoldmine.com
How to plan and write your next script - 3
by Charles Harris
In the first two parts of this series on writing and editing your script for cinema or TV, I focused on the seed image that starts it all, and the premise or pitch that provides the dramatic fuel (re-read them here). Now we move to writing the treatment (aka synopsis or outline).
1. Writing a treatment is by far the best way to plan out your script in advance
It’s true that some writers dive in and fly by the seat of their pants, but they are rare and almost always writing novels. A screenplay is much tighter and will run away from you if you don't plan. I have only written one successful screenplay without a treatment to start (and even then I spent time sorting out my ideas while I tried and failed to!)
2. Writing a treatment is invaluable for rewriting
Once the first draft is done, you need to stand back and get perspective. Otherwise you get lost in the mess. I find that the best way by far is to go back and rewrite the treatment based on what I have now learned.
3. Writing a treatment is essential for selling
More and more producers and agents insist on seeing a treatment before they’ll consider reading your script. It doesn't matter how brilliant your writing is - if the treatment doesn't fly, the script will never even get read.
However, the good news is that you don’t need to write three kinds of treatment. The effort entailed in ensuring your writing is clearly understood by others will make it all the better for planning and editing too.
Starting the treatment
If you followed the last article and worked up a strong log line then you have a solid basis to build on for the treatment. You know your genre, the protagonist and his or her main story goal.
Treatments can be of any length - from half a page to 30 pages or more - though most range from two pages. (the length you need for the Euroscript Screenwriting Competition) to five.
I find it best to start with a very short version, maybe less than a page - to help me focus.
I follow with a deliberately overlong version - to allow the writing to expand. I then cut that version short again. Alternating lengths allows me to get the best of both worlds - brevity and flow.
Write in the third person, present tense (like the script). Focus on the most important beats of the story - and as with the pitch: be ruthless. But at the same time, keep the style flowing. Allow it to reflect the genre - light-hearted for comedy, dark for horror, etc.
Don’t forget character. A good treatment is just as much about character as plot. I find it useful to alternate sentences between character journey and outer story. This draws the reader in and also avoids the dreaded “and then… and then… and then…”
Your aim is to make the treatment fit the proportions of the planned script - in other words the first quarter of the treatment should equal the first quarter of the script, and so on. This is a tough one - most of the treatments I see spend far too long on the opening, feeling that they have to explain everything. You don’t. It’s not about how much you can squeeze in, but how much you can get away with leaving out!
And unlike the pitch, you must include the ending. This is an unbreakable rule. No matter how much of a surprise twist you've got, you have to tell us. Without the ending, we can’t appreciate the point of the story. Or be sure you know how to end it yourself.
Start now. Focus clearly on your story, the unfolding of key events, the development of the inner journey and how it all comes together at the end. Create treatments of different lengths - you’ll need them later. And make your writing sizzle.
Next: Writing the first draft
If you liked this article, Charles Harris runs Exciting Treatments for Euroscript - a one-day workshop on writing treatments for cinema and TV in February and November. He'll take you through basic and advanced techniques for writing the strongest treatments and series proposals - including language skills that you need and which aren't taught in normal screenwriting classes.
This is always a popular class and gets rapidly booked up. Check here for the next available date and to see if there are still places available.
Yes, I know, your competition entry is unique and took months of blood and tears, but I've read hundreds, if not thousands, and I see the same problems time and time again.
So, bear with me. See if any of these could possibly apply to you.
1. Your treatment doesn't match your script
There's too much about the beginning, too little about the middle, and almost nothing of the end.
The first page and a half of your two page competition treatment correspond to the opening 30 minutes - with the second act taking up a third of a page and the ending crammed into a sentence at the end. Does this ring a bell?
We all know how difficult it is to explain all that stuff you need to know at the start... so, don't.
We actually don't need all that information. Tell us the story - in proportion. A quarter of the treatment should equal a quarter of the film. It's tough, I know. But that's the job.
(Of course it could be that your script really does spend an hour and a half setting things up, in which case, boy, have you got problems!)
2. Your protagonist doesn't drive the story
Your treatment is so busy telling me all the awful things that happen to her, that your protagonist never gets round to doing anything for herself. Her actions, if they exist, are reactions.
Your protagonist must take the story by the scruff of its neck, and make things happen. She must decide on a goal and go for it.
I don't care if it's thriller action like Gravity or gentle indie romance like Juno, she has to drive the story forwards by her own actions.
3. The basic premise or pitch of the treatment/script is flawed
This is the biggie. The most common fault with the competition entries I see, and most difficult. You can sometimes fix the other two, if the idea behind the treatment is strong to begin with. But if the premise is weak, there's nothing there.
Most competition treatments have one good idea, maybe one-and-a-half, but a great premise needs at least two good ideas, maybe three. Often, those ideas are there, half developed in the writer's mind, but need to be brought out.
As a competition judge, I can only go by what you write. If the ideas aren't on the page, I can't guess at them. It's a shame. I'm sure many treatments and scripts could be great, if the premise had been developed more clearly.
Get your entries ready for the Euroscript Screen Story Competition 2014
If you win the Euroscript Screenwriting Competition you'll get three full script reports (usually running to 10-15 pages) on three drafts of your screenplay and as many meetings, telephone conversations and as much email correspondence as you need with your Script Editor. This intensive script development programme has one goal: to get your screenplay ready for market. Deadline for entries 31st March.
See full details of the Euroscript Screen Story Competition 2014
And if you want to fix your premise/pitch...
...I'm running a weekend workshop on selling and pitching to help you develop the best premise for your treatments and scripts. You get two days of practical information on what producers and agents want to see and how to approach them for the best results. Plus intensive work on your individual premise/pitch with personal feedback. January 25-26 - there are a few places left.
Find out more about the Complete Selling and Pitching Weekend now.
THE ONLY PLACE TO TALK ABOUT THE CRAFT OF SCRIPTWRITING.