LB: What I Learned From the 2013 People’s Pilot & Spec Scriptacular Competitions

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by Larry Brody

How About Some More General Remarks for a Start?

About 10 days ago, I wrote about what I thought all writer-entrants in the 2013 People’s Pilot and Spec Scriptacular Competitions could learn. Unsurprisingly, the lessons were mostly about writing. As in what worked and didn’t work in the entries. If you need me to wait while you refresh your memories, fine, I’m doing that right now.

Just not, you know, in real time.

Okay. With that out of the way, I’d like to move on in the direction I promised in that article and talk about:

What I Learned About the Writers Who Entered The Contests

You’re good. Really. That was a big take away for me. I mean, I always like it when I’m proved right. Don’t you?

I started TVWriter™ almost 20 years ago because I suspected that there were a hell of a lot of good writers out there in what TV executives at the time contemptuously called “Fly-Over Country,” meaning “not in L.A. or N.Y.”

I was running the writing end of three different animated TV series at once – FoxKids’ THE SILVER SURFER, HBO’s SPAWN (is that the only animated series based on a comic book that’s been scheduled after midnight to prevent it from reaching the wrong eyes? I think so but don’t know for sure), and another series aimed at FoxKids that never got there, GHOST RIDER.  (Long story. If you ever meet Avid Arad, ask him what happened – and then tell me what he said.)

As if writing the episodes wasn’t difficult enough, finding writers whose work meshed with mine to help me write it was even tougher. It wasn’t that I had this grand vision of what television superhero animation should be like – I didn’t – but that the Marvel and FoxKids and HBO execs I was working with did. My problem was that their visions were all different from each other’s – even those of execs overseeing the same show – and my brief, as they say in the U.K. was to please everybody.

The execs pretty much crapped on every writer I brought in. At the time, that made sense. After all, they were also crapping on me. I knew I had to look for new writers. Writers who could face the often excruciatingly petty criticism their work would be subjected to and work their butts off to get studio and network (and, in one instance, comic-creator) approval.

The old pros had gigs coming out the ying-yang. They didn’t need to go through the agony the execs and, in turn, I were putting them through. But newbies – ah, they’d do it, wouldn’t they? In order to get in the television writing door?

So up on web went what was then called The TV Writer Home Page, and with it the call for scripts. “Send me your stuff, and if it works I’ll hire you to work on my shows!” was the essence of what I said, and guess what? I got a ton of great stuff. (And ten tons of not-so-great because that’s how things on the creative side always seem to go.)

In the end, I hired about a dozen writers and put them to work on the three shows, with the result that GHOST RIDER got dropped before it got started, my deal on SPAWN wasn’t renewed, and I ended up co-writing every single episode of THE SILVER SURFER.

But there was no doubt about it: Unknown writers every bit as good as the old pros were out there. And most of the writers I hired went on to long and, wow, even distinguished careers.

It was all very satisfying. In many ways, more satisfying than writing itself. Being an addictive sort, I latched onto the talent search, creating first, The People’s Pilot, and, a little later, The Spec Scriptacular, as ways of discovering – and aiding and abetting – new talent. And over the years, something totally freaky and completely unexpected occurred:

The writers who were answering the call of the contests, even when I no longer was producing shows and in a position to hire them, got better and better and better. This year, I’ve been privileged to read the work of the best crop yet. More than half of the entries in both contests were without a doubt of professional caliber. And almost a third of them were so good that I found myself wishing I had about a dozen series on the air so I could hire their writers to work on the shows.

You’re that good.

So even if you didn’t win, or place in the Finals, it behooves you to keep writing. To keep trying to make it in the Biz. Enter all the contests you can. Bug all the agents and producers and network execs you can. Take all the classes you can find so you can become so much better than you already are that no one can turn you down.

Do it. I mean. I absolutely refuse to let you waste all that talent, hear?

Which brings me to:

What I Learned About the Contests Themselves

A lot of things, actually.

Some of them were expected.

Others surprised me.

I won’t tell you which is which. You’ll probably figure it out. Here are the highlights:

About 25% of the entrants complained about the cost of the contests. Half of them/you thought it was too high. The other half of you/them thought it was too low.Know what’s strange? Reading an email that says, “I almost didn’t enter your contest because the entry fee was too low and I was worried that this was a shlock operation.”

But that was almost always followed by something wonderful and satisfying: “Then I checked out who you are and, wow. You’ve done everything. You’re the real deal. I’m entering 3 scripts now.”

Very few people read the fine print. Even when it’s on a web page in the same size font as the rest of the print. I learned this from reaction to the contest Feedback I’ve spent the last couple of weeks sending out.

(Which reminds me: It’s finished now, for both contests. If you entered, you should have gotten yours. If you didn’t get it, email me ASAP so I can fix that situation.)

There were two kinds of reaction to the Feedback. Less than 1% of you wrote to say, “This isn’t the kind of Feedback I needed. I need details! I need notes! You promised notes!’ But 90% of the email I’ve gotten about the Feedback so far is along the lines of, “Thanks for letting me know how my work stacked up against the other entries. I’m really energized about what the judges thought. I had no idea I’d be getting information like this.”

Running and judging and supervising and sending out Feedback on two contests at the same time is a bitch. Harder than everything I’ve ever done in the world of writing since I stopped working for David Gerber on POLICE STORY, POLICE WOMAN, et al.

From June 1st, when we started reading the entries, until last week, when the last of the Feedback went out, I’ve been working more hours than the Department of Labor would ever allow even the most able-bodied youth. As Yoda might say, “Exhausted, I am.” And it’s not over yet.

If you look at the prize list you’ll see that many of the prizes are my personal services: the TVWriter™ Advanced Online Workshop, various mentorship sessions, etc. It’s not going to end till 2013 does. And while I love working with all of you, I’m getting kinda tired.

So Here’s Where We Stand

In TVWriter™’s (read, my) never ending attempts to create a perfect situation for writers and writing, I’ve made some changes in the contests for 2014. (I have this mixed-up idea, see, that if I try hard enough, I’ll eventually get the things I do right. Yeah, I know it’s crazy. But I just can’t keep from wanting – always – to improve.)

These changes are:

The entry fees for both the People’s Pilot and the Spec Scriptacular are going up. Not a lot. From $40 to $50. And we’ll mitigate that with an Early Bird Entry Fee of $40 for the first couple of months each contest is open. And not because I’m The Brode and you can’t expect me to do this for a zillion bucks less than…well, all those other guys who charge way too much. And still are charging more than TVWriter™, even with this increase. (Although I admit that I do like the sound of that.)

No, the real reason for the increase is the sad fact that our contests and even TVWriter™ itself are, and always have been, money-losing propositions. In fact, the more visitors we get at this site, the more money we lose because web hosting fees keep going up along with the traffic and I’m committed – totally, absolutely, undeniably – to never putting any kind of advertising on this site. You’re too good for that shit, y’know?Bottom line: This is a cost-of-doing-business increase. I’m really sorry about it, but TVWriter™ isn’t the only business in the world to be in this position at this time, is it?

I’ve tried to describe the Feedback more fully on the People’s Pilot and Spec Scriptacular Prize pages. (Well, it’s kind of a prize, right?) Not to justify its limitations. Far from it. To tell you exactly what you’re getting. In other words, the new wording now promises what you really got the last time around, which for the record was more than we said it was going to be.

This is the Big News: For 2014, we’re splitting up the two competitions.The People’s Pilot Competition will open January 1st, 2014 and close  June 1st.The Spec Scriptacular Competition will open July 1st, 2014 and close December 1st.

I think this will benefit everyone. Entrants will be able to concentrate on one type of contest at a time. Ditto the judges. And I’ll be able to handle the volume of entries, Feedback, et al without worrying about having another heart attack. (Um, if you must know, I’ve had two. No one ever said that succeeding in the TV biz was easy, you know?)

That’s it. I’ve laid it all out because I have no idea how to do things any other way but openly. Your input is most welcome. (Well, continuing in the honesty vein, I’m open to kudos for sure. Criticisms…not so much.)

I’ve had a great time reading and meeting so many contest entrants in 2013 and am looking forward to communicating and working with even more of you next year. Remember, dreams do come true – but you have to do more than hope, or even believe in yourself. You have to prove you can do your thing. To yourselves…and your audience.

LYMI

LB

About LB

Larry Brody has been profiled in such national magazines and websites as Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, Starlog, People, Electronic Media, IndieSlate, TechTV, io9, and of course TV Guide. A legendary figure in the television writing and production world, with a career going back to the late ’60s, Brody has written and produced literally thousands of hours of network and syndicated television. Brody has also been active in the TV animation world, writing, creating, consulting, and/or supervising the cult favorite STAR TREK animated TV series, the SILVER SURFER, SPAWN, SUPERMAN, SPIDERMAN, and SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED animated series, and was showrunner of the French animated series, DIABOLIK, as well as part of the team that developed and wrote the live-action/cgi animation sci-fi series Ace Lightning for the BBC. Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys.