Turns out that I’m just as busy with the People’s Pilot and Spec Scriptacular contests now that the Winners have been announced as I was when we were judging. Maybe a big more because I’m setting up the various Mentorship Sessions that are among the prizes (and then will have to get on the phone with the Winners and yak away), making sure that the co-sponsors who supply prized do in fact supply those prizes, and working out the delivery of the prize money so graciously donated by Manner Movie Ltd. of Hong Kong.
As a result of being so immersed in the two contests, my mind is racing with thoughts about them. Thoughts I want to share.
We get a lot of inquiries along the line of, “Who are the judges?” and “What are the judging standards?” so here are the currently definitive answers (subject to change at any time, of course, because I keep trying to find ways to do things better).
The judges are drawn from a pool of showbiz professionals, mostly TV professionals, and a few critics as well. By “pool,” I mean “friends.” Talented and idealistic men and women who believe in the future of entertainment and whose thoughts and feelings I trust.
I cannot, however, divulge the identities of the specific judges this time around (other than to say I was one), or of the members of the pool (I’m one of those too, of course). The reason I can’t do this is that in order to cajole/coerce my friends into taking the time and effort (oh, the time!) it takes to do the job right I’ve had to guarantee them anonymity.
No judge wants/deserves to be out there in the open where angry losers can bug them personally or post about them or otherwise make their lives miserable. And no judge wants to be contacted by the winners either. They aren’t in the business of finding and helping new writers. They’re busy as hell and don’t have the time. I, however, am in that business. I accept the grief that can go with it…and, hell, I love doing whatever I can for the winners.
The judges’ standards, however, are a whole other thing that we probably should have published long ago. Sorry for the (ulp) 15 year delay. Here they are now:
The People’s Pilot
Scripts are read and given a score of from 1.00 to 10.00 points. There is no list of specific elements that have to be included, or excluded either. It’s a matter of each judge reading each entry and it based on his/her overall reaction to the material, ala “Wow, this would really be a great pilot for a great series [or not].” Experience and knowledge of the buying and audience markets (two very different things) are a big part of this reaction, which we believe duplicates as closely as possible the way professional buyers – which most of the judges are or have been – regard submissions.
As the years of holding the PP have rolled by, however, certain judging patterns have emerged.
No one gets a 10. A script that knocks out everyone who’s read it, that is at the level of a pro at his/her peak, gets in the 9s, and scripts in the 9s are the ones that usually take the first three places. In the case of a comedy, a script that has us laughing continuously and wishing to God that we’d written it is a script in the 9s. In the case of drama, a script that has us on the edge of our seats, caring for the characters almost as much as we care for ourselves and making us wish we’d written that one too is a script in the 9s.
A script that is head and shoulders above everything else in terms of the values of its genre, which shows a thorough understanding of the creative and practical aspects of TV writing, and moves the judges to great appreciation of its artistry usually scores in the 8s. (A typical problem with PP scripts scoring in the 8s is that the basic premise of the series is one that the judges just can’t get behind, or can’t imagine development execs believing in.
A script that is professional through and through but could benefit from a rewrite because it’s just not feeling special enough usually scores in the 7s.
A script that scores in the 6s usually is one that shows that the writer is talented and knows what s/he is doing but one with which the judges disagree in terms of structure and character choices. It’s one that wasn’t as fascinating as it could have been, along the lines of a good first draft. Okay but not finished. (A typical problem with PP scripts in the 6s is that while the writing is good, the script doesn’t come together as a whole. We call this the “You can’t have a great script without great writing but you too often see great writing still not creating a great script” Syndrome.”)
A script below 6 is one that has serious flaws in terms of premise, story, and characterization. The lower you go, the more serious the flaws, with the addition of other problems: Formatting problems that make the script difficult – sometimes impossible – to read; writing that is, frankly, inadequate, with unclear stage directions, dull/unrealistic/stereotypical dialog. The sort of thing that doesn’t instill confidence in readers/judges/audiences.
The Spec Scriptacular
Just as in the PP, Spec Scriptacular scripts are given a score of from 1.00 to 10.00 points. There is no list of specific elements that have to be included, or excluded either. For series specs, it’s a matter of each judge reading each entry and it based on his/her overall reaction to the material, ala “Wow, this really nails the show. It’s the best episode the series could possibly have [or not].” For TV movies/screenplays/specials, it’s all about the excitement the read the generates, ala, “Holy crap, I’d love to see this, and so would millions of others [or not].”
Again, experience and knowledge of the buying and audience markets are a big part of this reaction, so SS scripts are getting the same kind of read they would in the industry.
Over time, patterns similar to those in the PP have evolved in the SS as follows:
No one gets a 10. A script that knocks out everyone who’s read it, that is at the level of a pro at his/her peak and makes everyone who reads it wish they’d written it, gets in the 9s. Sometimes the very high 9s, but not even Shakespeare’s latest episode of MACBETH would get a 10. (Hmm, I could be wrong there.)
A script that is head and shoulders above everything else in terms of the values of its genre, which shows a thorough understanding of the creative and practical aspects of TV writing and, if its a series spec, of the style and substance of the show it’s intended to be part of, or that just plain makes the judges want to watch that show, usually scores in the 8s.
A script that is professional through and through but could benefit from a rewrite because it’s just not hitting everything strongly enough usually scores in the 7s.
A script that scores in the 6s usually is one that shows that the writer is talented and knows what s/he is doing but one with which the judges disagree in terms of a lot of its story and character choices. It’s one that doesn’t realize its potential but feels like a good first draft.
A script that scores in the 5s or less is one that’s got some good ideas and clever and/or meaningful moments but simply isn’t at a professional level yet in terms of style, substance, and presentation (think format). It’s not a case of this or that being wrong, or of choices that could’ve been better but of a need for the script to be elevated all-round. For the writer to learn more about the craft of storytelling, especially structure and, unfortunately, the correct use of language. In other words, the writing needs, simply to be “better.”
Uh-oh, I’ve only just begun but already have run out of time and space (which makes me wish even more than ever that I was The Doctor on DOCTOR WHO). Let me take a breath.
COMING NEXT WEEK: Ideas about making the contests a better experience for everyone who enters. I’m talking pricing, prizes, due dates, feedback, and, who knows, maybe even some kind of manuscript registration element. And wouldn’t it be cool if not only the judges but our visitors could read the Winners?
EDITED TO ADD: Click HERE for Part 2