LB’s Thoughts on the 2012 People’s Pilot & Spec Scriptacular Contests (part 2)

Last week I started writing about the TVWriter™ contests and my various thoughts/ideas about ways to improve the experience for entrants but didn’t get past the subject of the mechanics of the judging. Life has a way of doing that to me – bogging my ideas down in the morass of pragmatics – but it’s time now to pick myself up out of the swamp and run some things past you, the TVWriter™ readers and writers.

Feedback

Many entrants have asked if they can get feedback on their entries. It’s a good question, and in general I think that feedback on writing is helpful as all hell, but my answer, as it relates to what most people think of as “feedback” (a critique of the work in question) is the running line in an old, unfunny sex joke, “Hell no. Tried it once and didn’t like it.” (Hmm, I think that’s the punchline too.)

Both the People’s Pilot and the Spec Scriptacular offered my personal feedback at extra cost for several years, but it just didn’t work for me. For one thing, writing the feedback was hard. It took a lot of time and even more thought to distill my impressions into a coherent email message, much more time than it was worth to me financially. For another thing, many recipients were never satisfied.

I don’t mean that I was inundated with complaints (although, yes, there were a few), but I was almost drowned by replies by writers who seemed to see my email as the opening of a long conversation about their work, and while I love writers as a breed more than just about any other kind of human, I’m not really a big conversationalist. Dammit, Jim, I’m a storyteller, not a listener! And I’m sorry, but I’m too busy for lengthy correspondence with anyone but my closest friends.

And yet…I would like to do something to make entering the PP and SS more educational than competitive, and, yes, it’s very competitive. (As I’ve said elsewhere, many scripts that won only a few years ago wouldn’t even make it into the Finals this time because there are so many more high quality scripts than before but only a limited number of placings available. We’re at a point now where, using a 1.00 to 10.00 point scale, it takes higher than an 8.0 to be a Semi-Finalist.)

So Team TVWriter has been discussing a couple of ways to give entrants a better idea of their strengths and weaknesses without my brain having to burn out in the process. One idea is to create a form similar to those used in the coverage written by professional readers. You know, with various categories – originality, plot, characterization, dialog, format, that kind of thing. And check off whether those elements were done brilliantly, just okay, meh, or sucky. Or whatever words/values we decide to use.

Another approach would be to send out the overall 1 to 10 score to each entrant after the Winner announcements are made. Yet another would be to combine both of the ideas I’ve just mentioned. And of course we’re discussing whether we should charge extra for these services and the time it takes to perform them, and it so, how much. (Well, mostly it’s a matter of “how much” because the time thing, in with our current volume of entries – about 200 per contest – will really add up.)

Teleplay Registration

Team TVWriter is also diddling around with a whole other kind of interesting idea. This site and I are always being asked, “How do I protect my work?” as in, “How do I keep some asshat SOB from stealing what I wrote?” The official – and correct – answer is, “Register your work so you know you have evidence of when you created it and of exactly what it is that you created.” In fact, I believe in registration so much that for a long time we had our own registration site, which I eventually sold because I was looking for someone who could make it even more useful than it already was. Unfortunately, the buyer ended up closing it instead, a big loss to all concerned, especially the TV and film writing community.

Given all this, I can’t help but think that entering the PP or the SS could also be a way for a writer to protect his or her I.P. (AKA intellectual property, AKA “work.”) Whenever you upload a file containing your teleplay or screenplay, our system automatically date-and-time-stamps it. Currently, we delete all entries from previous contests whenever we begin a new contest period, and we don’t and can’t guarantee their survival within our system. But if we were to, say, keep those files secured on our server where they couldn’t be altered, with proper backup drives in place, and keep them for a span of years we would have the equivalent of the usual online registration system, with your contest receipt as your “registration number.”

I can’t promise that this is going to happen, but we’re looking into the possibility of doing it for those who specifically ask for, and pay for, such a service. It may take awhile to iron it out. Because most of that “while” probably will be spent with lawyers so we can do it right.

Increasing the Number of Entries

Last but not least of  TVWriter™’s concerns is giving more people a chance for validation and a step up on their careers by increasing our number of entries. In the 12 years that we’ve been doing this (well, 12 for the People’s Pilot and 10 for the Spec Scriptacular), we’ve done very little advertising, aiming the contests at what we think of as the discerning group of writers who frequent TVWriter™. But although we have very good-sized visitor base, the percentage who actually enter the PP and/or the SS is pretty low.

One idea we’re working on is to stagger the two contests instead of holding them together. Open the PP in, say, January, and close it in January, and then open the SS in December and close it in June. that seems easier on the budget for those who want to enter both contests, and also easier on the judges’ bleary eyes. We haven’t made our decision about this yet and look forward to your input.

In general, your opinions/needs/desires are very important to me, so what all this boils down to is:

We Can Always Use Some Help

Because I’m not telling you all this just as a storyteller. This is one of the times when I’m definitely trying to start a conversation. I’d love to get your reactions and suggestions to everything I’ve posted here, via the comments section below or by email. I promise to take the time to read/listen so all of us here can make the People’s Pilot, the Spec Scriptacular, and TVWriter™ into everything new writers need it to be.

EDITED TO ADD: Wait! I forgot something. One change we’re definitely going forward with is that starting with the 2012 Winners we’ll be posting as many of the winning scripts as we can get permission for online. As of this writing, 9 of the 12 2012 Winners have cleared it with us. Stay tuned for the scripts’ arrival here next week. 

The Writer

Don’t just sit there – WRITE!

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.

2 thoughts on “LB’s Thoughts on the 2012 People’s Pilot & Spec Scriptacular Contests (part 2)

  1. Is there a way to incorporate a round of peer review with only the top tier advancing to the semi’s? It would be tricky to forestall any attempt by contestants to rig their advance, but at the same time it would provide a level of built-in feedback.

  2. Terry says:

    I’d love to see that kind of a grading system (part I). Knowing how I rated would help me concentrate on those areas I needed to improve. Since you follow that process while reading scripts, including notes on them in the price would be helpful to those of us who can’t afford to spend more than what we spent on entering the contest. For a more thorough evaluation, charge whatever the going rate per hour is for that kind of service. You’d be helping everyone who enters.

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