News from Mars…

As leaked earlier this week to an indifferent nation, yours truly has just been announced as one of the finalists in the prestigious Red Planet Prize screenwriting competition hosted by Tony Jordan’s Red Planet Pictures.

I was uncertain over whether to make it known, but there was no instruction from Red Planet to keep it a secret and as many of the entrants are prolific bloggers, I imagine they expected news to come out. So I thought I’d write about the experience whilst keeping any details of the actual selected script a secret.

Over 2000 UK screenwriters submitted the first 10 pages of their script for the first stage of the competition, and a small number of finalists (I’ve no idea how many yet) have been  asked to send in our complete scripts. The judges included Julie Gardner, Danny Stack, Stephen Fry and Mark Gatiss.

I know a lot of very good writers who entered this and didn’t make it to the next round, so  I am absolutely over the bloody moon.

I was keeping an eye on my inbox last Friday, as I know many others were because it seemed like every screenwriter I knew had entered it (there were 2100 entries in total, apparently).

Throughout the day I was seeing writers on their blogs announcing with disappointment that they weren’t finalists, and I assumed I wasn’t either. And   then at 5.43 I got an email telling me I was in. I’m actually one of the finalists.

This was a strange one because, get this, I don’t normally enter competitions. I decided a long time ago that it wasn’t really a good way to go about submitting my work. The stakes are always impossibly high and you always end up beating yourself up when you don’t win. I didn’t even attend the competition launch at the   Cheltenham Screenwriters’ Festival.

But after interviewing Tony Jordan about it for the podcast later that day,  and reading so   many screenwriters blogging about it, and glancing again at Adrian Mead’s advice   about how important it is to enter competitions, I started having the following   internal dialogue:

– Well, why don’t you submit something for it yourself?
– Because it’ll   never win.
– It might.
– No it won’t. You know it won’t!
– You’ve got   to be in it to win it.
– That’s the Lotto, stupid.
– Same difference,   though.
– Look, millions of people will enter their scripts and ours will   just get rejected for not being perfect and then we’ll feel like shit about   ourselves as a writer and not write anything for a month.
– You do realise   you’re referring to yourself in the plural?
– I’m not talking to you any more.

So rather than develop a serious psychiatric disorder, I thought it’d be   easier  to submit something.

Competition co-ordinator and judge Danny Stack has written in his blog about the selection procedure for the finalists, and also posted an  enlightening and amusing revision of his top cliched opening scenes list, based on what was submitted. I particularly had to laugh at the Chase Sequence opening, in which we’re   straight into a chase sequence before we know any of the characters (someone’s   getting chased, big deal). I’d been tempted to do that in my script because I thought it needed some kind of hook up front and my inciting incident didn’t   happen till page 3 (I know, that late, eh). Thankfully I resisted the temptation and went with my characters instead.

For the record, I submitted two script samples, both TV pilots (I’m even gutted that the other one didn’t make it – see what I mean about beating yourself up?), and the one thing I’m certain about is that I worked bloody hard on both of them,   making sure those ten pages were as lean and tight as I could get them, and treating the bottom of page ten as an ad break to make sure each one had done enough   to make you want to carry on watching (reading).

If nothing else, it’s been a great exercise in ruthless editing and I was surprised at how much I managed to cut out and how much was overwritten,   repetitious and just plain extraneous in the first place. As a writing exercise in itself it’s one of the best I’ve undertaken, and something I’ll definitely be doing again with other scripts I’m writing.

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