In the charming and underrated Hearts of the West (1975), veteran motion picture actor and scribe Howard Pike (Andy Griffith) lays it on the line to tenderfoot writer Lewis Tater (Jeff Bridges):
“If a person saying he was something was all there was to it, this country’d be full of rich men and good-looking women. Too bad it isn’t that easy. In short, when someone says you’re a writer, that’s when you’re a writer…not before.”
Good advice. But where do you find some “someones” who count?
A few years ago, I entered my first feature-length screenplay in five reputable contests. All things considered, it fared well. The PAGE awards chose it as a Semi-Finalist in the Drama category, and three others (including Scriptapolooza) rated it as a Quarter-Finalist. These honors gave me the inalienable right to do, well, pretty much do what I just did.
Boast about it a little.
No studio deal, no sack of cash flung toward my front door from a passing stretch limo…just some very limited bragging rights.
But was my experience limited as well?
In retrospect, I don’t think so. At the very least, a writing contest guarantees that your work will be read by others, and that’s at least part of the goal, right?
The best part of any writing contest is that none of the readers know you from Adam or Eve, which guarantees some level of honest assessment. Sure, a reader may have a hidden agenda, hate your log line, or love slasher films (when the only knife in your script is used to spread Camembert sensuously across French bread), but so what?
Their coverage will–at the very least–balance out the biased input from family and friends who suggest that walking on water would be a snap for someone with your writing chops.
Quite frankly, I re-read that first screenplay recently, and was surprised it fared as well as it did!
So until the studios come calling (or emailing, or…whatever studios do when they like stuff), I’ll be satisfied with the judgment of several astute contest readers who — by virtue of their positive reaction to my work — consider me a writer.
(adapted from an earlier blog post on “Get it. Got it. Good.”)