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Cyberspace Open 2010 Results - Judging The Judge

The results for the first round of Creative Screenwriting magazine's Cyberspace Open 2010 posted this morning and I (along with 1300 others) didn't make the cut. I scored an 86 out of 100 possible and the cutoff for the finalists was 93. In an odd twist, the winners of the "Gory or Scary" genre prize ($200) didn't make the cut either; they wrote the very best scene in that style and missed the cut by a point.

Take a moment to read what the criteria for the scene and my entry were before proceeding so you can follow what comes next. I'll wait here....

Back? OK, good.

Because I'm still developing the full script, I don't want to spill the whole plot but you need to know that Jake is a scam artist and identity thief and Carmine is a very bad guy whose ID was stolen by Jake. This scene would be the break point leading into the third act of the movie; 80-90 minutes in. With that in mind, here's what my feedback was:
Structure: 21
Dialog: 22
Style: 22
Originality: 21
Score: 86

Solid scene, with JAKE'S problem established right up front, allowing for more scene time for rallying and provoking. Would like to know about what the plan was/is up front as well, as we don't get the identity theft info until page 2, and even then it's not clear what it has to do with Jake's CARMINE problem. Perhaps linking the two might help. HARVEY'S option speech is good, but it doesn't feel particularly unexpected. As a matter of fact, the options sound pretty standard for FBI procedure. Good dialogue, but the subject matter starts to drift from the task at hand, and perhaps there's a little too much reminiscing. Good effort here, nonetheless.
What bothers me about this feedback is I appear to have gotten marked down for following the instructions. In the kickoff video, the bloke who runs this shindig said that these weren't supposed to be 5-minute MOVIES but 2-5 page SCENES. My challenge was to take something that would occur an hour-and-a-half into the movie and make it clear to someone reading this scene out of context. I can't stand when characters stand around talking about things they would already know for the benefit of the audience and at this point of the story it would make absolutely no sense to have the guys saying, "As you know, Carmine is a very bad man whose ID you stole and he has been seeking revenge blah-blah-woof-woof..." An audience (or reader of the full script) would be well aware of what was going on, so a visit from Basil Exposition shouldn't be necessary.

The complaint about the FBI agent's options is also unfair since he's a by-the-book FBI agent. He's not going to say, "OK, what we'll do is call in the Autobots and a couple of Jedi Knights to blah-blah-woof-woof..." As for the reminiscing, this is the turning point for the character; he's been a scammer his whole adult life and now he has to choose between running away or changing his ways. THIS IS THE CRUCIAL MOMENT OF TRUTH FOR JAKE and the reader missed the point entirely, choosing to score based on the SHORT MOVIE they were looking for and not the SCENE we were assigned to write.

Now, this probably sounds like sour grapes and sore loserism. "You just can't accept that you suck, Dirk. FAIL!!!" If the feedback was, "Terrible dialog, no characters, did you read the premise?!?", I could deal with that, but when it appears this ONE READER judged on a criteria different from what contestants were assigned, well, that's not very good, is it? It reminds me when an overall very positive review for my band's CD praised the "thoughtfully left-leaning lyrics." Ignoring the tired, baseless shorthand that only liberals can think, I was left wondering, "What album were you listening to?" The songs weren't overtly political, but where you could glean any insight into the leanings of the songwriter (that would be me), "left" is NOT the correct answer. Even though it was a rave review - it really was - it bothered me that they didn't seem to understand what they were liking about it.

BTW, While looking around online for info on this contest, I found a guy's blog where he posted his scene and I thought it was just awful - totally ignoring the scene premise and criteria. I sent it to a couple of friends and they both agreed it was totally off the mark, but he scored an 83. A quick scan of all the scores showed only a handful scored less than 80 with the lowest I found being a 75. Looks like a lot of "Participant" ribbons were handed out.

Even though it didn't pan out for me this time, it was a good and interesting exercise to participate in because it forced me to work on a deadline and to be brutally efficient in going over my writing. The differences between the first and final drafts are stark and showed how ruthless editing can get the same points across in the fewest words. I just wish I'd lucked into a reader who knew what we were supposed to write and not a Gene Siskel-wannabe who reviewed what they wanted to see instead of what was there.


UPDATE: Here is the video we were encouraged to view before writing:

Skip ahead to 4:25 where he says (in case you can't see/hear the video):
"But the main thing is a scene; not a short film; not an entire 120-minute feature condensed down into 4 or 5 pages, OK? Just a scene. That's all we need. Doesn't need a title. Doesn't need any of the character setup or anything like that."
But the reader wrote,
"Would like to know about what the plan was/is up front as well, as we don't get the identity theft info until page 2, and even then it's not clear what it has to do with Jake's CARMINE problem."
Am I wrong in thinking that I got misjudged?


Carlos Faro said...

I made it to round 2 with a score of 93, but now I'm worried. My round 2 entry might be classified as "a movie condensed to a scene." Eep.

Carlos Faro said...

Whoops, I posted too soon. More:

I understand where you're coming from, as it does seem the reader was asking you for what everybody says to avoid: exposition.

Perhaps the reader thought there was a better way to reveal the underlying plot at this moment without resorting to exposition? If the scenes aren't supposed to be condensed movies (I'm really worried about my round 2 entry after hearing that), one must expect enough information to put character's motivations and dialog in context, since the other 105 pages of your script aren't included with your entry.

Just a thought. Thanks for sharing your scene: it was cool to see another entrant's, um, entry. ;)

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