One of the hardest parts of being a writer is sending your work out into the world. When you’re ideating, outlining, crafting, writing and revising, you’re in control. You might get lost in Act II, you might doubt your abilities, you might slam your computer screen closed or throw out your notes… but you’re in control. The only one who can finish or abandon that project is you. The pursuit can be lonely—even if you have a writing partner—but it’s yours. And there’s comfort in that: you control the outcome.
When you take the plunge and submit your script to a screenplay competition or a notes service or a manager or a producer or even your friendly neighborhood florist, you give up that control. The script is literally out of your hands. And in the case of a screenplay competition, you don’t even know specifically whose hands you are putting your script into. It’s an act of trust and a leap of faith. We understand this, and thought it might be of interest if we provided a window into the anatomy of a ScreenCraft competition.
Internally, we have an unofficial motto we drill into our readers. We don’t have it hanging in a frame in the office, but it’s there all the same, in spades. I’m talking about the 3 Ps: Passionate, Paranoid, Purposeful. We’re passionate about discovering great writers and projects. We’re paranoid about missing an amazing voice and talent. And we’re purposeful about our process and intentions. I suppose the 3 Ps became our unofficial motto because those three things were what I consistently felt as a studio, agency, production company and screenwriting labs reader before starting ScreenCraft, and because I have recognized those three qualities in all of the best readers I’ve worked with and hired.
ScreenCraft is very much in the habit of empowering our readers and making them feel connected to and responsible for launching screenwriting careers. We want our readers passionate. We want them emotionally invested. I want them to call me up at all hours of the day and night to tell me that they’re thirty pages into a script and they think it’s the winner. And they do. And I want to be able to call them up and say the same thing. And I do. We’re connected in the pursuit. We’re miners, we’re scouts, we’re treasure hunters. Judging screenplays is first and foremost a human process and an emotional endeavor. It’s not about data analysis, it’s not about trends and shortcuts, and it’s not about automation. Anyone who thinks otherwise shouldn’t be entrusted with analyzing screenplays or running a screenwriting competition. Our process is wholly about hand-selecting our readers and empowering them to get emotionally invested and do their best work.
Here’s how we do that:
In the early levels of the competition, it’s important for us to recognize and isolate the most promising scripts as thoroughly and efficiently as possible. We focus on having multiple reads from multiple readers and add additional reads at each round to ensure we’re fully assessing every project and limiting subjectivity. But even more important is who is reading. ScreenCraft readers must have at least one year of relevant industry experience, though the reality is that they always have more. Readers aren’t interchangeable; they aren’t just numbers we hire and rotate in and out to fill quotas; we meet all of our readers personally, and vet them intensively. Ideally, they still read in the industry so that their finger is on the pulse of what’s selling and gaining traction in the current market. But they also need to have at least one year of experience crafting feedback specifically for writers. It’s important that our readers be able to not just analyze the story, but also craft constructive feedback that can help writers improve.
Once the multiple reads have narrowed a ScreenCraft contest down to the top 5% or so (usually around 50 scripts), the evaluation process evolves from being mostly about great readers providing many scores and becomes even more of a conversation. I sit down with my most trusted readers—and the readers who I believe know the genre or format the most intimately—and discuss which projects are the strongest and which voices are the most distinctive. This is usually the longest part of the process because it is such a deep dive and a back-and-forth. We question, we agonize, we challenge and we obsess until we feel confident and excited about the final slate.
From there, when we have narrowed the competition down to 5-7 scripts, those are sent to the industry jury for the final rankings. Every ScreenCraft contest has 3-5 jurors who are usually creative execs, literary managers, or writers in the industry. These jurors read at this level not just to help us determine the winners, but also so that the top ScreenCraft writers are getting exposure to these industry players. Once the judges have turned in their notes and rankings, we look for a strong consensus. We balance that consensus with our internal notes and select our winner, runner-up and finalists.
Notifying the winners and announcing the results publicly is the fun part, the culmination of months of intense analytical back-and-forth. And now the real work begins: championing the writers to the industry. That work is never done, but the endeavor is always worth it.