London Screenwriters' Festival

The LSWF Short Script Challenge: A Look In the Spec Pile

Posted on: October 22nd, 2010 by Lucy V Hay 4 Comments

So, the winners LSWF Short Script Challenge have been decided and announced  on last night’s Production Office Live! I thought I’d take a look at the process  and what it entailed, sifting through your entries – all ONE HUNDRED AND  FIFTEEN of them, which was waaaaaay more than we expected. Competitions  with specific briefs like ours are often lucky to break the forties in my experience,  so this was a real triumph. Many thanks to EVERYONE who entered, you rock.  And thanks also to my brilliant crack team of readers in the Literary  Department.

So, as a general overview first: I think the standard was REALLY high on this contest. I know everyone says that, so let me put it this way – there were so many entries rated “excellent”, we had to do a second read on 25 of them, something I had not initially planned for and had to implement due to the high quality, just so we could properly differentiate. That lucky 25 ended up getting some brief feedback on their entries. I am of course sorry we couldn’t provide feedback on EVERY entry but unfortunately there just was not the time with such a short turnaround on the reads. I did feel it really important EVERYONE should hear the outcome of the contest tho, rather than be met by radio silence – so all other entrants should have got an email by now from me thanking them for their entry. (FYI, if you haven’t heard anything from LSWF about your short script entry, email me on Bang2writeATaolDOTcom with your name and title of script in the subject line and I’ll be sure to answer you as soon as possible.)

So, looking to the entries:

General. Scripts for the most part looked professional, well laid out and there was a surprising lack of “black on the page”, though a few still crept in that were not in Courier 12 pt font/industry standard. No one was disqualified for this, however. Bad spelling/grammar and obvious typos were at a minimum, which was great to see. Weirdly, an extraordinary amount of scripts stated FADE IN and then started “From darkness…”! This seems to becoming so frequent at the moment as to feel a bit of an “oldie” in terms of kicking a script off, which is perhaps worth a thought? Again, no one was penalised for this however. Moving on, unfortunately a LOT of scripts did not have title pages and/or the writer’s email address on the front! OI, WRITERS: NO! Unless a site or brief specifically says NOT to, always, always include a title page – and always put a valid email address on the front.

The brief. Some entries did not address the brief and were not set in Regent’s College, had children or animals in, or massive casts of extras. Some included scenes that would be very difficult to film on a low budget – ie. driving in a car, on location in the street, or inside real shops. Again, no one was disqualified for any of this, but it was taken in account when considering the “feasibility” of being able to achieve it when filming.

Genre. Comedy was a biggie in this competition – and much of it was very, very funny! Many satirized life, what it is to be a man, woman or human being – or a big favourite – scriptwriting/filmmaking in general. Drama probably came second and there was a small range of horrors, but not as many as I expected given the fact LSWF is screening the finished film on Halloween! Of the horrors that came through, the supernatural was a firm favourite, with zombies, ghosts, ouija boards and voodoo all getting a look-in.

Influences. As mentioned, fantasy and science fiction cropped up, but of all the films that had a big influence on the scripts in this call, Stuart Hazeldine’s EXAM was the most obvious: there were many scripts dealing with competitions, job interviews, tests, psychological observations and experiments. Strangely, the old firm fave of the police interrogation room took a back seat this time.

Theme. Predictably (given the brief) university life and friendship/dating was a firm favourite, though this was swiftly followed by murder and mayhem! You really are a bloodthirsty lot. And obsessed with sex, too it seems, for there was an unprecedented amount of (consensual) schenanigans in these entries, more than I’ve ever seen before in ONE script call so thanks for cheering this perverted reader up!

Characters. Inevitably because of the brief again, most characters were students, writers or lecturers (or a hybrid of at least two of these), but the characters themselves varied wildly! Cyber terrorists, hyperchondriacs, gun-toting bridesmaids, insane caretakers, time travellers, poisoners, public school boys, bombers, mad scientists, maniac interviewers AND interviewees, troubled threesomes, abusers and even (real) famous people cropped up in the mix.

Dialogue. Dialogue was probably the biggest surprise of all, however: I would venture approximately 80% of the scripts in the LSWF short comp pile had “good to excellent” dialogue, again more than I have ever seen in one script call. An extraordinary amount of dialogue too was either poetic or ACTUAL poetry, including sonnets, Haiku and even dirty limericks and it was fabulous to see writers taking risks like this. Keep it up!

Plotting/Structure. Inevitably however, the good dialogue did come at the cost of some of the entries’ plotting – some had unidentifiable central concepts /premises driving them forward; some set ups were far too long or unnecessary; others had too many scenes that could easily have been cut in half; some endings seemed muddled, disjointed or unclear.

Summing up, it was a pleasure reading for the LSWF Short Script Challenge. I know people always say the “standard was high” etc etc but then I’m not known for going on about scripts I DON’T like. So congratulations to ALL of you, keep up the good work and keep on developing those scripts.

4 Responses

  1. Carla says:

    Thanks for the detailed feedback – it’s really good to know where exactly the strong and weak points are in general.

  2. Lucy says:

    You’re welcome Carla – as great as great dialogue is, it can’t carry a story, but very often this is the aspect writers invest MOST in. Structure is no miracle cure, but is often underestimated.

  3. Ed Sills says:

    Thanks also for the feedback.Structure is what struggled with, I think it could have been much tighter on my script but the whole experience was really useful to me as a writer.

  4. Lucy says:

    Really glad to hear it, Ed. Shameless plug now but do you know about “The Required Reading List”? It’s a free e-library I’ve composed of all the most useful writing articles I’ve found on the web – and it has a “structure” section. You can find it here: http://www.tinyurl.com/reqdreading

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