I caught up with Jenny from the Finish Line Script Competition to talk about the exponential growth of this new competition and just what it is that sets this competition apart from your standard script competition. In Jenny’s own words…
We are a film and tv script competition that allows writers to submit their material and then purchase notes (6+ pages) and rewrite their scripts. They can then resubmit new drafts for FREE so they are able to take advantage of notes instead of getting them after the competition is over as is often the case. Winners meet over 30 mentors throughout the film and TV industry from producers, agents, managers, directors, studio and network execs and more - including other high-level writers who can mentor them. Some are still mentoring our past winners so it may not just be a meeting you get from this!
This concept makes so much sense. Why hasn’t anyone done it before?
I'm not sure! I think it may have to do with two things - one is financial since we accept as many drafts as the writer wants to rewrite for free and the second is that we come from a place of really wanting to help writers through their process, not just after they've won. A lot of competitions may not think that way, but from our background in literary management, we do!
You’ve gathered an amazing group of mentors together to work with writers to make their work better, how have you convinced all of these people to come on board?
Thank you, we're really proud of the people who support this competition from within the industry. We have rarely had anyone say no and if they do it's because their company doesn't allow participation in contests.
We know lots of people from 25+ years in the industry throughout the US and UK/Europe, Australia, and creative people love this concept. They want to be a part of something that actually focuses on improving writing and not just taking a submission fee. Development will be a process for all writers at some point, so starting with us is a good way to get your feet wet!
Also, the competition is international and some of our mentors are geared for those in other countries. Our winners have met with/spoken on the phone to all they can because who knows, as long as a script is written in English we can sell it in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia! We are open to anyone and we can help people around the country! Our first year our winners were British, Indian and Australian. We do not discriminate. It's about the script!
How have you spread the word about the competition? Are there particular marketing techniques you’ve used to connect with the filmmaking community?
It's always the biggest challenge when a competition is fairly new like ours (we're just starting our 3rd year) and marketing is expensive! We use social media and sites that encourage community amongst writers like Stage 32 and Network ISA to market the comp as well as through Film Freeway, who sponsors the submissions. We are starting to gain recognition and more co-sponsorships will be announced soon. As well, people like you guys see some interest in the competition and agree to do a piece on us, so thank you!
The best way, of course, is through word of mouth, which I think is building. These things take time but we think we have a lot to offer!
Part of the prize packet involves coupons for Writer’s Digest and Stage 32. Is it important to you to connect with other organizations that are supporting writers?
It is because we want writers to be able to use the winnings to indulge their writing habits and reach out further to other writers or companies who might be helpful. We are really not selfish when it has to do with spreading the wealth and though we see other competitions as our competition (no pun intended) I also think it's all about spreading the wealth within the writing/entertainment industry.
Often it's these prizes that I can tell the writers get most excited about. Computer programs, books, and memberships here or there can be expensive!
Who started FLSC and what is their background?
We started FLSC after leaving the world of literary management. I had been in for over 20 years and was burnt out on the day to day of the industry but wanted to continue to work with writers and help them, which I felt was my strong suit. I started script consulting and reading for some other competitions and then decided that there was a hole in the competition world so created FLSC. It's a dream come true. Love every minute of it.
When you’re looking for the winning script what do you particularly keep an eye out for?
Voice. A script that we don't forget after having read a few thousand. We are aware of the need for commercial viability but mainly we want to find something magical - regardless of the genre. If we laughed the hardest or were the most scared ever, cried hard, gave thought to a situation we weren't aware of in the world, etc.. If it just stays with us it has a good chance of climbing up the ranks and then ultimately it's scored by readers and judged by industry pros.
The competition is just two years old but it feels very well established and had a huge number of entrants in its second year, how have you built such a solid platform?
We did grow last year but I still believe we have a ways to go. I would love to have this year really solidify us as a go-to competition for writers. We offer everything others do and more for less the price - we just don't have as big of a marketing budget! And the reason for the growth is, I think, the notes! We give amazingly helpful notes to those who choose to receive them and it's hard to find those at a good price. Also, we're nice people and we give a personal touch, which I don't want to lose.
The Finish Line Script Competition is already big. Do you think it’s going to continue to get bigger?
I want it to get bigger because I think we have a lot to offer and we are passionate about helping writers improve. If you want to then take the improved draft and enter it elsewhere, that's fine. We want people to succeed! When you get notes, by the way, you are automatically entered in the competition so it's less expensive and automatically puts you in the running. You can use us for notes but you might also win!
If there was one thing you could say to a writer who is considering whether or not to enter, what would it be?
Give us a chance. You will not be disappointed with your experience. We offer a huge number of opportunities within the industry and we want writers to become better writers, which is challenging and helps if you have a partner along the way. It's a job that one has to commit to and we are committed on our end. I would ask them to try the newcomer just by looking at the website and seeing what we offer! Also, previous entrants are our best publicity, which is great!
You guarantee that you can put the winner’s script in the hands of any film executive they choose. Anyone!? How are you able to guarantee that?
At first, we were nervous about guaranteeing this but we realized how everyone involved has their finger in so many pies within the industry in various places, not just in the US but abroad and throughout TV and film and financing - we have not failed yet! We have gotten every winner's (including 1st & 2nd runners-up) material to that person they wanted. We're out of it after that - we cannot make someone want to produce it or direct it or act in it but we will give them the opportunity to decide for themselves! And we're proud to do it.
I know you’re only two years in but do you have any success stories from shortlisted writers?
We have a few - Our winner last year, R.B. Ripley wrote a great TV drama pilot called SUGAR LAND and it's being produced by two producers from our mentor's list. It's out to major TV actresses right now and is being packaged by CAA.
In our first year, our 1st runner-up, Adite Banerjie used the draft she rewrote with us to enter the Nicholl Fellowships and became a semi-finalist. Our 2nd runner-up, Maziar Lahooti, got both US and Australian representation from the script he reworked with us.
Also, a semi-finalist from our first year, Jared Egol, got a top manager from the competition after they read his entered script and another semi-finalist from last year is negotiating with a Canadian company to produce and finance his script (name withheld until contracts are signed!).
There may be more that are directly or indirectly related to us, I don't know, but we're pleased so far. The response from industry has been strong.
Is everyone involved in the Finish Line Script Competition a writer? Do you ever wish you were writing instead of reading other people’s work?
All of our readers are writers and good ones too. The kind of notes we give are not skimming the surface; they're honest but fair and encouraging and their extensive. As long as it takes to get the notes out but a minimum of 6 pages. As for us, we love to help this way and write critically not for film or TV. It's probably much like a writer feels when they've nailed it - when we know we're helping a writer improve we're on the same high and watching the drafts improve over time is really satisfying.