I had the pleasure of meeting Gordy Hoffman, founder of the BlueCat Screenplay Competition, last year in Austin. I had ventured into the heart of Texas for the Austin Film Festival, and discovered that Gordy was going to be leading a script workshop in town while I was there. I signed up unsure what to expect. What I discovered was the immense wisdom of Mr. Hoffman.
Gordy has a few credits of his own under his belt, and he’s exceptionally talented at sharing his insights with aspiring writers. The people in my workshop had scripts ranging from pretty good to just terrible, and Gordy did a great job of encouraging every writer to keep pushing forward with advice and tough love appropriate to each person’s current level. As the head judge of BlueCat, one of the most respected competitions in the industry, Gordy takes care to discover and cultivate the best and brightest young writers in the industry.
Gordy and I recently discussed screenwriting competitions, finding a golden script idea, and what it takes to write a truly great script.
LA Screenwriter (LA): Contests are one of the most direct ways for an aspiring screenwriter to get noticed, but there’s no shortage of contests trying to get at novice screenwriters’ money. What should a writer look for in a screenwriting contest?
Gordy Hoffman (GH): As a writer, these are questions I would ask myself, that I’m not sure most writers think about.
Who is hiring the readers? Who are the judges? Who runs the contest? How are they qualified to adjudicate the contest? Do I know for certainty that they read my entire screenplay? What is the track record of success for the writers they recognize? How do they talk about other competitions? How do they support writers outside of running the contest?
LA: Aside from BlueCat, which contests do you think are worth the entry fee?
GH: Nicholl’s, Sundance, Austin. Any local and regional contest. I know there are more, but I can vouch for these as being worth entering.
LA: I’ve always wondered, when it comes down to the end of a contest and you’ve got ten great scripts in front of you, how do you rank them? Obviously there is subjectivity involved, but in your mind, what gives a script that extra edge that sets it above the competition?
GH: Trust me, when it comes down to the end, you can always pick the winner out of the top five. Basically the winner is so well written, original, emotionally compelling, imaginative, and polished, it sets itself apart. It takes a whole lot of work to win a screenplay competition.
LA: I think the biggest mistake that up and coming writers make is choosing to write the wrong idea, or failing to fully develop an idea before they start writing. What advice can you offer on choosing the right idea?
GH: Run the idea by people in 15-20 seconds. If everyone responds really well, then maybe move forward. But if reactions are mixed, get another. Life is too short.
LA: What’s your take on reading the trade magazines? I’ve been told to avoid them like the plague by some people and to read them religiously by others. Do you think it’s helpful or harmful for aspiring writers to stay on top of what’s selling in Hollywood?
GH: You need to know what’s going on, what is selling, what’s happening with movies being set up, etc. If you can’t handle other people having good things happening to them, you’re gonna have a problem anyways, even if you never read a thing. So stay informed with what’s going on in the marketplace.
LA: If you were struggling to break into the world of professional screenwriting today, what would your strategy be?
GH: Work on my screenplay until everyone around me thinks its amazing. The secret to breaking in is writing the script that impresses every one. It can be done!
LA: When you teach screenwriting, what books do you have your students read?
GH: I don’t. I suggest they read other scripts when they are starting out, watch movies they love. But writing themselves is the best form of education.
LA: What scripts should every screenwriter read? What are your favorites?
GH: I don’t read a lot of produced scripts. Read your friend’s scripts, so they will read yours. You can learn from reading anything. Somehow, by reading a lot of amateur screenplays, and writing for a long time, I learned a lot. Read someone’s screenplay for them and learn how to give notes. It will make you a better writer!