I had two different scripts submitted in the Austin Film Festival screenplay competition. One of them moved on to the second round in the drama category, and the other one didn’t place in a meaningful way. I mean, I haven’t officially gotten the Notification of Regret about it yet, but the shortlist was posted last night and it wasn’t on it, so I’m assuming that means I can expect an email that begins with the word “Unfortunately”.

The script that advanced was the script that I wrote for a USC grad student’s thesis project. I’m pleased that it placed well, but don’t really feel like I can take much credit for it since I was working off someone else’s concept and characters. It was a genre piece: nominally “steampunk” but with elements of dystopian sci fi. I leaned towards the kind of rollicking, pulp adventure of an Indiana Jones movie: heavy on the exciting set pieces, without going too deep into subtlety or subtext.

The other script was fully my own original: a coming-of-age comedy that came together in a way that I was proud of. It felt stronger than any of my other work and I expected it to do well, even if I didn’t think it was likely to win outright.

It didn’t place meaningfully in the Nicholls Fellowship Competition earlier this year and I was a bit stung: it was better than the previous script is submitted and that one had placed pretty well, why hadn’t this one? I got the reader notes a month or so later and they had a few useful pointers, but neither one seemed to have had any strong objection to it. So I couldn’t blame the readers: it’s not like one person had hated it for some reason. It’s not like the notes were politely trying to couch disdain in complimentary language.

I thought maybe it just hadn’t been the right kind of story for a Nicholls audience: too weird and lighthearted maybe. Not enough wrenching angst. I had hopes that it would do better in AFF, and felt hopeful after hearing that the other script was a second-rounder. If a swashbuckling genre adventure could place well, surely an ensemble comedy would be well received.


… Right?

I’m baffled, frankly. Is my judgement of my own work really that inaccurate? The people who beta read the script for me had nice things to say, so I’d been reassured in my assessment at the time. It’s not that I think it was such a phenomenal work of staggering genius that to be overlooked was an insult that requires pistols at dawn, but I didn’t think it was that bad either. And by that bad I mean: of too poor of quality to rank in the top twenty percent. I mean, for all I know it could be ranked exactly at twenty one percent- or it could be the script everyone secretly holds up as the example of Things Not To Do. How on earth did I go wrong? What’s more: how did I not know that the work wasn’t going to measure up? I try to be pretty realistic about my weaknesses, and I genuinely thought this was a great little script. I still do. I’m still proud of it, but it’s easy for this kind of thing to get under my skin. Am I just fooling myself? What other things have I been fooling myself about? Who am I to say my work is good if other people aren’t agreeing with me?

It’s a slippery and subjective slope. I’m trying not to think about it too much: it’s only two contests, after all. In this competition alone it was up against 11,000 other scripts so there was a lot of competition. But still… The other script did well, why not this in one?

At any rate, I guess I need to take myself down a peg and give my work a good long look to see where I can improve.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on September 17, 2019.

One Response to “(Mis)Placing”

  1. An Indiana Jones sort of adventure, with silly bits as well as action and logical thinking, but with a steampunk flavor…sounds good. Sounds a bit like the anime Steamboy.

    I think, like you said, the audience wasn’t right for the piece you felt was your best. They were looking for something to fit a certain parameter of interest, and that wasn’t it…but it was decent work, so they didn’t piss on it…they just kinda kindly brushed it aside. I suspect you didn’t have a clear view of the bullseye this time to adequately fire an arrow into the winner circle.

    I don’t know how you can write so much creatively in different projects and submit as much. It sounds a bit taxing to my creativity.

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