Monday, January 24, 2011

Luck Vs Talent

Are competitions a true reflection of talent, or is luck, not talent, the major factor of success?

This is a very good question and one I've been pondering now for a month or two, trying to decide if I should stop entering competitions and concentrate on submitting my work to producers, etc. I have come to the conclusion that if you lack talent then you're never going to win, after all talent is what screenwriting competitions are looking for, and a good script and writer will eventually rise to the top. However, I do believe that luck plays a far greater role than most people might think and that talent, to a certain extent, takes a back seat in writing competitions, especially in earlier rounds.

What makes a script stand out? I don't need to tell you this again, because most bloggers have discussed this at some point, and to be truthful the answers are pretty much the same. I feel it's basically all down to what the reader likes, or doesn't like. Your script may be the bee's balls, a perfect example of the techniques of writing, but if yours is the twenty-third TV drama featuring a circus clown with a sideline in solving local crimes he has read in a row then he might not look upon your script with too much favour. If yours had been the first on the pile chances are you would have made the cut.

It might also be the case that the reader hates your style of writing, your subject matter or even you in particular, where as everyone else in the known universe loves what you do. The reader may simply have got out of bed on the wrong side that morning and decided he wasn't going to like anything he read that day. As a writer you can narrow down the possibilities of rejection through hard work, research and practice, but you can never account for the luck factor no matter how hard you try. Luck is a bugger I can tell you.

So after much thought I have decided to limit the competitions I enter this year to save myself a great deal of frustration and cash. I don't enter them looking for affirmation either, because I don't need it, nor want it. I write for myself, not what I think people might like.


Lucy V said...


Whilst it's certainly true there is an essence of luck to contests and certain things a writer cannot possibly pin down because they are out of their control, that is not to say contests are a waste of time/shouldn't be entered.

Contests provide deadlines and focus; they provide validation if people make it through rounds, place in the QFs or win; they provide chances and opportunity and prizes and hope.

I will always recommend contests to Bang2writers - and not because I read for several, either. But because of all of the above. If I didn't believe in the contest route as a valid one for Bang2writers, I wouldn't read for them. Simple as.

It's easy to get downhearted by contests; but then it's easy to get downhearted by scriptwriting in general. The odds are against us. But whenever a Bang2writer tells me s/he's never entering a contest again, I remind them of this:

During the "Inspired by Science" award at LSF, there were many names published of writers who got through the various rounds. Much was made at the time of one name - Stephen Volk, creator and showrunner of the supernatural series on a few years ago, AFTERLIFE. Twitter was abuzz; WHAT WAS HE ENTERING FOR???

Because a good writer never looks an opportunity in the eye and walks away.

End of.

Paul McIntyre said...

I'm not sure if I'm convinced by this argument.

If a reader had read twenty three different versions of Inspector Clown - then surely the problem would be apparent - that the writers out there are writing too many scripts based around this idea - and therefore none of those twenty three scripts would progress in the competition.

If, on the other hand, someone had submitted a script about a Time Travelling Horse*, and the reader hadn't seen anything like it before - then he or she would no doubt look on it more favourably.

Suggesting that perhaps the problem isn't with the reader, but rather an over reliance on already saturated, well explored ideas and genres.

I also find it hard to imagine that a reader would overlook a fantastic script due to a bad mood. Would you?

You're bang on right though - I think writing for yourself rather than what you think people might like is the only way to write.

*If anyone wants to read The Adventures of Krono-Horse - then I'm @paul_mcintyre

Janice Okoh said...

Don't you get luckier, the more you put yourself out there?

I think you should continue to apply to competitions but never expect to win. Have the attitude that it's part and parcel of what you have to do as an emerging writer and that you're no worse off if you don't win. I would also chose my competitions more wisely.

You are in the most competitive field of writing - film with the least amount of opportunities for writers in the early stages of their careers.

Dominic Carver said...

I'm not saying people shouldn't enter competitions because of the luck factor, I have just decided to be more selective myself this year. They are great for trying out a script before the world at large gets to see it.

It does give you a buzz to see your name up there, but it can also be deflating when come the next round it isn't.

However, I do strongly feel it can be down to the reader's mood and what they've read before they get to your script. However objective they might try to be, readers are only human so any number of external factors could cause them then to pooh pooh your script in the early stages of a competition. What one reader might find entertaining another might think is shit. I bet if I entered Wonderland into a different competition it would probably do better than it did in the last.

Dominic Carver said...

Yes, to a certain extent you can make your own luck, but that only goes so far.

Lucy V said...

I haven't placed in a contest or initiative in yonks. Think the last one was Academy Pictures - and that was January 2010. That was the first one in about 2 years. I've never so much as placed in the RPP; I've made QFs and Semi Finals of American feature-writing contests, but that last happened in 2007. I went through a phase of doing well in contests, now it seems I couldn't even get arrested by one. Kinda ironic really when I have read for so many, but shows that a certain amount of luck *is* involved.
But does this mean I'm dogged by bad luck and contests *hate* me?? Of course not. Does it mean I am a shitty writer? Noooooooooooo. Just one of those things.

I have become more selective re: contests simply regarding my time. I entered RPP this year because I had something ready to go; I'll enter next year on the same basis. I don't write for the contest calendar anymore like I once might have, to get motivated (nothing wrong with that, btw). I have more on the go re: my own projects, so I do less contests.

So if you're (as in "one") NOT going to enter contests, don't enter because they will be a distraction, I reckon. And if you do enter, don't get hung up when you don't place or win. Just look at it as any other opportunity - and goodness knows there's not enough out there, without discounting some on the phantom of "bad luck".

Unknown said...

Talent will out. Eventually.
If your writing's crap then you stand no chance, but if your writing is as good as you can make it (and we're all still learning, right?) then it may take you ten years to be that over-night success that you dreamed of.
When I say 'you' I mean anyone. Not you specifically, Dom. Phew. Did I get out of that one?
I think you're right in that if your work is the umpteenth variance on a theme that the reader's had to trawl through today then it may stand a good chance of being passed on, and we all have bad days so there's the chance that on that day your work may not get 100% attention. Humans are fallable. Readers are human, aren't they?
I also think it's somewhat of a numbers game as well. You enter one comp and get nowhere - does that mean that it's not bothering with comps because you've had 100% failure rate? The more we write, the better (hopefully) we get and cream does rise.
A thick skin and a thicker head is the trademark of a 'professional' writer, in the fact that they haven't given up and just kept going despite repeated knock-backs.
I say keep going for comps, but choose your targets well. Pick a small number and focus accordingly.
Some of the runners-up in previous BSSC comps have gone on to professional gigs and making names for themselves in the process, so winning isn't always the be all and end all.

Dominic Carver said...

Lucy: 'If you do enter, don't get hung up when you don't place or win.'
And that is where I fail the most. I should really learn not to give a pooh pooh.

Me: The day I stop learning is the day I die.

Janice Okoh said...

I was really angry two years ago over a theatre competition I didn't win but got really close. I was angry because really wanted it cos I thought it would be the launch to my career. So I had planned my future around it (big mistake never since repeated) Anyway, I eventually went to see the plays of some of the winners and they were amazing. Way better than my work. I saw that they deserved to win and be on that stage and didn't feel bad at all. I felt really privileged that I got that close.

I think the best writers do win competitions and the key to winning one is to find out who they are, study their work and see if you are matching them in quality of originality or style. And be truly objective in this exercise.

Have you taken up that offer of reading the horse script to see if yours matches it in any way? I hope so.

Paul McIntyre said...

I agree with Janice (said in a David Cameron voice) - that's a good way of assessing where your script and your style ranks along something the readers (cos for most competitions, there will be more than one) consider to be better than the rest.

Personally, I've read the winning RP script - and it is excellent - a deserved winner - I burst out laughing at the sheer audacity of the opening scene - I knew that was a good sign.

Just for the record, the Time Travelling Horse script was just a joke to illustrate the point - well - kind of, there is a Time Travelling Horse in one of my scripts - but it's not a script about him. Nay, he is just a minor player in a bigger conspiracy...

Janice Okoh said...

I would love to read that script, paul. is it only available for you RP lot? Such a shame!

Intrigued by travelling horse script!

Rosie Jones said...

Which is exactly why I decided to create the Prequel to Cannes film script competitions. For many writers there is little indication as to whether their script hits the mark; whether in professional presentation, seeing a story through, creating fully rounded characters that actually sound convincing when they speak as well as attempting to write fresh engaging stories. Feedback is a lifeblood for writers, which is why with the PTC script comp there is a diverse range of judges and actually the script reader has no voting power, other than in the event of a tie, when presentation and overall scores on the feedback sheet, might determine an outcome. The scoring matrix reflects the scripts, which in the judges opinion works best not only on the page, but shows potential for the screen. Every single judge has either seen their work hit the screen or publication and understand and know how stories work. For many writers winning actual cash can buy them extra time to write, attend further training or buy them an inspirational holiday or just stacks of booze.... It isn't necessarily about validation, I like to think it is more about direction and acknowledging that the writer demonstrates promise. There is still the old chestnut of networking and putting yourself about - in a good way of course... The 2009 winner of the PTC short film script is about to go into production with a full crew and well known cast.... but each to his own... you have to be in it to win it, as you know Dom... £60 investment for feature - £500 winnings... not a bad return on something you would have written anyway... Congratulations again.

Rosie Jones said...

Oh... I didn't see my response or comment in the feed.
Strange... edited out?

Dominic Carver said...

No, not edited, I just have to moderate comments because of the huge amount of spam I get and I don't get around to it every day ;-)