By Jacob Wehrman | Feature Screenplay Contest Top 5 Winner.
When I entered the Shore Scripts feature competition a few years ago, I had spent a considerable amount of time and money educating myself about the craft of screenwriting. I bought the typical books. I watched the Masterclasses. I signed up for all the websites and read as many scripts as I could stand. I wrote one feature. Then another, and a third.
At the time I had a grasp of the mechanics of writing, but my aspirations were scattered. I wanted to find a literary manager. I wanted a script to be optioned. I wanted to be a professional writer. However, as we all find out sooner or later, that’s the business end of screenwriting— the part we can’t control.
“As new writers we can only control the creative side by developing our best ideas into a plot with characters, and then executing that as clearly as possible on the page.”
But once the work is done, the question still remains: Where to send it?
With that in mind I think the majority of new screenwriters, myself included, are more interested in making connections in the industry rather than bringing home awards, accolades, or cash.
This was my strategy when I found the Shore Scripts website in 2019. My goal at the time was to make one or two new contacts in the industry by putting my best writing forward and entering a few select contests and reader services.
“I researched previous Shore winners and was impressed by the industry roster of producers, directors, agents, and literary managers. These folks want to read the next hit, and they were the exact people I wanted to read my screenplay.”
So, I entered my thriller feature, Bad Water.
Soon, I got exciting emails from the Shore team: My script made the next cut! I would enjoy a moment of bliss, but then buckle down to read my draft again. I’d fix typos, fine-tune dialog, and submit a new draft before the next round of judging.
I was determined to have my characters and story leap off the page. At the end of the year, I placed as a Top 5 winner. I was elated, and the endorphin kick lasted for a week.
Within hours of receiving notification, Shore Scripts put me directly in touch with a well-known and highly accomplished director on their industry roster.
As a part of the judging panel, the director read my script and had wonderful things to say about my characters, concept, and pacing. After a few days of emailing we decided to put the project under a shopping agreement. We were both motivated to get the script set up for production.
However, as time progressed into 2020, it became clear that the script wasn’t going to be made in the immediate future. The pandemic began without an end in sight, projects were postponed or canceled, and the world felt a lot scarier.
Along with the typical whims of feature development, this disruption to the industry forced me— and all of us, in so many ways — to develop a thick skin, which is a necessity for any writer. Bad Water remains a spec, but the entire process was a good learning experience.
Meanwhile, I had another spec circulating at the time. The right opportunity and timing aligned so that I was able to have some early success in features. A contained action/thriller spec I wrote, Crawlspace, was optioned and produced in 2021.
Although the financiers and director loved the script, it needed to go through development rewrites. My experience turning around drafts quickly— those skills I honed during the Shore Scripts competition— prepared me to write on a professional level to address those notes and get that script in shape for production.
Screenwriting is a tough grind, so my strategy and advice for new writers remain the same: Control what you can, submit material through trusted organizations, and focus on making a few contacts each year to build a community that supports your work.
Jacob Wehrman is a produced screenwriter who lives in Oregon in a house by the woods. His thriller spec Crawlspace was produced by Wonder Street Entertainment in 2021 and is set for release by Paramount/ ViacomCBS this year.
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