Monday, April 25, 2005

What’s this contest really about anyway?

Okay, it’s over. Done. Stick a fork in my already bleeding eyeballs and grey matter. I’ve received 59 loglines from such out of the way places as Mansfield, MA, Tollesboro, KY, and Toronto, CA. I’ve received loglines for dramas, thrillers, supernatural thrillers, sci-fi, action, comedy-dramas (or dramedys if you prefer), and of course my favorite, horror. I had to use two bottles of Visine and a load of Advil to get through all the insanity.

Okay then, class is in session.

Before we get started, I’ve got to say this for the record: Something I’ve always suspected became evident. There are some fecked up folks in the heartland. I’m from the South, but geez – some of you guys are sick! I’m envious.

Okay, back to the question of what this contest was really about -- beyond giving an unknown the chance to show someone how sick (read creative) they can get with just 30 words in their arsenal. This whole stunt was designed to judge two other criteria the D2DVD business requires you to have:

The ability to market yourself and your work.

But Bill, you didn’t tell us you were going to do that!

Kids, this is the entertainment industry. Show business. You are always being judged on your creativity, marketing skills and professionalism. Whenever you pitch anything – it’s a potential job interview. You can’t go at it half-assed because…


This is especially true in the D2DVD end of the business, where I have, at all times, five people lined up to take a job away from you for less money. Sure writing D2DVD flicks is fun. Going to restaurants and seeing people up close you only see on your TV screen is fun. But it isn’t what the “business” is about. It’s about a job, a career, doing what you love to do and getting paid for it. It’s about money and building your work (and you) into a brand. It’s about the work and how it speaks volumes about who you are and what you can do.

So what did this contest tell me about you guys? Quite a lot actually…


1. Based on the loglines you submitted, it seems that a lot of you don’t know how to structure a good logline. A logline needs to be clear, concise, and show conflict. Many of you gave me two elements of the equation but petered out on the third.

If it helps any, I didn’t know how to structure a good logline either, but I did know to ask around and get feedback. Again, based on the work submitted, you didn’t test your loglines on people to get feedback. You typed them out – didn’t spell check them – and sent them to me. I always test my loglines – always. There’s a lot of books out there with great loglines in them – find them. Read them. Learn from them.

Also, many of you didn’t know exactly what it was you were pitching. You gave me loglines that indicated horror, but when I looked at the genre it said “comedy.” Lucky for you, I ignored the genre for the most part, and concentrated on simply what the logline told me. Then I took another Advil and a shot or two of Visine.

A logline is a sales tool. It’s a big ad for the excitement to come – just like a trailer. Treat it as such. So the next time you craft a logline ask yourself, “What is it that I’m selling here?” and act accordingly. Try writing one page of the story, and then whittle that down to one paragraph, then one sentence – all the while selling the story.

Some of you don’t even know what your story is yet. You gave me theme and vague emotional flowery poetry that said nothing of what the story was. You were an immediate “PASS.”

Remember this:

A story is when something happens to someone or they do something that creates a problem (or problems) for them to solve.

That’s all. Every story you’ve ever heard is based on that simple premise.

Bill, but what about…?

Every story. Period. No buts…

The people who made it to the “Consider” file were the ones who at least gave me two of the elements (most often clear and concise) and had a hook in the concept that, if not original, was unique and had the better chance to be made as a D2DVD movie. They sold me on looking deeper into the concept. Job done.

Lesson one: A poor logline is like picking up your date in a muddy truck – it just isn’t done, not even in Kentucky. Clean up your loglines and test drive them with someone else in the passenger seat. Keep doing it until you have a smooth ride.

2. Another aspect of marketing many of you didn’t know about was to whom you were pitching. So I have to ask – did any of you do any research on me? Did you try to find out anything about me so you could tailor your logline accordingly? Did you read my blog, and go to my links? By the results, I’d have to say -”No.”

If you had googled me, or simply my email address, you would have learned the following:

a. Which message boards I’ve been talking on for the past couple of years.
b. Where I went to high school. (Including several embarrassing pictures)
c. My thoughts about D2DVD production and writing in general.
d. A logline I tested for a script I’m shopping now.
e. My IMDB listing.

You could have learned a lot about me with just one word – cinexploits - and positioned your logline accordingly.

My business partner and I recently set up a meeting with the head of one of the studios’ home entertainment divisions. I wasn’t taking the meeting, my partner was, but that didn’t mean I didn’t do my homework. This studio has released quite a few D2DVD releases and financed a few as well, and too much was riding on this for us to leave anything to chance. So I googled this exec and put together a little list of things that would helps us position our pitches:

How long had he been doing his job?
Who was his boss?
What had he greenlit before?

Armed with that information, my partner went in to pitch projects that we had already developed that were to his taste (and more importantly his buying history), and the results are encouraging. The executive has hooked us into several other elements we need to get the picture off the ground. We lit his enthusiasm for the project, and he has taken his enthusiasm and passed it along.

All based on the material, and thirty minutes of web time. Something you can do from anywhere. The winners and honorable mentions in this contest gave me loglines that I responded to, and was able to see as a D2DVD movie.

Lesson two: Always know who you’re pitching – who are they? What have they written or produced before? What are their tastes? Do I know anyone who knows this person and what do they have to say? Follow the adage from advertising: Never sell wine to a beer drinker or vice versa.


Sixty-two percent (62%) of you were disqualified from this contest because you simply couldn’t be bothered to read the rules. Or you thought you were too good to follow the rules, and that your talent (such as it was) would make me swoon for your work. Let me remind you:


I had people who sent their work in early; told me about themselves (I don’t care); told me that the script had already placed in other contests (I don’t care!), and sent in multiple loglines on the same email (AGAIN, I DON’T CARE!). They were immediately disqualified from the contest.

You thought that you were going to sneak your way into Hollywood. You didn’t follow the rules. You didn’t even read them.

You didn’t act professionally.

But that’s okay too – because that’s part of what contests are for – to make mistakes and to learn. Done.

The way to get someone on your side in Hollywood is to give them what they ask for so that they can do their job. That simple methodology will set you far above your peers because so many people here clog the system with unnecessary material. It’s all about the work and presenting the work in the manner in which it’s requested. Let the work speak for itself.

By following directions, you also save two things that are near and dear to this pulp screenwriter/producer’s heart – time and money. If you are asked to do something in a certain way, and you agree to it, then it speaks well of you to deliver on time and ready to go. Snags and whatnot don’t help, make you look bad, and frustrate the production by wasting time (which equals money). Keep your side of the street clean.

Look at it this way: If I can’t trust you to do something simple like send me an email formatted in the way I need it, then how am I going to trust you with my production’s money? If you don’t deliver on time or we have to reformat everything to make it work – then I won’t choose you. I’ll choose the next person in line that wants the opportunity to work and get credit for it. I will choose the person who will deliver what I ask for, when I ask for it.

Lesson Three: Other people are depending on you to do your job in a quick and efficient manner so that they can do theirs. They are professionals – you have to be too.


Okay, Bill, but who won?

Class dismissed until tonight. I have writing to do...


Curt said...

Hey Bill--I want to second everything you said, with some personal experience from a related field. After I finished my first novel, I wrote a decent, professional query letter, did some research, and sent it out to several agents at a time. And by agents, I mean New York agents with AAR membership and good track records in my novel's genre. *Every* batch resulted in at least one agent soliciting a sample with outline. Of those, most went on to solicit the entire manuscript. Everyone gave me clear, specific, and helpful reasons why they weren't accepting the manuscript for representation. I even sent a sample with outline "over the transom" at one publisher, and they solicited the rest of the manuscript for consideration. This will sound stupid, I know, but by that time I myself had come to see so many weaknesses in that first novel that I decided I didn't want to go forward with it any further. Bottom line--I didn't find that the element of chance played anything like the huge role that most people say it does. Top agents consistently responded positively to a promising query letter (even from someone with no writing credits whatsoever!), and just as consistently declined a manuscript that really wasn't ready for publication. There was nothing arbitrary or whimsical in the rejections, and all of them were clearly stated in ways that helped me improve. That's a system working as it should, IMO, and so I go into it this time with high expectations that my overall improvements will yield better results. It's truly amazing how far your foot gets in the door when you simply meet the MINIMUM standards of professionalism.

Aric Blue said...

Your comments and advice are very accurate, but let's be clear:

"2. Another aspect of marketing many of you didn’t know about was to whom you were pitching. So I have to ask – did any of you do any research on me? Did you try to find out anything about me so you could tailor your logline accordingly? Did you read my blog, and go to my links? By the results, I’d have to say -”No.”

We weren't told to pitch you loglines. It was a contest("The First Annual DISC/ontent Logline Contest"). When you enter a contest you enter your best material. Period. You don't take try to google the judges to find out what they may or may not like.

So while your pitching advice is good, it's not exactly applicable here.

Bill Cunningham said...

Curt - thanks for the perspective from a different industry. You got the point of my post dead on.

Aric - what a judge brings or doesn't bring to the judging table will ALWAYS affect the outcome. Bias is always present in a judgment call. It's your call as well whether or not you want to dig deeper and heighten your chances of success. If you had seen some of the loglines submitted, then I think you would agree with me, but that's water under the bridge.

Anonymous said...

will this guy just get on with it and post the friggin winners already? We're waiting here like patience on a friggin statue- we all like to visit your site but this is getting crazy- i've been on it four times already looking for the winners- brutal

Gary P said...

If the object of this whole endevour was to highlight the importance of staying professional, I wouldn't like to see how you would do if you had to wait for a prodco to read your SP or to actually greenlight a movie.
You should treat this as if you were submitting any other query or entering a competition. Mail it and move on. Start your next script.
Bill has a life outside this blog (look at his profile) and he'll get to this.
If not, I'm sure he will return your entry fee ;)

Aric Blue said...

I believe he's also doing it to show you how to heighten suspense, which is also a very necessary tool in writing good screenplays.

And apparently it's working...

Bill Cunningham said...

" We weren't told to pitch you loglines. It was a contest("The First Annual DISC/ontent Logline Contest"). When you enter a contest you enter your best material. Period. You don't take try to google the judges to find out what they may or may not like.

So while your pitching advice is good, it's not exactly applicable here. "

It seems someone disagrees with you...

Aric Blue said...

I must have missed it 'cause I don't see any part in there where it says do research on the judges of a contest and submit something they'd be interested in.

If you mean this: "5. Know who your intended viewing audience for your script is and make sure the contest is looking for that type of project" - not the same thing. They're saying don't submit a werewolf script to the First Church of Christ Screenwriting Contest. (unless the werewolf is the Son of God and then...holy crap, I gotta go write that!)

You should know your intended audience before you start writing the screenplay, not before you start submitting it to contests.

I totally get what you're saying, but it's foolhardy to have two scripts, one okay and one great, and to submit the okay one because it has a loose tie to something a judge might like. You submit your best work to contests.

Pitches are a whole different matter, but that's what I'm saying. Maybe I didn't take it the right way, but all I heard from contest contest contest, not pitch pitch pitch.

And hey, I'm not bitter 'cause you didn't choose my logline. :)

I sorta cheated anyway. My logline was from my script which I already made into a film--subsequently picked up and went d2vid(and can be rented in just about every video store in the country + Netflix + 12 countries and counting)

But you should see the logline the distributor came up with...

John Oak Dalton said...


Spot-on commentary with great advice.


Anonymous said...

I know one thing about you, bill. You listen to Rush Limbaugh a lot. Not really because of the content of this post, but because of the style.

Bill Cunningham said...

Absolutely incorrect! I haven't heard Rush Limbaugh in about 10 years! Even then, I've only heard him 20 times or so...

You MUST be thinking of my brother.

Now if you had said Tom Leykis, or Frosty, Heidi and Frank - I would have agreed.

Now why aren't you posters making comments on the individual loglines? Give them your support and feedback...