Judges: How Do They Do It?

Published on: August 31, 2015

Filled Under: Thought Processes

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You’ve got the envelope ready to go out and you’re about to print out the latest, greatest version of your script; or maybe you’re ready to convert your script to a PDF to submit to the latest screenwriting contest.  You’re absolutely positive that this is the one to win the contest.  If only you knew how the process worked.  How do the judges pick one script over another?

There are many different factors that go into selecting a screenplay for the top prize.  But instead of delving into all these reasons, understand what the job of a contest judge is. Quite simply, it is to pick the best script – usually the top three – out of all the screenplays set before them.  That’s it.  Now, here’s the part that you need to focus on.  Your script is being stacked up against many others.

Most of the screenplays submitted in contest these days are sent electronically.  This makes sense from an environmental standpoint, think of all the paper that isn’t being used to print out an endless parade of stories.  But let’s imagine, for a moment, that every screenplay that is set before one judge is printed out, and they are stacked, one on top of the other.  It’s not unusual for one judge to read eighty to one hundred screenplays.  Do that math and that’s anywhere from  eight thousand to twelve thousand pages of material to read.

To put that in perspective, that’s a stack of screenplays that towers between three and four feet high!  Each page filled with information concerning plot points, characters, act breaks – everything that makes a screenplay…well, a screenplay.

Since they have to read so much material from cover to cover, they are able to form their opinions rather quickly about your script.  Believe me, we all want to read a solid story, something that really grabs us.  We want to take your script to the winner’s circle….if it’s worthy.  How do you make your sheaf of papers interesting to the judge?  How do you get them to want to pick your screenplay?

I’m not going to tell you the exact rules of thumb, because there are too many of them to go into in this article.  However, I will give you a perspective that you should consider before you submit your next script.  It goes back to what I said earlier.  Your script is being stacked up against many others.

When something stands on its own, you’ve nothing else to compare it to, so you may dismiss minor flaws.  But once you put a competitor next to it, that’s when the item in front of you gets scrutinized.  This is true for fruit in the produce section of a supermarket, people we would like to get to know romantically in a social situation or those stacks of jeans we rifle through at a clothing store.  When presented with a choice, we take the opportunity to seek out the best.

As you put the final polish on your script, make sure it’s the best quality product that you can create.  If you feel your writing goes on for a bit too long, the judge will think it’s far too wordy.  If you have a sense that your dialogue doesn’t really pop, the judge will notice and move onto the next screenplay without hesitation after they flip to your last page.  If you notice something wrong with your script, no matter how minor, it’s a guarantee the judge’s will notice it as well.

It may sound fickle, perhaps even cruel.  But judges are humans just like you and I.  Presented with an opportunity to pluck the finest strawberry from the bunch, they won’t hesitate.  It’s their job.

Coming up next:  Got an idea for a script….got a whole bunch of ideas?  If you’re a serious writer, you’ve probably got piles of sticky notes, ideas jotted on cocktail napkins and random thoughts that are completely disorganized.  Did I mention the various printouts for those upcoming contests that litter your desk?  It sounds crazy, but clearing your workspace can help you win a contest.  Don’t believe me, check out 3 Ways to Clear Clutter for Contest Conquest.

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