This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 029: An Interview With Scriptapalooza Co-Founder Mark Andrushko.
Welcome to episode twenty-nine and of ‘selling your screenplay’ podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Myers, screenwriter and blogger over ‘sellingyourscreenplay.com’. In this episode’s main segment, I’m going to be interviewing one of the co-founders of ‘sriptopoluzo’- Mark Andrushko. Scriptapalooza is one of the big screen writing contests and was established in the late 90’s. So, it’s been around for a while. In the interview Mark talks about his contests as well as giving out some solid advice for anyone who is writing screen plays and submitting it to contests. So, stay tuned for that. I’d like to thank this episode’s sponsor ‘ScreenCraft’. ScreenCraft is dedicated to helping screen writers and master the craft of screen writing and succeed in the business of Hollywood. Sign Up for free education and inspiration at ‘screencraft.org’. If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or re-twitting the podcast on twitter or liking it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread the word about the podcast. I’d like to thank Constance S., Adam Strange, Babs Pittala, Shawn Speak; who left me some nice comments over at YouTube’s for episode 27. Thank you guys very much. Also wanna thank Jake Stappler, Jaz Fisher, and writer Magon Corutz, Joddy Meglan; who all re-twitted recent episodes on twitter. It’s a little hard to pick out all the people who are doing re-twits, so, I apologize if I have missed anyone who did a re-twit recently.
I do look at all these re-twits and I really do appreciate it. I can see my twitter following growing, and it’s all because people are re-twitting the episodes. So, thanks everyone who has helped spread word about this show on twitter. It is very much appreciated. A couple of quick notes: any websites or links that I have mentioned in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript for every episode, in case you’d rather read the show and look at some thing later on. You can find the podcast showing notes at ‘www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcasts’. Also if you want my free guide: ‘How to sell a screenplay in 5 Weeks’, you can pick that up by going to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide, it’s just completely free. You just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new Lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus Lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide, how to write a professional log line occuring letter, how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. It really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So, now lets get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing one of the co-founders of Scriptapalooza, Mark Andrushko. Here is the interview:
Ashley: Welcome Mark to ‘selling your screenplay podcast’. I really appreciate you coming on this show.
Mark: Hey, thanks for having me on the show.
Ashley: So, to start on, I wonder if you could give us just a quick overview of your career and then came in the street kind of how you got started and how screeptopoluzo came to be.
Mark: Sure, well, back in 1998, I moved out to Las Angeles to become an Actor. And that was a very difficult time to go through. I knew I am not a writer. They always would tell me how they would do anything for the writer, and they just couldn’t get the script through the door, they couldn’t get an agent, they couldn’t get a manager and I looked at them: “know what, let’s change this. Let’s create a stream of competition that does open doors. This thing does seem difficult. So, we started Scriptapalooza and here we are sixteen years later. You know we found many firms, we have hundreds of agents, writers got agents, managers – just so much going on. You know, we are writers. We’ve proven ourselves all these years- that’s what we do.
Ashley: Ok, so, let’s start out kind of at the beginning. One of the things I know that you are kind of champion and sort of the difference is that the people that are reading the script and enter Scriptapalooza- they’re not just readers, they’re actually producers and development people working at companies.
Mark: “Yeah, that’s correct.”
Ashley: So, I wonder if we could just start off, I’m curious like it’s great now that you have reputation, but how did you get that ball started? Did you just cold call producers and say, “would you read scripts for our contest?”
Mark: “We did.”
Ashley: It seems like once the ball is rolling, it seems that it would be easier. But how did you kind of get that going? And was it difficult for people saying no?
Mark: Well, yeah, that was what we actually did. We cold called. And in the beginning, we started cold calling a production company and say, “hey, you know we got a screenplay competition, would you like to read the winners. And you know, we got hung up on one after another but you know what, people caught up ; we had twenty production companies reading and now we have over a hundred and forty production companies a week. So [all the reading was done by producers, managers and agents. You know, out of the other competitions, what they do, they have readers or something we don’t think that doesn’t work very well. We wanted to go right to the source where this producer can either buy your script, hire you- we’ve been doing this for so long, it has worked out really well. Because what happened; submit to the competition four months or five months of reading time. Now, in those four or five months of the reading time, this producer, he needs the script that he likes. He will literally call up and we connect with the writer instantly. We don’t wait for the winner. So, things happen really fast. I mean even before we outscore the finalists, in the screenplay competition, we already have you know, five to ten writers who have gotten an agent already. And that’s how it has to happen.
Ashley: Aha, Ok, and what is the arrangement you have with the production companies? I mean if you are not paying them to read scripts, what do they get out of it? They must know for the vast majority of the scripts they read, they’re not going to be that good? So, what’s sort of in it for them?
Mark: Yeah, you are right. We do not pay them. What their job in reality is to find great writers and great scripts. So, they want to read for us. Because, you know they get all the material. So, that’s what they get out of it. They find the gem that they could not find otherwise.
Ashley: Do they get to select like when you are working with a production company, does that company say, well I want certain scripts that meet this criteria, whether they be gem or might be only reading stuff potentially they might be interested in?
Mark: Yeah, they don’t matter. Some production companies want certain things, others want a mix of everything. So, it’s entirely up to them. You know, we have certain production companies that all that want horror films. Yes, everybody is different. We deal with so many people. And we just accommodate producers and everybody along.
Ashley: What is the promise, what will I have as a writer? Since these production companies are just going to read these things and not being paid. What sort of guarantee does the production companies make to you as far as how much attention they will spend on one script. Do they promise to read it front-to-back, do they sometimes just read the first ten pages and move on?
Mark: Well, no. They have to read the whole script, because, they have to fill out a whole grading sheet.
Ashley: I see, I see.
Mark: Yeah, they have to read one sheet, they have to describe the whole story line, you know, casing and everything; dialogue, character, everything and everything from the pot. So, we get those sheets back from the producers when they have done reading.
Ashley: And then so how do people sort of move along the scripterpoluzo pipeline as far as becoming a winner. Like the early production companies, they graded on a scale and then you grab the winners, and then there is a second round. You send the scripts back out to the producers? What’s the second round of reading like?
Mark: Well, what happens is that all the scripts brought all the production companies. So, they rounded up to a hundred producers in all the scripts. And then they send back to us. They recommend, and we read all the recommendations and then we decide who moves forward to like finals or eventually wins the competition.
Ashley: Go ahead.
Mark: The production companies do the first round. And they the do majority of the biggest reading. And then we read everything and move on forward.
Ashley: Ok, and do you have some rough stats like ok, so you get whatever 2000 submissions- how many of them come back from the production companies with the recommend and make into that next round?
Mark: That’s tough to say. I mean, usually a production company will get 40 to 50 scripts, but it all varies. I mean- it is our grade. It is just different of which company.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, so. Ok, so let’s talk about some of the winners. You have mentioned some movies that have been made from scripts. Do you have just some couple of highlight success stories that you can talk about?
Mark: Sure, I mean you know, we got a lot of scripts that moved up through the pipeline. You know, they won the competition or even if just they were finalists. You know, we got an agent and you know the script had an option they were up to help to do that. And we sold the material. There is so much. If you go to our website, you will see in the home page five or six movie posters that are our biggest success stories.
You know there’s even a documentary in there. You know we have a section in our website called ‘Headlines’ where we list since 1998, all the success story that has happened and there are hundreds and hundreds of them. We do video interviews of the top 13 winners, you know we try to do as much as we can for our winners and the thing is this, you know, we just don’t have one winner and then 10 runners up. We actually push the top 100 semi finalists and higher for a complete year. So it is little bit different from other competitions where you know other competitions have winner and we actually have that too but everybody who makes the semi finals or higher, we push that through a whole year and the way we do that is we have all those production companies that we deal with look and say hey, you know what, what are you guys looking for right now? And well, we are looking for family comedies. Family comedy hundred strips and we will send it to them and that’s how we do that for a full year. So, we kind of act like all ourselves but we are not, only where we work only for the writer.
Ashley: Okay, so since you are talking and maybe we can expand on that a little bit, since you are talking with all these production companies perhaps you can give us some insight into what they are looking for. I mean, are there some trends where you just mentioned like family comedies, are there some trends that you are seeing there, there seems to be like a big market for family comedy, big market for thrillers, any tip for writers on that end?
Mark: You know that’s a tough question because we do so many of them. We haven’t dealt with three production companies but I mean if only producers are calling us and they are looking for 2 or 3 million budget film and then the next production company who wants something in 20. So that’s the hardest question to answer because anybody we talk to they are different.
Ashley: and you don’t see anything like over the last, I mean you have been doing it now for 16 years, you don’t see anything just and again I am not asking like concrete statistics but just kind of a gut feeling like have you seen any changes in those 16 years like you know, what was selling 16 years ago may not be necessary what production companies are looking for now.
Mark: Well, I mean you have a point little bit, the 16 years that you are pointing, I have noticed something that as soon as you get hot like you know, vampire movies, we kind of see that going higher where people are submitting that type of material and actually, production companies are looking for that type of material. So whatever is out there, whatever the media is pushing, production company just find like that same sort of material. So that’s kind of what we have seen happening a lot.
Ashley: And let’s talk about something else like budget ranges, I mean one thing, I got into this business about 16 years ago as well and I can tell you, 16 years ago there was kind of bigger market for this, like 5 million dollar film and I feel like as a writer the producers that are I am talking to, that has really shrunk down and now this thing producers are looking to do movies, you know, less than a million dollars. Have you seen any trends like that?
Mark: You know, not really. The thing is that we don’t go that deep into the budget that much. I mean just basically giving the actual script, certain amount of budget but at the end of the day, we are just trying to get the best material to the production company and then they could actually work out that on their end. Because you know we are writing competition, we are not being like get into budget or you know, all that stuff. We are just trying to find the best writers that can and get those writers through that door and show them inside and get them jobs.
Ashley: So, I am curious too, about like when you are talking to these producers, are they typically looking to option and potentially buy the script or they often times looking for writers to write an existing property that’s they may have developed or adopted from maybe a book or something?
Mark: Mostly they are looking to work with the writer, to meet them and to, you know, get them hired in either a TV show or you know, if you like a script, our first winner right now, the past year just got hired by a major production company to re-write a major picture. So, we are very excited and that going to hopefully in the next month or so. So, again it all matters, I mean […] and it is so instantly because it goes along different avenues with a writer will be hired by some company, their writer will be different and you know that’s how we create the opportunity. So it’s different every times.
Ashley: I know, that’s one thing especially, new writers don’t realize that the real money in screen writing is actually in rewriting and developing existing properties whether they are ideas that are created in these production company houses as opposed to just selling a spec script, there’s not that many people out there that are selling tons of specs scripts. So, let’s see here, are there any, this is something that I just always like to ask to guys who run the contest, are there any scripts that you know of, that went through the contest and did not kind of passed through the filters but did made up getting made or being having some success?
Mark: You mean thorough the competition?
Ashley: Yeah. I am just curious if there was just ever any scripts submitted that got rejected on the first round but they still went on to actually get made and maybe even have some success?
Mark: You know, well has happened here if that we had numerous scripts that had gone through the competition, had only made maybe quarters or semi’s and got optioned and never moved forward and that’s happens actually pretty often where the writer will only make to the semi finalists level and not go forward with the competition but yeah, we have got him an agent because his material, because you know he went through the competition company read it. You know but we read it and we do moving forward but he is doing very well on his own. So, yeah, that has happened before.
Ashley: Sure, so let’s just take a minute and dive into some of the other script that pull those services. So there’s a film competition, you also correct me if I am wrong, have a TV competition and then you also have a coverage competition. Maybe you can just tell us, you know, give us a minute or two on each one of those different services.
Mark: Sure, so the script writing competition is one time a year only. We start accepting October first and the final deadline is around April 15 of every year. So that’s one time in a year only. Then our TV competition, we have twice a year, it is every six months and you can just check the website for the dates on those and we are accepting right now for the TV competition and deadline is like November 16 or something like that and then, we also have a like a screen play coverage service which is you know, a really, really great thing for a writer. You know they read the script and maybe even have second eyes on it, I mean coverage is where our analytics read scripts page by page and give you a breakdown on what works and what doesn’t work. You get a log like back, they on the whole script and 45 pages of notes and the script. So a lot of writers are using that because they are trying to and the analysts that we use are all from Los Angeles. So, you know they are getting a set of eyes on their scripts where they are going to have the things what really happens if they send their scripts to a production company in LA. So, those are the divisions.
Ashley: Perfect. So if there are any general tips you have for people that are thinking of entering scriptopolouzo or really even entering any contest. Just some general tips, maybe some common problems that you see.
Mark: Just try to send your best work in, don’t rush it, we will be here and in the next 2-3 years honestly have your screen play professionally formatted, no typos, just male sure the script looks like a professional script. This probably the biggest problem, the people just think they have to send in their first draft. You know, they don’t have to do that. That’s the thing but for me personally, what I would like to mention is when entering any competition, just do your homework. Make sure they have been around for a long time, make sure they are good production companies, what other people think of the competition. You know we have been around since 1988, we know what we are doing.
But the biggest thing for us and the biggest difference for us is that all our reading is done by production companies and I think that’s the most important thing because this person that’s reading the script can change your life or be it your career. It is the material and so, I think do your due diligence and make sure, before any competition you enter, that they have a good background.
Ashley: One thing I see quite often and I would include something like the blacklist in this as well, is it seems like these sort of dramas get on high marketing contest and on the blacklist but that’s not really genre that gets made very often and last week in fact, I saw a contest sent out like their winners and it was like 8 scripts that were their finalists and they were all, literally all 8 of them were dramas and I just was think you know, ‘Gee, these movies all sound they are like good scripts but I don’t see any of them actually getting made. Do you, I mean at Scriptopoluzo have you seen any trends like that where you know, certain genres maybe are favored versus other types of scripts I mean, the broad comedies maybe are not critical darlings but they have a place in the market place but dramas, seem to kind of like garner more critical claim?
Mark: You know, I don’t know, I am thinking that like couple of years back all our top winners, you know drams are big, comedies are big with us, suspense, thriller, I mean there is only one shot you know the same every year. Because you have to remember we are based on the writing, we are not based on anything else. That’s how we judge, we don’t judge where you are from, we don’t care if you are male or female, we basically judging the competition on writing only. If you have an agent already, we don’t care, we don’t want to know, so you know, it is a tough question.
Ashley: Yeah, no, no. I am just curious, just to get your reaction. That’s certainly a fair answer. So let’s just kind of wrap things up. Is there anything else that you wished we had talked about, that maybe we didn’t that you wanted to say?
Mark: No, just for the writers out there, I know it is tough, entering competition every year and it seems like more competitions are raising every year and it is just horrible how you know, we are seeing that other competitions are searching $80-90 to enter. I mean writers can’t afford that, you know. They can’t be entering 10 competitions with such entry fee. You know we ask for 40-45 dollars and we try to keep it cheap as possible. Talking to other writers out there just be careful. If you want to enter, enter the top 3 or 4 competitions that everybody says that they are the best and go with that.
Ashley: Yeah. So, what’s the best way for people to kind to keep up with what you are doing and potentially even contact you?
Mark: Obviously, our website is updated all the time which is scriptapalooza.com.
Ashley: Yeah, I know, I will link to that in the show if anybody is listening to this. and is not on a computer. I will put the link of scriptapalooza in the show notes.
Mark: Yeah, our Facebook page is very active. We are always putting out writing tips and you know, we have conversations with the writers, always hosting once a day. So our Facebook page is probably the best and all the production companies are always coming on board and new ones options and it’s all on our Facebook page.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. I will definitely link to that as well. So well, Mark thank you for coming in the show. It has been really informative. I really appreciate you taking the time to come and talk to me.
Mark: Well, thank you for having me on, thank you.
Ashley: Just a quick plug for my email and facts blast query service, just in the last year I have optioned four scripts. Sold one script and got one paid writing assignment. All of these came from using my own email and facts blast service.
Here is how it works, first you join sys select and then you post your blog on the query letter on sys select form. I will personally review your blog line and query letter and help you make them as good as they can be. Then you purchase the blast and I will send it out for you. The emails are sent as if they are from your email address so all replies go directly back to you. You can exclude companies if there are specific companies that you don’t want to send to.
To learn more, check out www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
Once again, I want to thank screen craft for sponsoring this episode. They are currently accepting submissions for their comedy screenplay contest. They have a great lineup of judges, some of the best comedy producers in the business. The deadline for entry is August first. Check out screencraft.org if you have a comedy screen play that you would like to enter.
If you are listening to this after August first deadline, don’t worry. They run different contests all the time and they will be doing another comedy contest next year. So do check out the site for the latest contest that they are running.
In this week’s writing words section, I want to talk a bit more about screen writing contest in general. I am talking about contests few times in my blogs and on this podcast. I, myself have never had any success with contest. I was able to option and sell something pretty early on my career. So, I think I probably only have entered 3 or 4 contests but I do think they are a good way to get some feedback and potentially gain some exposure. Obviously winning or placing highly in a contest can potentially get you in touch with industry professionals. So that’s definitely valuable but just getting some recognition in a well regarded contest can give you something exciting to write about in your career later when you are pitching your screenplays.
There is this attitude that I see quite frequently with screen writers where they think this service is scam or the contest is scam. I get these sorts of emails all the time asking you know, if this is a scam or that is a scam.
I have talked to the fact founders of many of these organizations and they all tell me pretty much the same thing. They know that the best way for them to grow their businesses and to be more successful is by helping screen writers be successful. They know that if some of the screen writers that go through their organizations, go on and become huge successes. That’s going to be the best form of advertising for them and that’s going to grow their business. These fairly well known organizations like inktip, ‘Screencraft’, ‘Bluecat’ or scriptopoluzo or blacklist or like in this day and age, if they were scams they will not be able to survive considering how fast words spread on the internet.
Now, I do want to take a minute and talk about some real scams as screen writers face and that’s the shadowy producers. These are folks who might have an imdb credit or two but they are full on con artists. What they do is they tell you that they love your screen play and then they usually suggest one or two things either that you need to pay them, some upfront capital or seed money to get the film going. I have heard from screen writers that the seed money can be anywhere from a few thousand dollars all the way up to 50 thousand dollars. Or the other scam is they will tell you that your script is great but it needs a bit of work and you need to hire their friend who is screen writer and pay him 5000 dollars to do a polish on the script. I actually encountered this last one when I first started out in the industry and this was before imdb or really any useful internet. So, it was much harder to gaze what was going on. Luckily I didn’t fall for it but man, I didn’t fall for it because I didn’t have 5000 dollars. These are really scams and these are things that I heard about quite often. So definitely watch out for those.
As far as these big organizations go, I have never ran into a big organization that I considered to be a scam. I mean if know of any please do email me, I will certainly check them out. And again, I want to point out not every contest or website is going to work for you. I mean I myself used inktip, and the blacklist and entered a bunch of contests and none of these things have worked for me. But does that mean they are scams and you shouldn’t try them, absolutely not. You should be trying everything to your power to get your scripts out there. Find what works for you and then push hard at that direction. For me my email facts blast seems to be the best thing and I am not exactly sure, why but for whatever reason that works best for me but I am still pushing on these other things just to see if I can get some hit through the blacklist or through inktip.
There is a cost to these services and I am sensitive to that.
So that’s a potential issue and that’s totally fine. If money is tight, these services might not be a good fit for you at the stage of your life. I do want to quickly point it out that screen craft is the sponsor of this podcast and I myself offering email in facts blast service. So I guess you can take what I am saying with a grain assault. I have gotten to know John Rose who is the founder of screen craft over the last few months. I have interviewed him on episode 19. So, check that out if you want to learn more about that. And I can tell you, he spends a lot of his time trying to figure out how he can help the winners of his contest. Get an agent, get me introduced with a producer. I mean it’s he really understands if that’s going to be the best way for his business to succeed by helping screen writers to succeed. It’s really a win-win for screen writers and the contest that they enter.
Anyway, that’s the show. Thanks for listening.