Posted by: steveonfilm | June 7, 2010

A Screenplay Is Not A 5 Page Story

I came back from my vacation to find my inbox full of about 100 messages. Much to my delight, a few of the e-mails were from people who had stumbled upon my blog while looking for Cyberspace Open results.

I’ve had some correspondence back and forth with these people, as well as a few people in the comments, and I’ve noticed something disturbing. They’re equating their performance in the Cyberspace Open to their abilities as a writer. I think this is wrong.

First off, writing for a contest like the Cyberspace Open takes a certain type of skill. Some people are good at it. Some people aren’t. Just because a sprinter isn’t any good at the 110 meter hurdles doesn’t mean they’re not insanely fast in the 100 meter dash. Sure, they’re both sprints, but they each require a distinctly different type of ability.

Second, writing a 3-5 page “story” is not the same as writing a 90-120 page screenplay. Just because you didn’t fare well writing a scene(s) around a prompt doesn’t mean you can’t tell a hell of a story over 120 pages.

Third, you have to just think of the Cyberspace Open as an exercise. The contest was an exercise to force you to write in a way that you’re not comfortable with. It took you out of your element. It threw obstacles in your way you haven’t had to handle before. And when everything was said and done, you should have walked away a better writer because of it.

Fourth, the judging is subjective. One person might love your work. Another might hate it. Sometimes, just like in any contest, it’s the luck of the draw. It doesn’t mean that your entry wasn’t good, or that you’re a not good writer, it just means that your entry didn’t click with that judge. It happens. It’s life.

Finally, no one is going to get a writing job because of their entry into this contest. Sure, winning, or being in the top 20 might get you noticed, but any potential agent is going to ask for a spec script to read. And like I said earlier, 90-120 pages is A LOT different than 3-5.

All in all, I’m satisfied with how I did. I wrote as best as I could for round one and two, and I’m walking away knowing I didn’t leave anything at the keyboard. And really, as an amateur, that’s all you can hope to accomplish.

And if you’re still feeling bummed out that you didn’t make it to the finals, look at these puppies. It usually cheers me up.

Until next time, keep writing!



  1. My beef – and the one I saw mentioned most around and about – was that the judging seemed unrelated to the criteria laid out in the instructional video. When Jim says, “don’t write a movie; write a scene,” and your feedback dings you for not including information a 5-minute movie script would require, it’s somewhat annoying though it does give contestants a taste of how arbitrary the business is.

    • Yeah, the judging will always be subjective. I tried to structure my scenes so I wouldn’t need a lot to set it up. Everything would be apparent just by the action going on. I kept a character description to one and two lines tops. But yeah, it’s all arbitrary and subjective.

  2. Thanks for the great post, Steve. And yeah, there’s always going to be a certain amount of subjectivity in any sort of judging. All I can say is we do our best. Dirk, if you want to send your scene along I’d be happy to take a look at it. One doesn’t need to do full character setup like in a movie, but the writer should at least give us some context or else we won’t really understand what’s going on.


    Jim Cirile
    Cyberspace Open Coordinator
    Coverage, Ink

    • Wow. When the email update came in I wondered whether it had been stuck in the system for eight months and just coincidentally arrived on the day the Cyberspace Open.

      Thanks for the offer, Jim, but I wrote you the day the results were announced and never heard back and with the new contest starting, there’s no point in rehashing the past. If you’d like to see what I wrote about the situation (which includes a link to the entry), please click over to here:

      I did the Final Round scene for the exercise and sent it in and it got judged a 90 with much better feedback that actually related to the contest’s criteria. The irony was that while I sweated over every word of the first round’s scene the whole weekend, I spent about two hours on the overnight round, finishing with about 10 minutes to spare, submitting what was basically a first pass. Go figure.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: