The tenth-annual Big Break™ Screenwriting Contest helps aspiring screenwriters get their scripts into the hands of industry professionals. As Final Draft, Inc. gets ready to reveal the top-20 scripts in this year’s crop, we thought we’d talk to those industry professionals tasked with choosing the best of the bunch. Among them is president of Zero Gravity Management, Eric Williams. Here Williams outlines what he expects from a winning screenplay, as both a manager and a judge in the competition.
What’s the best advice you can give to writer wanting to do well in the contest?
When you settle on a concept you like, read the scripts that are selling right now. There’s something about these scripts that stand apart from everything else out there. Study those writers’ techniques and use your own voice to get in there and come up with something new, different and great.
What are you looking for in a winning script?
A unique voice. I’m looking for something I haven’t seen before in a writing style. It should feel very quick. Every single page I flip to, I should want to go quickly to the next one. When you find a unique voice that you’re not used to reading every single day, you want to see what’s next.
How important is proper screenplay format to you as a judge?
A huge deal. Screenwriting is a craft and I value a writer who takes the craft seriously. If I see on page one that the script is formatted incorrectly, I’ll put it down. The same goes with typos. If I see a few typos, it’s an indication this writer hasn’t studied the craft.
Do you read specifically from an actor, a producer, or a director’s point-of-view, or all of the above?
When I read a script, I think about the concept and where I can sell this concept. Can I sell it to a studio or a mini-major or an independent production company? I immediately place it in a category. But also, it’s so important to be able to attach actors to the material. I take a sharp eye to the characters. If one of the main characters or smaller characters is a “down the middle role” no one is going to want to take that role. The characters have to pop off the page.
What other advice do you have for aspiring screenwriters?
In this marketplace, your time as a writer should be spent on finding the right idea, the high-concept idea. I have plenty of writers who can execute a draft, but if the concept isn’t high, we can’t sell it. Spend 70 percent of your time finding that idea. Don’t just write the first thing that comes to mind. If you have that high concept, and apply your writing skills to that concept, then you’ve got something special.