The tenth annual Big Break™ International Screenwriting Competition helps aspiring screenwriters get their scripts into the hands of industry professionals. This year’s judges are Hollywood’s top industry professionals, including Palak Patel, producer at Roth Films (Alice in Wonderland). In an interview with Script, Patel outlines what he expects from a winning screenplay, as both a producer and as a primary judge in the competition.
SCRIPT: Why do you find it exciting to be part of the Big Break™ judging?
PALAK PATEL: Producers need writers. That’s where the movie development begins. For us, it’s a way great to find new voices. Even if it’s not something we produce, like smaller scale indie dramas. Regardless of that, if the writing is fantastic, it’s a new voice, a new talent, a new writer, that we can use for another project or to rewrite something else. It’s always important for us to be on the look out for new talent.
SCRIPT: What are you looking for in a winning script?
PP: For me in particular and for a lot of my colleagues, we look for emotion. I know that may sound vague, but I would say that 99 out of 100 scripts I read have no emotion. It’s really the same thing that the average American reader looks for in a book. We want to be moved. Whether it’s a comedy, drama, thriller, or horror, we want to be emotionally moved by the writer and the plot. I come from the old school mentality – if it’s not on the page, it’s not on the screen. I’ve gotten teary-eyed, or I’ve had to stop reading a script because it was scary. Those are diamonds in the rough. If you look at some of the best films, if they are emotional dramas like Kramer Vs. Kramer, or comedies like The Hangover or thrillers like The Sixth Sense, you are moved regardless of who’s in the movie. It comes down to the script itself.
SCRIPT: Do you tend to read the script from an actor, producer, director’s POV or all of the above?
PP: It really depends on what the script is. My first question is, “Can I set this project up at studio?” I ask myself, “Is this a project that Warner, Disney, Fox would buy?” If it’s a commercial piece of property, then I look to see if it’s a PG family movie or an action adventure movie. At the end of the day, a producer is a seller. We have to sell the material that we can get behind. If the script is a character indie drama, then I would look at Fox Searchlight. Finding the right home for the project is the first step. Say there is no home, but I love the writing itself, then I would sit down with the writer, and say, “The kind of movie you wrote isn’t what we produce, but I love your writing and I have to be in business with you somehow. Why don’t you take a look at these scripts and see which ones you might want to rewrite. Let’s talk about some new ideas. What are you working on next? What have you written or is there an article you like, a book you want to adapt? Have you read a news story or seen something on Dateline or 60 Minutes?”
SCRIPT: What’s your advice for those wanting to do well in the contest?
PP: Read original scripts from your favorite films. Really look at that writing on the page. A lot of people who submit screenplays to contests don’t really understand how important the writing itself is to screenwriting. People get lost in the rules. Can I cut there? Is this a three act structure? They get lost in it. At the end of the day, it comes down to the writing. Check out how superior the writing is on your favorite movies. Aaron Sorkin is notorious for writing 170 page scripts. People say he can get away with it. But the reason he can get away with it is because the writing is so good. You forget you’re reading 160 page scripts. Take some creative writing classes at a local university or a local community college. Don’t take screenwriting classes. Take creative writing classes. If you can write a great short story, novella or play, you can write a great script. Rules are easy to learn. But writing comes down to writing itself.