The tenth-annual Big Break™ Screenwriting Contest helps aspiring screenwriters get their scripts into the hands of industry professionals. As Final Draft, Inc. works on the finalists of this year’s crop, we thought we’d talk to those industry professionals tasked with choosing the best of the bunch. Among them is Dwayne Smith, screenwriter, filmmaker, and script doctor, Smith outlines what he expects from a winning screenplay.
SCRIPT: Why did you want to be a part of the Big Break™ judging?
Dwayne Smith: I like discovering new talent. I get excited when I read a script I like. And, as a screenwriter, I’m very interested in the craft of screenwriting. I’ve been in the same position as a lot of these new writers today, submitting scripts, trying to get someone to notice me. I know how tough it is. Screenwriting contests are a great way to break in.
SCRIPT: What are you looking for in a winning script?
DS: First, it has a very solid story, or idea for a story. A lot of times I read screenplays with ideas that don’t justify a movie. For example, screenplays about someone’s own life story. The writer thinks it would be an interesting movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s interesting to the public. In addition to that, I look for scripts that obey certain rules. Most movies should have a very strong protagonist that guides the reader. Usually, in a movie like that, the protagonist is in almost every scene. If the script jumps around and the protagonist isn’t in most of the scenes, the script isn’t as clear as it could be. Putting the protagonist in the majority of the scenes is the key to making a script really good.
SCRIPT: What’s the best advice you can give a writer wanting to do well in the contest?
DS: Every moment should move the story forward. Scenes that don’t move the story forward should be cut. And no long scripts. Anything over 110 pages is getting a too long.
SCRIPT: How important is proper screenplay format to your judging?
DS: I’ve read scripts completely out of format, and they were great. But, every writer should get the format right. In the end, if I have to chose between two scripts — one with good format and one with improper format — I’d lean to the one that has the good format.
SCRIPT: Do you tend read the script from a writer, actor, producer, director’s POV, or all of the above?
DS: When I read a script, I look at it from the person in the audience watching the movie. Is it making me laugh, making me cry, or am I feeling something? If I’m looking at it from a producer’s POV, I ask myself, “Will this get the interest of a studio? Is this a commercial idea? Will an actor get excited about this project?”
SCRIPT: What draws you in the most to a script: story, pacing, character, voice?
DS: What gets me most excited is when I feel the writer completely in control of the story. I like focus and precision. In Hollywood, no one likes reading. If there’s tons of stuff on the page, they’ll put it aside. Shoot for brief, snappy, smart dialogue. Describing stuff in one or two sentences. Sharp writing.
SCRIPT: A final word of advice to aspiring screenwriters everywhere?
DS: One is read a lot of screenplays. When I lived back in New York, I read the trades and would see who just sold a script. I would be obsessed with getting a copy of that script. I don’t want to see the movie. I want to see the material that sold. Read a lot of screenplays. The second thing is to get it done. Get it right later. I used to obsess with trying to get every scene perfect. That’s a waste of time. Write the damn thing and chip away at it later. If you do it like that, you’ll have more accomplishments.