Final Draft’s Big Break™ Screenwriting Competition helps aspiring screenwriters get their scripts into the hands of industry professionals. This year’s judges are Hollywood’s top of the line industry professionals, including Jeff Graup (Obsessed, Lakeview Terrace, Catch That Kid). In an interview with Script, Graup outlines what he expects from a winning screenplay, as a producer and a primary judge in the competition.
SCRIPT: Why do you find it exciting to be part of the Big Break™ judging?
JEFF GRAUP: I’m always searching for the next new young voice, the next new special person, young or old. I always have my ears to the ground. I love giving people breaks who are undiscovered.
SCRIPT: What do you looking for in a winning script?
JP: A unique voice. Not writing down the middle. Something who has distinct characters, dialog and that something special in the script that speaks to me. It’s different. Unique.
SCRIPT: What is the best advice you can give a writer wanting to do well in the contest?
JP: Any writer at any stage of their career should write what they know. And again, it’s thinking out of the box for the story idea and the way they put together the screenplay. If you’re trying to be distinct and stand out, you’ve got to think of what makes this character unique. Why is an actor going to want to play this role? The best roles are the ones who have distinct characters. George Clooney had a great character in Up in the Air. There are a lot of layers to that role. At the end of the day, it’s trying to get movies made. The way to make movies is to create roles that actors want to play.
SCRIPT: What makes Big Break™ stand out among other contests?
JP: The level of writing in the contest is high. There are a lot of contests out there, but for me, I want to be reading top stuff from the top contestants. That makes sense, if you’re doing good in a contest, and you’re reading writers who actually have a chance of making it. When I turn to page one, I want to see a great script. I’m not looking to say, “No.” I want to say, “Yes.” I hope the screenwriter will be able to maintain my enthusiasm throughout..
SCRIPT: Describe the kind of script you just can’t put down.
JP: If you were to pick up Juno and read the script, you would finish it. You’re not thinking about what to change. Great voices. Great characters. Unique situations. An unassuming person in an extraordinary circumstance. Any screenplay that is really good, like a book, you start turning pages. What makes you turn them? Something’s going on. Plot, character, dialog. You can’t wait to go to the next page, to find out what happens next. If it’s comedy, there’s conflict and resolution. If you start turning slower and slower, it’s time to put it down. It’s not just good dialog. But good dialog with good characters. If it’s a comedy and you’re laughing out loud, that’s a page-turner. If it’s an action movie, you’re going to feel the action, you want to get to the end.
SCRIPT: Do you tend read the script from an actor, producer, director’s POV or all of the above?
JP: For me, I ask, “Can I actually see a person make this movie? Can I put this movie together? What changes should I make to improve it? What conversations will I have with this writer? Can this writer actually take it from 70% and get it to 90%, so I can sell it and we can produce it?” All of those things are going on in my head as I’m reading, and I’m thinking how unique their voices are. Then, I ask, do I have the chance to sell this thing and put this movie together.
SCRIPT: What is your advice to someone who wants to break in?
JP: Keep on writing. I’m hoping your fifth screenplay would be improved. If you write three every year, your 15th screenplay would be fantastic. Write a lot. Staying true to your voice. Not trying to write to a market. It’s about being unique. I want you to succeed. I want to find a writer to get paid to do what they’re doing. If you don’t work at it, it won’t happen for you. If you work at it, there’s a potential to make it. If you watch the Oscars, you see who shows up, they are older writers. Put things out there, and figure out what you’re really good at. Keep on working. You have a chance to make it.