Fossils: From Competition to Crowdfund Part 1

I’d discovered @create50 through The London Screenwriters Festival and watched their first feature, ‘50 Kisses.’ It was an exciting and original initiative that resulted in a unique feature film with a diverse range of stories and genres. Among them, some truly exceptional films. 

So when Impact50 came around, I knew I had to be part of it. But, pun intended, I had no idea of the impact it would have on me, and my journey as a screenwriter/filmmaker.

The competition went like this, submit a draft, review a few scripts from other writers, then wait while your fellow writers and competitors would rate & review yours.

Of course the critique would range from very insightful, to that which was less so. By the latter I mean that it pulled the story away from its original intent. Sometimes it was just a compliment or support. Sometimes it cut deep. Always, it was helpful.

The effect of this process was transformative for me. Screenwriting is a solitary business. Anyone who knows or has worked with me, knows that I thrive in a team. Isolation, has been one of the toughest aspects of this journey. Often, you’re working in a vacuum, with only a couple of (very patient) friends to give you critique and support. With Create50, there were hundreds.

Each script in the competition could have a maximum of three drafts. That’s three rounds of notes, with the final round for you to take or leave, depending on the final outcome of the judging. There were hundreds of writers in competition, contributing over 2000 scripts. Lots of online friendships were made as a result.

It was energising and thrilling to be part of something so productive and special. I found myself developing dozens of ideas and discarding many more, effectively becoming  a producer to my own work - a critical function I’ve brought to every story idea since.

At two pages per script, I found myself thinking about characters, stories and genres I’d never considered before. Quiet drama, violent thriller, black comedy, comedy - a bit of everything. I even managed a sci-fi piece about A.I., one that I’d still love to make.

I ended up with 8 submissions in total, each receiving the full 3 rounds of notes and revisions. I gave around 300  sets of notes and read many more.

I gave everything I had to my own scripts as well as the entries I read and reviewed. Sometimes, I spent upwards of half an hour on a single set of notes - just to be sure I’d expressed it correctly and remained supportive of the writer.

There were some who contributed over 1000 sets of notes and more just shy of that! That’s how amazing this group of people are.

Out of necessity, I figured out a way to take the notes on each draft and wrangle them into a plan of action. A method I still use on feature length drafts today. 

Then, one day, we had to step away from our keyboards as the deadline came and went...

Judged by industry veterans, it was a nail-biting time awaiting the shortlist announcement. Entering competitions is a part of the journey and I’d entered quite a few by this point, but without any success. 

I told myself, none of those competitions were like this one. I felt good about the process, about the critiques, the writer I had become and the writers I’d befriended along the way. Nonetheless, I was stunned and overwhelmed when 4 of my submissions made that list.

Many of the writers and scripts I had grown to love over the course of the preceding months were also there. That was an incredible feeling - we were doing this together.

The final 50 still had to be determined. Time passed and I got on with other projects. My heart was in my throat when the announcement was emailed out. Hands shaking I scrolled down and had to read several times to ensure that I wasn’t imagining it.

Prior to this moment, I had practiced and coached myself in how to take the bad news. To embrace the fact that I had improved as a screenwriter, had got a better sense of the kind of stories I wanted to tell, further honed my ‘voice’ and made some friends. All things you have to remember, when dealing with the inevitable, crushing disappointment of not being chosen.

But Fossils had been chosen.

And after the waves of excitement had abated. Text messages to my partner were feverishly sent. My next thought was who else? I wasn’t prepared for the range of feelings that came from taking his journey  with others. Stories I’d grown to love, writers I’d come to know and admire, whom I hoped I might join with my own. With 50 scripts now selected, I wanted to know  - ‘what kind of film were we making?’ 

So I read all the winning scripts and something unexpected  happened. Beyond the basic premise, I discovered a very clear tone and thematic character that connected them all. And this was perhaps the greatest lesson learned on this filmmaking journey so far. 

How to take rejection. 

Several of the other writers had posted to the site about this very subject. They were supportive, insightful and very helpful. There was one aspect that wasn’t captured by those gracious posts.  

How can I talk about learning about rejection, when my script wasn’t? Well, keep in mind, seven of mine were also rejected. But the painful truth, is that the rejections have kept coming since then, and always will. Among the bright flashes of progress and success, you have to make friends with hearing, ‘no,’ and find the courage to keep moving forward. As the saying goes, it doesn’t matter how many no’s you get, it only takes one ‘yes,’ to make the difference.

What reading the 50 final scripts showed me, was that the producers and judges of the competition had a vision for what kind of film they wanted to put out into the world. It became crystal clear that half of my entries, were never going to make the list. It wasn’t a question of quality, but of content and tone. Reflecting on the stories and writers whose work I’d admired in the competition, I realised that some truly great work would also not fit that list. 

Every competition, submission, pitch etc. is subject to this invisible filter. No individual, producer, competition judge can ever be completely free of their subjective preferences. 

This is liberating.

Gleaning that understanding first hand, of how subjective the world of ideas is, has strengthened me, helped me make friends with the ‘no thank-yous’ and keep my eyes open for those ‘yeses’ that make all the difference.

The final film will be a work that speaks with a particular voice,  quite an achievement for 50+ different writers and and production teams.

In part two, I’ll be talking about the decision to crowdfund this project.

You can check out the crowdfund below. Please stop by and consider helping out - for the price of a beer or coffee you will make a difference!