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Cinestory Screenwriting Awards

The year is beginning to take its final bows, but there are still a few contests you can enter before 2002 takes center stage. One of these is Cinestory's contest, now in its sixth year. Cinestory also offers a short script contest in addition to its feature contest.

Cinestory was co-founded by Pam Pierce, who was formerly the director of Austin's Heart of Film Festival (see my Nov. 16 column for info about Heart of Film). When she moved to Chicago, she wanted to bring that same sense of support to the film community there. Now Cinestory and Pam have moved to Los Angeles (doesn't everybody?). I interviewed Pam about Cinestory.

Q: How many entries do you receive each year?
A: We receive between 1200 and 1400 scripts a year.

Q: What happens to the script once it arrives in the mail? What's the selection process?
A: The scripts are given to readers and are read twice. The scores are averaged and the best 5% are quarter-finalists.

Q: Where do you get your readers?
A: When we were in Chicago, we used volunteer readers. I trained readers myself and we also held a weekend orientation for readers that included instructors such as Greg Beal, director of the Nicholl Fellowships.

Q: What happens to the quarter-finalists scripts?
A: The 40 to 60 scripts that are the quarter-finalists are read by producers, screenwriting teachers and professional writers in the Chicago area. The top 16 are the semi-finalists. There are three semi-finalist judges from production companies in Los Angeles and New York. The top 8 are the finalists and they're read by six industry judges, usually presidents of production companies. The top three are the winners.

Q: What are the readers and judges looking for?
A: Plot, character, tone, dialog. Was the theme clear? There's a rating scale from 1 to 25. There's a separate section for personal opinion. If the reader was moved by it, it counts for a lot. The idea is that for a script to advance to finals, it has at least 8 people who responded favorably to it.

Q: How long have you been doing the short screenplay contest?
A: We started last year. It has the same procedure as the feature contest, but we only have one winner. Last year we had 250 entries.

Q: Who are your success stories?
A: We've had four options, 1 three-picture writing deal, one writer received representation from ICM. A lot of our success comes from our writers' retreat. Semi-finalists, finalists and winners are all invited to a three day retreat with nine producers and agents as mentors. They're able to build personal relationships that can lead to writing assignments or options.

Q: What are your plans for the contest next year?
A: Our move to Los Angeles makes us closer to our industry contacts, so we're excited about that. And early next year, we hope to have a readers' training workshop in the Los Angeles area.

Some of the judges and mentors of Cinestory's 2001 contest include Egg Pictures (Jodie Foster's production company) and Shapiro-Lichtman Talent Agency. You can check out the website at www.cinestory.com for a complete list and complete rules. But hop to it because the deadline is December 15. And the year will be over before you know it.

Monica Zepeda


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