London Screenwriters' Festival

4 Nights In August – A Look In The Spec Pile

Posted on: October 4th, 2011 by Lucy V Hay 6 Comments

A small change of plan – whilst we’re waiting for the longlist to get whittled down, we’re going to give you an overview of the script pile and how it looked to our readers during the Four Nights In August 1 Page Screenplay Challenge.

We had a MASSIVE 241 entries, a HUGE response! To put into perspective, our previous 1 page contest for April’s Comedy Festival, “Laugh A Minute” had 97 entries. Even our Short Script Challenge for last year’s LSF main event couldn’t come close at 115 entries.

First, the boring stuff. As with our Laugh A Minute contest, there were lots of people NOT READING THE BRIEF! Shockingly, quite a few people submitted scripts in files other than the requested PDFs, with .doc the favourite. In addition, some entries were submitted that were LONGER than one page. For some entries, it was obvious what had happened – a line or two had “fallen off” the page to the next when converted to PDF, which was no big deal. But several were MUCH longer, even up to three pages!

Interestingly, the number of female entrants was a little lower in this contest than Laugh A Minute or The LSF Short Script Challenge last year, with women appearing to make up approximately 60% of 4 Nights In August entrants. In contrast, it was a rough half/half split in the previous two contests.

Very few scripts were actually CALLED “Four Nights In August” (though there was no reason they *had* to be). Some titles were weird and wacky; others poignant. Probably the most frequent titles that appeared (other than the expected “Riot”) were variations of words and phrases like SHATTER, FRAGMENT, LONDON’S BURNING, MOB, LIKE FATHER LIKE SON, FRACTURE, BLAME, LOOT, CONSEQUENCE and CHANCE. Interestingly, not one entry was called I PREDICT A RIOT! Plenty of people used the Martin Luther King quote on their title pages however, “A riot is the language of the unheard”.

Following yesterday’s announcement of the longlist and the flagging up of “infeasible” scripts, a couple of people have emailed or messaged me to ask why this notion was not included in the rules. The main reason: ‘cos it wasn’t a rule! As with all script contests, “feasibility” was just ONE element scripts were scored on, so inevitably some scripts that scored low for feasibility still went through to the second round, whilst others that scored highly did not. We announced the Filmmaking Challenge at the same time as the screenwriting contest so scribes could have all the facts on what was happening next, but it was not a requirement, since there would obviously be *some* leeway for directors and teams to “re-imagine” events in the story… BUT it was also worth remembering we wanted the winning script to be available to every filmmaker, “no-budget” or not – and not just professionals with access to lots of equipment and contacts. In addition, I also asked my readers to consider whether “re-imagining” stories for safety’s sake  as well as individuals’ inevitable personal interpretations would end up with filmmakers making completely different films from what was intended on the page of the winning script. It was a VERY difficult balance and obviously my readers could only use their own judgement on all of this, but it was not something they or I took lightly.

In addition to “feasibility” then, the readers scored for the usual such as presentation, story/structure and “other” (sometimes visuals/arena was noted here, but also dialogue, in case of non-dialogue scripts – and there were many, given the brief). As ever, the usual issues with format raised their ugly heads, particularly an over-reliance on bold and capital letters for “impact”. Almost without exception these actually interfered with the “flow” of the read, so it really is worth thinking about. Check out my comprehensive Format 1 Stop Shop here or take a look at Danny Stack’s “screenwriting bullet” on format he posted recently, here.

We also looked at how the reader was affected by the message, tone or “point” of each script, noted “impact” on the score sheet. Given the seriousness of the riots, we received more scripts than we anticipated of a comedic nature, which was a pleasant surprise – and some were genuinely amusing or even laugh out loud funny. Inevitably however, the vast majority of the scripts were very serious in tone with specific moral messages or statements about society. The readers tended to feel the stand-out entries were the ones that managed to show some kind of contrast or balance to their stories and the complex issues behind the riots. No mean feat in just one page!

Many scripts shared essentially the SAME STORY, despite being written by different, unconnected people – as flagged up in advance by (non-judge) Linda Aronson in her blog post on coming up with ideas for the contest. This is of course made it even HARDER for individual scripts to stand out in the pile. There were no less than FOUR stories or story elements that appeared multiple times:

1) Young people set up *as* looters, only for the final reveal to show them as part of the riot clean up.

2) People you would not expect looting – the elderly were a firm favourite, followed by the police.

3) People criticising parents for not raising their children “right” – only to see their OWN child partaking in the riots and looting.

And finally:

4) Interestingly, a small but significant number of entrants wrote very visual scripts from the POV of an inanimate objec in the riots, such as weapons and aerosol cans, but also household items helping the clean up operation, ie. mops, buckets, etc.

This also backs up my notion of what I call “zeitgeist scripts” – screenplays written by unconnected people, at a specific time, usually because of something that’s happened in the news or a particularly popular show or film doing well. So next time you’re tempted to think someone’s “nicked” your idea, remember this!

6 Responses

  1. Teenie says:

    My first idea, which I almost went with was this exactly:
    “1) Young people set up *as* looters, only for the final reveal to show them as part of the riot clean up.”

    Can’t believe so many people “nicked” my idea! ;-)

  2. Grapevine says:

    Very helpful. I know my script was story number 3.

  3. Televidiot says:

    That’s amazing, thanks for posting this it is really great feedback. Illustrates Linda Aronson’s point exactly!

  4. Andy says:

    Teenie, you stole my idea!!!!!!!! ;oD

    I also plumped for the reversal of expectations idea, but I also included a lot tv footage comparisons between the rioters/looters and the bankers, expenses-fiddling politicians etc… Oooh, controversial!

  5. Matt says:

    Phew, glad I avoided the zetigeisty stories at least. Guess child actors come under the feasibility no-nos. Drat! Really useful post. Thanks!

  6. Merewyn says:

    Well my story idea isn’t on this common reject theme list… Guess I’m just an uncommon reject!

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