Must TV script professionals enter open scriptwriting competitions?
|The feelings lay buried, unspoken, for many days. I couldn't bring myself to talk about it, not even to my Beloved who contained her uproar while I turned the bedroom into a research den. Nor to the staff who had labored long office hours to put the numbers together, edit-compile reels and print and bind six hard copies of the 100-page Proposal to beat the nationwide deadline.
I refuse to even think about it now. But, it happened again.
Last month, the sponsoring film arm of a major TV Network had called, advising me that the full-length screenplay I submitted had been shortlisted by the Nominating Committee. Because of this, a Sequence Treatment (equivalent to a chapter outline/plot breakdown) was needed for final jury purposes. That same night, I jumped on the keyboard and finished the Treatment within one seating of just a couple of hours. It was easier to deduce that from an already completed screenplay replete with dialogue.
As I pressed the SEND button on the email, the visual design of the film became even clearer to me: the rustic locations in land and sea, the docu-style camera mood and high-contrast tone of lighting, the pockets of action and dramatic pacing, the rhythm of suspense and romance, the mystery of the past era entwined in a paranormal experience of today. I was certain it was going to find its way to the silver screen.
Inspired by true stories, the film proposal entitled LUTANG (meaning, Afloat) is about the contemptuous killings of journalists who are on a crusade exposing the massive corruption in government that has allowed illegal mining and illegal logging by big business and multinational companies. In my country, and in the remotest of our virgin islands, there are over a hundred of these unsolved cases, and the film intends to be an important voice in unraveling the hidden mysteries.
To land a slot among the final 10 winning screenplays didn't only mean recognition for me as a bonafide screenwriter, who would then be capable of getting commissioned to write for local film houses. In addition to the long-term rewards, winning one coveted seat will earn me the prize money: a million pesos seed fund for actual production shoot!
A number of my colleagues had been as confident as myself. Having worked in television for many years, and on this film script for many months, I felt secure it had all the ingredients of a good screenplay worthy to be co-funded and produced by a huge cable channel here that has likened itself to HBO Originals.
I had tossed the script to my peers in the TV/film industry, and they have gone beyond praise, even suggesting character actors in the major roles, and offering locations and post-production facilities for editing and musical scoring --- certain as I was that this was going to be made.
Worse, as industry professionals, we all thought my credentials as an active practitioner and a few calls to network executives would have enough clout to influence the jury.
I was, we were wrong. The screenplay LUTANG (Afloat) failed to capture a slot in the final ten to be endowed with a production seed fund of one million pesos each.
Minutes after receiving the lethal email, I called the competition secretariat hoping to find some clues for my own learning as to why the screenplay was rejected, or who composed the jury, or did it rate even just as a runner-up in the final tally. Was my screenplay too heavy, were they looking for something more entertaining than enlightening? Did they prefer small personal stories rather than something that might spur some controversy of national interest and inspire some action from the youth? Did they want a simpler movie made for TV, and not a full-length picture that will help save the Palawan islands, or the Sierra Madre mountain ranges and the aboriginal tribes being driven away from their ancestral lands in order that foreign investments can pluck and yank the minerals underneath?
The program manager on the other line was deft in saying they couldn't divulge any more information than the list of winners contained in the email. She went on to say Thank You for participating and the standard line 'hope to see you next year'.
As I hanged up, all my hopes for the film shut down. I went over the script a few more times that day, and every day there after. And in each time, I felt I had done it its best: there was nothing more I could have done better character-wise, content-wise, story-wise.
A journalist friend of mine who has a huge interest on the subject of murdered journalists and broadcasters, once told me that TV professionals such as myself must refrain from entering open scriptwriting competitions for the sheer fact that like any other writing contest, works are judged subjectively by a jury that might be inept to the purposes of 'filmmaking with a mission' and can not therefore be measured on their entire merits.
Now in hindsight, I feel I should have listened to him.