Tennessee Screenwriting Association

To Educate and Promote the Art, Craft and Business of Screenwriting within Our Community.

Nashville Film Fest competitions manager shares screenwriting tips, tricks

By G. Robert Frazier

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Cat Stewart

The Tennessee Screenwriting Association was honored to host Cat Stewart, Screenplay Awards Manager for the Nashville Film Festival, at its May 13 Zoom meeting. In her second year heading up the competition, Stewart offered a wide range of advice, do’s and don’ts about writing screenplays for the competition as well as for Hollywood.

Below are some of the highlights from her talk:

Reasons to Enter a Contest

  • Just to be read
  • Just for fun
  • To win prizes
  • To launch a career

Common Mistakes Writers Make

  • Majority of scripts fail on premise or don’t have a commercial concept
  • First act has nothing to do with the rest of the screenplay
  • Protagonist is unclear or there is no journey for the main character
  • Nothing significant happens at the midpoint to raise the stakes or provide a twist
  • Too many pilots fail to hook an audience in the first few pages
  • Flowery language
  • Premises that have no logic
  • No theme

First page keys

  • Make me want to keep reading
  • Genre needs to be clear
  • Clear protagonist
  • Don’t open with a flashback

Practical Advice

  • Re: Flashbacks/voice overs – “If it works, it works. As long as it adds to the story, it’s OK.”
  • Keep in mind cost of the screenplay.
  • “Emotion is the most important thing on the page. Make me laugh, make me cry, scare the crap out of me. Emotion is the number one thing that sells a script.”
  • Re: Grammar/spelling – “If it’s a great script, I don’t freak out about it. We’ll get it fixed.”
  • “Don’t write in 47 genres. No one wants to rep someone who’s writing everything.”
  • Hour and half-hour pilots are where things are selling.
  • Don’t chase the market. “It’ll turn on a dime.”
  • “If you’ve not have a lot of luck or are kind of stagnant with your scripts, volunteer to be a reader. You’ll start finding something you do yourself. I highly recommend being a reader to anyone who wants to educate yourself.”
  • Read, study, break down films. Write! Write! Write!

On Diversity

  • “Last year we had an incredible number of diverse scripts.”
  • “Scripts that have diverse people that are written by diverse people are generally better than scripts written by non-diverse people. It’s not always the case, but if you’re writing about African-Americans and you’re a white man, it doesn’t come off the same way as it does if it’s an African-American writing about African-Americans.”
  • “I think it has to make a difference if the characters are diverse. There should be a reason for them to be in there or don’t write anything about what race they are and let the best actor get that role.”

On Covid-19’s impact

  • “Don’t write a coronavirus script. Hollywood doesn’t want them. If they do, an established writer is going to write it.”
  • Hollywood is looking for lighter stuff in the current climate.
  • Use fewer locations and background actors, but there’s opportunity for cgi
  • More Zoom writers rooms. “That might open up more opportunities for people who aren’t in LA.”

Encouraging Quotes

  • “Screenwriting is hard. Just be aware, it’s a long, long, long game. As long as you stay at it and you have a solid idea for a script, you might get there.”
  • “As far as a logline goes, what you really want to do is get a request to read your script.”
  • “A good film is a simple story well told. Complexity isn’t about the story, it’s about the character and how they deal with it.”
  • “If I’m absorbed in the story, I don’t care what genre I’m in.”

51st Nashville Film Festival