Laura Mușat & Andreea Toader talk about the 5th edition of The Script Contest
Organized by the Romanian Film Development Association (ADFR), The Script Contest is the only residency-contest for short films in Romania and it includes a variety of activities focusing on script development for short films. The most exciting part is the 6 days residency held at Cobor Farm where participants can dedicate themselves entirely to writing and developing their scripts in a secluded village with almost no phone signal. During the residency, the coordinators – Laura & Andreea, organise round tables, film screenings, peer review feedback sessions, workshops and mentoring meetings. This year TSC takes place between March and June. Below we hace prepared for those interested a short interview with Laura & Andreea, who talk about the project from its beginning to today.
Laura, The Script Contest (TSC) is at its 5th edition. There’s still people who are discovering us only now, so what do you say if we present a short review of the project and its evolution over the 4 editions that we’ve had so far?
The first edition was pilot, super guerilla style – we received all the applications by email and that was the highest number of scripts we’ve gotten so far; after all, there weren’t many application rules. We went with two genres, thriller and comedy, and we had a jury consisting of four members and changing with each edition, presided by Massimiliano Nardulli. Then, for the 2nd edition, Massimiliano came up with the idea of having a general theme, instead of limiting the scripts to film genres – so the applicants would have more freedom in choosing the topics. With each edition the application rules and selection criteria became more and more thorough.
From the very beginning, we offered as a prize the production of the winning script, but this year things have changed a little. I think this prize was a great stimulus for the applicants. Starting with the 3rd edition, things got trickier – we introduced the feedback meetings between the jury and the finalists and the pitch stage, plus a pre-selection team. And last year we started receiving support from the Administration of the National Cultural Fund and turned the project into a residency-contest; we basically added this week of rewriting the scripts, in a place away from the everyday hustle and bustle.
Now you tell me what’s new about this edition and I am also quite curious what you enjoy most in the whole organization process – and also during the residency?
Andreea: Well, we mostly have the same structure and the same stages. We changed the period a bit – TSC was held in autumn-spring and now it has moved in spring-summer, with the call for entries opening in March and the residency taking place in June. Then, the one-on-one meetings will not be held with the jury members anymore – they’ll only stick to their job of choosing the winner. They’ll read the scripts – the first and their final drafts – and will analyze their evolution, as well as the way they are presented by the 8 finalists within the pitch. The meetings will take place with two mentors the week before the residency (face to face), as well as during the residency (virtually, via video call).
The prize also changes a bit. We will continue to offer the 3,500RON to the winning screenwriter, but we no longer offer the entire production of the short film – Castalia Pictures will offer a grant this year, am I right?
Laura: Yes, Castalia offers up to 6,000EUR for the production of the winning script, and Avanpost offers the coloring stage and deliverables. I’m very curious how this will affect the number of submissions. We may receive fewer applications. I would add something important, this year we will also have some film workshops for children, taking place during the residency (at Cobor Farm), organized in partnership with “Bun Venit Transilvania” Association.
Now tell me – what do you enjoy most about TSC?
Andreea: The whole process is interesting. In terms of organizing the residency, I’m happy when things get sorted and everything goes according to the plan (laughs). Being the second edition with a residency and having it in the same place, I don’t think there will be as many surprises, which is great for me. Then, we will have one more colleague in the organizing team this year and we will be able to work in the same office, it will not be all through emails or calls anymore – although this formula works just as fine if there’s no other option.
Laura: A pandemic formula …
Andreea: After all, live meetings are much better.
Laura: Especially now that we’ve also been vaccinated.
Andreea: True. You asked me what I liked about the residency – it’s the whole experience.
Laura: I know it was the fresh bread made at the farm that you liked the most (laughs).
Andreea: Well, I would never say no to bread, that’s for sure. Or to food in general; yes, I’m a foodie, I admit. But I really liked the farm and their activity, the fact that everything it’s organic and environment-friendly. I loved discovering the place and everything they do there. And I liked watching the participants and how they went about working on their projects, be it the roundtables, or the feedback meetings. I was curious if the residency really works, if the fact that they’re here for a week really changes anything.
And does it work?
I think it does, I really do. Especially after the feedback that we got from them. Besides the quiet atmosphere of the place, which lets you breathe and collect your thoughts, there is also the program, which is designed in such a way as to serve their needs in the creative process.
Let’s have an exercise of imagination: say we get the ideal funding, what would you like TSC to look like in these conditions?
Laura: That’s a very good question, it gives me the possibility to dream a little, since I’m quite realistic and down-to-earth. First of all, I think there are a lot of people in this team who deserve a better ”fee”, so I would start with that. Then, I would love to expand the residency – I think six days is too short of a period, but you know we can’t afford more. If we had 10-12 days, it would be ideal; there would be room for more applied workshops, maybe for some talks focused on short film with professionals in the industry, be it local or even international. I would also like to have an international jury, which would mean having also a component in the project for the applicants outside Romania. I would really like TSC to be no longer just for Romanian directors and screenwriters in a few years, although I would like to keep the focus on Romania, because ultimately this is the industry we want to develop through the project, but there should be networking, sharing the experience with others, and a separate call open to some of the neighboring states. And maybe that would lead to the development of more co-productions.
Andreea: What I think is very cool about our project is that we offer a chance to the people outside the film bubble – to those who come from different fields, but are creative and have great stories to tell.
Laura: I like that, too, and I don’t want us to give up on this aspect, but sometimes I think that maybe it would better to separate them from the applicants already working in the industry, in order to offer them more chances – maybe also have separate prizes, so that a participant who comes from another field and is talented, but doesn’t have the know-how of someone who went to film school or works in film, does not have to fight for the same place.
Andreea: Yes, this industry is pretty closed; I remember when I entered this world, about five years ago, it was quite difficult to get in – there were only one or two workshops or projects that would give a chance to those who didn’t finish a film school or didn’t work in the field.
Laura: Yeah, you were a complete outsider.
Andreea: Yeah, but I started with baby steps and I gradually got to know this world and manage around it. I think outsiders can come up with a different, rather fresh perspective.
Let’s talk a little about the final selection of the eight participants – you’re part of the selection committee, alongside Alexandra Safriuc. What’s your process and how do you pick the lucky eight?
Laura: We go together through all the applications. However, it is quite true that only one of us reads the bad ones if we are the first to find them. We’ve been working together for a while now and we trust each other, so if one of us finds a bad script, the other one skips it. We both read the good ones and the ones I haven’t made up my mind about – we have an excel in our Google Drive folder where we have the title of each film, its author, synopsis, genre and number of pages. Here we make a note next to each script we read, and at the end, we make a top 20 and we compare them. The titles that are on both lists usually are the lucky finalists, but sometimes we have more than eight, so we select the final ones on the following criterias – first, what’s the script’s development stage – if it’s at its very first draft, it’s almost impossible to develop a final draft in such a short period of time; like I told you earlier, we would need a few extra days for our residency. So it’s important to select stories that really have a chance to reach a final draft in that time they spend at TSC. The second criteria would be festival eligibility – because let’s face it, short films are just a director’s (or a producer’s / screenwriter’s) card to receiving the attention and the money needed for the development of their features. And it’s also an exercise, but almost never a profitable one. The life of a short film is really short and in that time it has to be seen by as many people as possible – usually that happens in film festivals, or at the screenings you would organize. So that’s our process.
I admit it is tiring to read so many scripts, especially when you’ve read 10 bad ones in a row, and you feel like throwing away your laptop. However, when a good one comes after all the weak ones, for me it’s like going to the seaside for the first time in a year and feeling the water on your feet on the shore.
I don’t look for anything specific in the stories I read. I like to be surprised, I enjoy any film genre and I keep myself opened.
Have you ever found a script that blew your mind so that you could see it win from such an early stage?
It’s funny, but yes. Every edition I find one or two scripts that I really enjoy reading and they always end up in the final eight, but never win 🙂
Have you ever thought about what kind of story you would write and apply with at The Script Contest?
Andreea: I really like comedies, it’s such an underrated genre, and quite difficult to write, but it’s like a breath of fresh air when you encounter a good written one. I don’t know if I could ever write comedy, but I would like to try.
I also like visual pieces, inspired by nature. You know I’m into animals, nature, stories that depict landscapes – let’s call them experimental films or visual essays.
What about you?
Laura: I’m fond of documentaries for a while now; I would really enjoy reading some docu-stories this year, even though they’re difficult to write. I cannot pick a story I would compete with, I feel inspired usually by what I see, or read. Last night I read a piece on Chrissoveloni’s family and the first Romanian bank they built, nationalized and taken by Ceaucescu – he took everything from them, so they soon left the country. In the 2000s, his son got back the building and built Carturesti Carousel, which we all know and admire. I find the story quite interesting and would love to see it animated.
What advantages do you think the short film has?
Laura: I think its biggest advantage is that it’s easy to watch thanks to its length. Nowadays everything moves rapidly, technology has evolved, we work a lot and we like series – that is the trend – shorter content, because we no longer have that much time for watching films, we get tired very quickly. I think short films might have a breakthrough – after all, if you think about the episodes of a series, each one has the length of a short film. But then it’s also about marketing and promotion.
How do you see short filmmaking evolve?
Andreea: I feel that with the boom of streaming platforms this could be a perfect place for short films. Like you said, right now there’s only the film festivals. Maybe more VoD platforms could have their own collections of short films – I know HBO has one and they are good. When it comes to cinemas, I don’t know…
Laura: Did you know that a long time ago the big American studios screened short films at the beginning of feature films? I noticed animation studios still do it from time to time (such as Disney, Pixar & co.) – has it ever happened to you? I think I saw a short film right before Toy Story, a few years ago…
Andreea: I know Pixar does that with its short films, yes.
Laura: Maybe that could be a possibility, too, in the future.
Andreea: It might, but until then, VoD platforms could easily implement short films collections.
The call for submissions is still opened until the 2nd of May. You can find out more visiting their website at www.thescriptcontest.com