Since 2009, Fresh Voices has distinguished itself as a screenplay competition designed to discover, empower and promote the next generation of storytellers, writers and filmmakers. As the name would suggest, Fresh Voices has done this by identifying writers with a unique and memorable voice that demands to be read. Now in their ninth year, they have helped guide dozens of talented screenwriters to secure literary representation, option agreements and other work-for-hire writing assignments that have been the stepping stones to significant careers.
Fresh Voices Advisory Board Member and Primary Sponsor, Joel Mendoza, has spent over 20 years in the industry as an agent, manager and producer. It’s important to him that Fresh Voices be a platform to give the microphone to talented screenwriters that have a story to tell and a voice that deserves to be heard. We had the opportunity to ask Joel a few questions about Fresh Voices. His answers are below.
Coverfly: What’s one unique piece of advice you’d give to writers who enter your contest?
Joel Mendoza: Have a purpose in what you write and why you write. Be a student of life, of people and of the human condition. Those who do are able to connect with their audience in a way that most other writers cannot.
CF: What’s the best thing writers can do if they place in, but don’t win the contest?
JM: Keep on writing, keep on submitting and keep on getting notes. And write something else. Don’t keep on rewriting the same script. Write something else. Explore your wheelhouse and try your style at different genres.
CF: When a writer wins, what can they expect from you and your contest? And what can writers do to be best prepared for capitalizing on a win?
JM: I can guarantee unwavering support, engagement and promotion. The hope is that with the tools, guidance and opportunity we offer, our winners are well-equipped to develop a great screenplay and pursue a successful career, however, no one can guarantee success! The best thing a winner can do is be a shameless self-promoter. Be a hustler, pound the pavement and get people to listen. Don’t sit back and have a drink and wait for the offers to come rolling in.
One piece of advice that I think is important for winners is to be ready and armed with another great script to show. Each year, after we announce and promote our winners, we receive a lot of requests to read scripts. And so often, once an executive reads a script that they like, the inevitable response is always, “hey, this is a great script. Do they have anything else we can read?” And each time I find that it is the writer that has another script, equally as polished, sharp, original and promising as the first, that ends up getting signed or somehow capitalizing quicker and gaining momentum from their win.
CF: Are there any special elements of the script your readers are looking for that you can share?
JM: We judge each screenplay on a 15-point scorecard that includes such things as tone, structure, pacing, characters and dialogue, as well as format, commerciality and the even the writer’s voice; the style and personality with which you write. It is after all, why we are called Fresh Voices.
As such, our scoring system is weighted to give the writers voice a higher importance to all the other elements. What this means in practice is even if your script is not a highly commercial prospect or perhaps you are new to screenwriting and you don’t know exactly how to format a script, if you’ve got a strong authorial voice, your script still has a chance to get noticed and to advance.
It is one of the things that make Fresh Voices unique and how we often discover winners other competitions may have overlooked.
CF: What does your reading process look like and who are your readers?
JM: All of our readers have industry experience reading scripts for production companies, talent agencies, management companies as well as for the studios and networks. Some have prior experience working as executive assistants, creative executives, developments executives and many are writers themselves. Our readers have worked as the gatekeepers of Hollywood, and now they do the same for us.
There are four rounds to the judging, and no judge reads the same screenplay more than once after the first round. In our first round, we offer all contestants the opportunity to receive their judge’s notes and scorecard. This is an invaluable tool to see how your script stacks up. I highly recommend taking advantage of any competition that offers constructive script feedback.
CF: Why is your contest valuable to writers?
JM: Aside from the value, all good, well-run screenplay competitions offer such as deadlines, script feedback, and that sense of validation all those who place in a competition can feel, our winners receive beneficial prize packages from our generous sponsors and upwards of $20,000 in cash and prizes.
But more importantly, Fresh Voices has been around for 10 years now and has become one of the most highly anticipated screenplay competitions of the year by screenwriters and by the industry alike. We often field calls and queries from producers and managers seeking new writers and new material. We have long-term industry relationships that go back years and allow us to target specific companies and put winning material directly into the hands of producers, managers and executives looking for their next project!
CF: Do you think entering contests is a good path for all aspiring writers?
JM: There is a lot of value in entering screenplay competitions for a lot of writers, but not necessarily all. So really depends on the writer and what they write.
Contests that offer constructive notes and feedback can prove to be particularly valuable for writer’s who are not based in LA or in the US even. Contests that do provide judge’s notes can really give a writer far from Hollywood a very useful and productive sense of how your work is seen by those in Hollywood so that even if you don’t win, there is still a lot to gain.