Over 500 screenwriters applied to WeScreenplay’s inaugural Diverse Voices Screenwriting Competition. The competition was designed to encourage writers who are under-represented in Hollywood, according to the WGA diversity report.
“The contest is focused on diversity in entertainment both behind and in front of the camera,” said Co-Founder and Director of WeScreenplay Mark Stasenko in a recent interview with IndieWire. The contest was not limited to women and minority screenwriters, nor by age, as the Diverse Voices competition is also looking for stories that bring diversity in front of the camera as well. A majority of the 50 judges were readers for production companies with on average three years of professional experience.
“While The Nicholl Fellowship usually has fewer than 30% of their submissions from women writers, Diverse Voices received 60% of our submissions from female writers,” said Stasenko. “Our grand prize winner is a female writer, two of our winners are women, at least two of our winners are minority writers, and at least 2 of our winners are over-40 — all under-represented groups in the WGA diversity report.”
Each finalist was asked to answer the following questions: How does your voice, experience, characters, or story represents a new and diverse perspective for Hollywood? The answers (you can read excerpts here) highlight the numerous perspectives and voices that Hollywood is missing. For example, one finalist (unnamed) wrote:
“As a sixty-five year-old gay man, I believe I may have even more to say than I did in my youth, even if Hollywood might think otherwise. Sadly, when my longtime partner, Mark, passed away in 2005, there were words left unsaid; two simple ones that should have been our legal right. ‘I do.'”
Winners will receive hands-on development and first looks with important industry leaders. There are over 30 companies who’ve requested the winners, including Cross Creek Pictures, MarVista, Echo Lake, and Bellevue. The Grand Prize winner will receive a $1,000 writing grant, but all category winners (TV, Feature, Web-series, Short) will receive 3-months of development with Wescreenplay members who have experience at places like HBO, 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, Netflix, and NBC.
“The development mentors will be among our judges with the most experience in the genre/format of each winner’s project,” said Stasenko. “The three months will include three sets of in-depth notes on the script — page by page breakdowns of what is working and what needs to be improved. We will be making a strong push to land writers representation. Much of this will come from the list of companies taking first looks, but we’ll also be doing promoting interviews with our winners, reaching out to management companies, and using reaching out to anyone else who may be a good fit for the writer.”
Here are the inaugural winners and a description of their scripts.
Overall Grand Prize Winner:
“Foxy Naught” by Karen Rouse
This thrilling and unique television show takes place in the heart of San Francisco, as a cryptographer and her team hunt down an emerging Zodiac-style serial killer, while running an upmarket sex toy store to fund their investigation. Karen’s voice jumps right off the page and the pilot is unlike anything currently on television – in all the right ways.
When asked why diversity in entertainment is important, Rouse wrote: “Being a woman out in the world isn’t always easy, but it inspired me to create strong, independent female characters. The protagonist in Foxy Naught, Meryn, is a woman who is her own boss.”
Best Script in Each Category
Feature: “The Trill Nikkia” by Leon Chills
Logline: A woman is hunted by the Mexican cartel after killing several of their men to escape a bad situation and to make a better life for her daughter.
Television: “Bog Walk” by Dominique Holmes
Logline: A Jamaican preacher uses his influence over his congregation to build a criminal empire in order to secure the futures of his two teenaged daughters.
Short: “My Stardust” by J.J. Hillard
Logline: An astronaut’s elderly widow, watching TV news of an unmanned test flight to Mars, discovers evidence that she may be more than just a viewer of the mission.
Web-series: “48 States of Grandpa” by Paul Jury
Logline: After his beloved grandfather leaves him a deathbed wish to have his ashes scattered in all 48 contiguous United States, a recent high school graduate sets out with two friends to fulfill Granddad’s wish and find their direction.