The Page Awards - My Experience
As many of you know, in addition to creating my podcast and YouTube content, I am also an independent filmmaker, creating work for the festival circuit and distributing my work through various online platforms. I've been an independent filmmaker since high school, and in terms of the identity I've curated for myself, I consider it one of the primary, non-negotiable aspects of my core being. I don't see it as a job or a career, but a way of life.
As a filmmaker and a writer, it makes sense that I am also a screenwriter. I am a screenwriter that produces his own work, but I am also a screenwriter that is constantly submitting work into the competition and film festival circuit. This is necessary because I do not have connections to any facet of the film industry, wealth, or anyone or anything that could do right by me and actually invest in any of the movies I want to make.
I'm on own, have always been, and my process allows for continuous independent work while also searching for that elusive someone who will want to collaborate with me on one of the many bigger projects on my to-do list. I believe there are people out there that would be the perfect collaborators for the projects I'm after, and my submissions to contests are a continuous search to find them... whoever they may be.
Last year, I submitted a screenplay to a handful of competitions, one of which was the PAGE AWARDS. I promptly forgot about the submission and continued focusing on my other creative projects, as I don't find it's healthy to dwell on things that are out of my control.
Create, submit, move onto the next thing. Create, submit, move onto the next thing. So on and so forth. With the level of rejection I receive on a regular basis, it just demands this almost mechanical method of operation.
On July 14th, I received an e-mail that my submission status would be updated the following day. When I received an e-mail the follow day, (which directed me to a website where I would find out whether or not my screenplay made it into the quarter-finals), I was informed by its lack of appearance there, that it did not. That's fine, it happens. Whatever. While I would have preferred an e-mail flat out telling me it didn't make it, as to avoid having to deal with a slow, lagging website, I guess they needed to drive traffic to their website or something. Or maybe they didn't understand how to use their technology infrastructure to send out a proper rejection notice. Whatever the reason, in regards to communication, there's room for improvement.
I have a very specific, rigid protocol whenever my work is turned down or my business with an event has wrapped. After all is said and done, I will unsubscribe from that organization's mailing list. This is part of my regular inbox maintenance practice, as I do not want to be flooded with spam or submission requests on a regular basis, as is what happens with many of these organizations.
I do this for every organization, even those that accept my work, but usually after the event has ended. For example. my work was recently accepted in competition at the Beverly Hills Film Festival, and I participated in it fully, via their virtual platform, and once the festival wrapped, I unsubscribed. It's simple, straight-forward, and if I ever want to check in on them, I will.
I have even won a handful of awards at various hole-in-the-wall film festivals and screening series', and even those, that thought my work was good enough to award a plaque, I am no longer subscribed to.
Considering the levels of e-mail communications I receive on a minute-by-minute basis, this maintenance practice is incredibly important. As an individual, I don’t have the bandwidth to follow every single organization I submit my work to. Remember, I'm not just submitting screenplays to screenplay competitions, but I am also sending my latest completed films to film festivals, and my work reel to potential clients for commercial gigs, and my back-catalog of work to festivals that program older works. It's a hustle, and a hustle that only works if I'm consistent and on it... all the time.
With the PAGE AWARDS, upon sending my first "STOP" request, Zoe Simmons, who represents the PAGE AWARDS (at least, in e-mail form), sent me a rather passive-aggressive e-mail "thanking" me for submitting my screenplay.
Thank you for writing in — we always appreciate it! :)
And thank you for competing with DESIRE LINES - you can be very proud of yourself for all your hard work.
Best regards and keep writing,
The 2021 PAGE Awards
I once again returned an UNSUBSCRIBE e-mail, in case they didn't understand that a STOP e-mail is an UNSUBSCRIBE e-mail. I wasn't looking for a passive-aggressive acknowledgement, I just wanted to unsubscribe. A few minutes later, I received a message from Zoe, which I suspected may have been intended for one of her colleagues, with the subject line, and I'm not kidding, here it is:
"He wants to unsubscribe, what a baby."
That's how they see people who don't want to receive their e-mail blasts, post-contest. That's how they see the 90% of the people who did not make the quarterfinals. That's how they treat people who have paid their atrocious $65 reading fee (yes, some contests charge a fee to read your work... if this sounds skeevy, it sorta is... but this is a much bigger issue that I am going to discuss in a future episode of my podcast - and it likely won't focus on any specific contest as it's a systemic problem).
What this is about, is treating people nicely because you never really know where they're coming from. This is about bullies and gatekeepers.
Calling someone a "Cry baby" for unsubscribing, is how kids treat one-another in kindergarten. While not having a screenplay that I've labored over for a few years now, not chosen for a competition isn't ideal, certainly a submitter unsubscribing can't possibly sting so much that they are inclined to send such a ridiculous, knee-jerk, pin-prick of a response - even if it was meant for internal use.
As you can well imagine, I did send a brief response. At 5:18 PM, I respond with a note asking how they might feel if I included this experience on my podcast. Several hours went by, and at 9:33 PM, I received a long-winded response from Zoe, which I'll include here. Before I do, know that I have been thinking a great deal about the length of this next response, and how long it took to get to me. She'd probably been writing it for quite a few hours, and when I pasted the e-mail into a word file to see just how long it is, turns out that it's a five page e-mail.
In Zoe's final message to me, she suggested that I would not read her five page e-mail response on the podcast (it was almost a dare). But, I decided not to do an episode on it altogether, and simply include the e-mail here on my blog:
This is deserved — although an internal email mis-sent — and if you want to put it on your podcast, it is of course your call. And I respect that choice.
Please know it is not “yourselves” outed — rather ALL blame and ALL responsibility for that one partial comment in the subject line is MY FAULT, the human being, Zoe Simmons.
And for that I am sorry and I apologize that it went to you erroneously. I have already contacted admin and let them know of my error.
But if one looks at life, as I do, that there are no accidents, then I have to face up to it — and you have every right to out ME (not the contest). I am the Contest Coordinator,
and if that one internal comment defines me to you in full, then again, it is deserved from your viewpoint.
I get that.
It’s a great “gotcha” and it should do well for you and your show - so if I have helped out in that regard, that’s a good thing for you! :)
Here’s the other side — (which likely won’t make the podcast, as it’s not as provocative, as “newsworthy” or as fun to dish):
It is in response to your initial STOP email that that I wrote this to you:
Hi Eric, Thank you for writing in — we always appreciate it! :) And thank you for competing with DESIRE LINES - you can be very proud of yourself for all your hard work. Best regards and keep writing, Zoe Simmons Contest Coordinator The 2021 PAGE Awards Then you responded: UNSUBSCRIBE and truthfully, my heart sank. In that moment to me, it felt you were giving up on us and even more so, on yourself. You didn’t like the outcome, and you just give up. You walk away. Boom. That’s how I read it. And in that moment, my heart sinks.
Bottom line: It never makes sense to me to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
That’s just a total lose/lose.
And I just shake my head. And yes, in that moment, it feels like “baby”. To me. (I have young nieces and nephews so the knee jerk reaction is what I responded to.) Is that the sum total of who you are? Of course NOT. Just as what I wrote above in a subject line in a hurry is also not a totality of me. But no matter - run with it! :)
And I have tracked it — the handful of writers that unsubscribe every year end up coming back in a year or two. And we have to get a new email from them or they have to re-subscribe — and it was always in a fit of pique that the action is taken instead of saying: "Well, I tried that. I worked hard” (and I know you did). Turn it into a win for YOU.
Just throwing in the towel doesn’t seem like the answer in a career meant to span decades. One result in one contest does not define YOU or your work in your totality.
We don’t see anyone as a loser… we see everyone as “ever growing, ever becoming, and then one year we see the breakout scripts. We see a script that was entered two or three years in a row suddenly come to full flower. And it’s like WOW! And we get excited. Everyone is on their own path in their own way. In their own time.
And you are definitely one with longevity. Or you wouldn’t have unsubscribed. (Normally those who unsubscribe are very talented. And they do come back. So there is that. Go figure.)
But you are right — In my instantaneous response to your UNSUBSCRIBED response, that moment in time is “outed”. I am sorry the email went to you - but it’s done now.
You have to go for it and you have to build a podcast around it — I think it’s a good idea.
And again,there are no accidents. So we shall see how this all plays out.
When an internal email get mis-sent, it is what it is.
And yes, I wrote that. Meant only internally.
But for so many more reasons behind it, as clarified above, I referenced the term I did. Because it is the long road, not the short road, that gets an artist to their desired destination. One cumulative score, one script in one contest, in one Quarterfinals is no death knell or poor mark on you, or your script — we don’t see it as a “bad” thing — we understand how tough the cut is… You are clearly talented. To see you give up and unsubscribe just makes no sense. (And I’m a military kid, so we don’t quit. We don’t give up.)
90% of the scripts got cut today.
That’s what the Quarterfinals are. Are there are many wonderful scripts that got cut — of course. It hurts. It’s painful. It’s tough for us, too. We know the hopes, dreams, blood, sweat, tears, etc. that comes with writing a screenplay. We know the disappointment can really burn. It’s an awful day for so many.
Eric, you of course must do what you believe is right for you and your podcast. And for an internal email — that was mis-sent erroneously — I take 1000% blame.
Not the PAGE Awards. They actually have nothing to do with this. I typed the subject line. They did NOT. Again, they never even got the email.
Me, the person -the human being, did it. And I do consider myself a highly flawed person. So have at it. There are no accidents.
But I do love the PAGE Awards, and I love what we do and I know how much everyone here at PAGE H.Q. cares about the writers and the contest. 18 years proves that we have a stellar track record because we love doing it. We love finding great scripts every single year. We love seeing writers grow and develop and that is the amazing part of working here.
The email was certainly not intended to go to you directly. My goodness… I would never do that. But we have all had the fear of a message sent to the wrong person, an email forwarded to someone erroneously. We’ve all been there. (That would be a great podcast as well - what to do when an internal email goes to the wrong person.)
That’s life now. And it was MY FAULT. As Zoe Simmons, the person. A few seconds I get to rue now… along with all my other faults. Ha…
But just as your STOP and UNSUBSCRIBE does not fully define you and all the colors you are, neither does my one comment.
MINE, not the PAGE Awards. Internally. Not meant externally. And for the reasons explained above why I wrote what I did. You were the third one in a row — and it just makes me so sad when writers shoot themselves in the foot in a fit of pique. Instead of staying the course. That’s my perspective. From this end, on the other side.
Likely none of this will make the light of day because it’s not as much fun as the show I’m sure you have in mind. You have the better sound byte, for sure! :)
But between you and me, I wanted to make myself clear. Because you do not know the work and time we spend and the passion with which we do this. How each of you and your growth matter. How we want you to understand that rejection doesn’t always make sense. How one year someone is up and another year they are down. Just as the music and film and TV Industry go in real life. We’re a microcosm of that.
But don’t give up.
Bottom line: I do wish people would stick it out, though. Not decide things in the moment and throw away any good that could come of something. Don’t give up -
don’t take the toys away and leave. Stay the course. Believe in yourself and keep going.
But, oh well.
But here’s the good news: you’ll make a good podcast out of it, I am sure! :)
Perhaps more than one if you do one on hitting send on something that goes to your new producer that was meant for a friend in confidence… what is the etiquette for that?
And so on…
Thank you for reading this far… I’m actually looking forward to how this plays out. I’m such a behind-the-scenes person and I prefer life that way… supporting, not leading.
So this is something new for me. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this experience.
Thank you for reading this far — and best of luck with the show… I’ve never been part of a podcast before.
Sincerely, and truly apologetically, but in flawed humanity as well,
Zoe Simmons Contest Coordinator The 2021 PAGE Awards
Now, Zoe admits this was meant to be internal. But, if this is how they're talking about people in their internal communications, that's disturbing on a multitude of levels. Almost, in some ways, more so, than if it were actually meant for me. Additionally, she suggests that the lifers always unsubscribe, but if this was true she wouldn't have responded the way she did. She took my unsubscribe demand personally, which no one should do when running a public-facing contest like this.
I am not ignorant to the fact that this industry is a tough nut to crack. That it's cruel. It's an environment that demands thick skin, and an occasional collaboration with those that will be your competition somewhere down the road. I am not ignorant of the fact that part of the reason ingress is so difficult is because the industry at large is infested with nepotism, favoritism, and friends who just want to work with people they already know.
And look, I'm also no stranger to running into judgmental assholes, the ones that prefer to put people into abstract categories like, "Crybaby" "Loser" etc... than actually put a conscious effort into getting to know them. I live in New York City and prior to the pandemic made occasional business trips to Los Angeles, most of which turned out to be duds. None of this is new to me.
I was once told by an agent to "lose his number" because I was baffled by the minimum $10,000 per day the actor he was representing, required, before considering a role in a film I was directing. I was once invited to a meeting, only to have it cancelled upon my arrival because I was deemed too "unimportant to give time to". <- I've heard many others tell similar stories.
Yes, the film industry is full of terrible people, but that doesn’t mean we should give up creative industries to the likes of them. On the contrary, they’re why we should keep at it. These people should not be the gatekeepers. Actually, there shouldn't be gatekeepers, period.
This is why I won't stop. Creativity shouldn't be for the bullies, it should be for those that prefer to rise above such BS. When I was a child I was severely bullied, name-called, physically beaten... Film and Writing saved me from these bullies, and at a certain point, would-be bullies were converted into creative collaborators (because who wouldn't want to be in a movie, while still in high school?) - the last thing this industry needs are these types of bullies passing judgement on creatives submitting work to them.
The last thing the arts, in general, needs, are name-calling bullies.
On that elusive collaborator that I'm still searching for... they're still out there... but, clearly The PAGE AWARDS is not the route to find them. I can't imagine that they are the route for most of the screenwriters that have submitted, considering how they talk about people in their internal communications.