Manuel Solís on CineFestival’s Screenwriters Spotlight Competition


By Enrique Lopetegui

(photo by Kate Solís)

CineFestival curator Manuel Solís has a point: you can make a bad movie out of a good screenplay, but you can’t make a good movie out of a bad screenplay. In that respect, CineFestival’s decision to give $1,000 to the best writer in the Screenwriters Spotlight Competition (to be launched for CineFestival’s 34th anniversary in February 2012) but nothing to the best movie is a way to encourage the good writers out there, especially given the fact that good film writing seems to be the toughest thing to find. Still, I wish the winning film could also get a piece of the pie. I asked Solís about it, and this is what he said. How come next year’s CineFestival will give monetary rewards to screenwriters, which is great, but not to the winning films? Basically, the screenwriting competition is something new that we’ve added to this year’s festival. Last year we had a stage reading, and this is kind of our way to continue that and to really distinguish CineFestival from the other Latino film festivals in the country. Nobody else is doing a screenwriting competition, and because this is the first year and something that we really wanted to kick off in the right way, we do have this prize attached to the competition. With the our normal film festival entries, traditionally, we’ve always given the Premio Mesquite Award, which is the actual physical award for the director of the winning film, in addition to travel and lodging to the festival. And in addition to that, we give them a modest honorarium while they’re here, about $300, so to speak. But why not give money to both aspiring screenwriters and those who actually finished the festival’s winning film? The way we were looking at it is that we’re already giving away to the people who win the other categories. It takes about $200 or so to make the actual award, and then we’re also giving them an honorarium. So, in total, we’re already giving the filmmakers, you could say, around $500 dollars, and we really don’t, in terms of budgeting, have a budget to give every person who wins an award an x-amount of money. Not everyone: I’m just saying the winning film, you know, Best in Show The other thing is, those who enter the screenwriting competition have to pay $40, but what they’re getting out of it is readers in Los Angeles giving them coverage and feedback. We’re reaching out to executives at different companies to actually help select the winners, so they’re getting a really good investment for their $40. The actual film entries, those are a little less. We’re charging $25-30, depending on what film or what category they’re in. So, I think that’s another thing to take into consideration, so they do get more or less $500, when you consider the price to make the award, the honorarium that they get, and their travel and lodging while they’re here; so they do get something out of it. We’re just not saying specifically, you know, that there is a cash component to the entry process. The reason being is we just don’t have a budget to give money to everyone who wins a film award. Don’t get me wrong: again, I think it’s great to encourage screenwriters, but isn’t the point of a film festival to show and reward good movies? Wasn’t it possible to make it 50-50 or even 60-40? I just find it strange that a possible good movie is getting more than a movie that has already been made and won. I think, again, it just comes to the shift in focus that we’re having. Obviously, it’s always going to be a film festival and the emphasis is going to be on films that we screen, but this is kind of a way to really focus on the craft of making the films and to also really try to do something that no other Latino film festival is really doing — emphasizing screenwriters. We want to reward screenwriters. I think the problem that we have a lot of times is you have Latino filmmakers who, yes, they want to make their film and, yes, they want to get it out there, but a lot of times the biggest hurdle that we have is getting these stories on paper and getting them on paper in the right way. So in addition to having the competition and rewarding filmmakers, I think it’s also a way for us to create more or less what we would call “the brown list,” where we see who’s working on screenplays within the country. We kind of have a better sense of who’s doing what kind of work and a better sense of the pulse of films that want to be made and that are out there. Then, hopefully, with not only the prize but with the staged reading, we’re kind of helping the filmmaker to advance their story and get their story out there. I look back to last year’s festival where we focused on Cristina Ibarra’s film Love & Monster Trucks. We basically had a staged reading of the film at the festival, and we were also able to give her a small amount of money to go toward work on the film. Because of that, she was able to get Esai Morales to read a part of this script, which wouldn’t have happened before. She was able to get a better sense of who to cast, how the story was working, and how to advance her production. We’re not giving money to a director that has a completed project, but we’re helping filmmakers to evolve and continue making their work.

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