Winnng an Award is really cool. Anyone who saids otherwise is full of shit. (or never won one)
Feeling proud and confident in your own work is one thing, knowing that others also feel confident in the quality of your work is very much something else. Moreover, knowing that those who judged your work are also your peers and seniors, those who have proven their credentials over many years in the same field of endeavour, extends even further the coolness of the award-winning experience.
And this was my experience of winning an Australian Writers Guild AWGIE award last friday night at the 45th annual awards dinner. But there was another element as well that dawned on me only later in the evening after a few too many glasses of red wine (some of which i spilled on my wife… but we wont talk about that) My winning screenplay is a Horror story; not a parody or a hybrid a schlock satire of faux-horror, but a genuine Horror story of transgression, curses, ghosts and psychological torment.
I’ve written a lot about this before and regular readers will know the spiel of my one-man mission to reclaim Horror from the too often gross mis-management it has suffered over the past decade here in Australia.
I mention this because it speaks to the realisation i had about why this award is so cool as a specific kind of validation. The AWGIE for best long-form unproduced script was selected from more than 150 scripts registered with the Guild and was filtered through a panel of 9 judges. These judges come from all forms of screenwriting - feature, tv, doco, serial and mini-series, across all genres from soap-opera to science fiction, crime drama to family films. In addition, the 4 other nominees themselves ran the gamut from sexually-charged art-house features, to network TV dramedy pilots. The script was therefore judged not as a ‘horror’ script or against any specific genre criteria. Rather it was judged on the self-same elements of any work of screenwriting - character, dramatic tension, engagement, concept, structure, emotional truth.
For a genre that is too often wrongly treated as having only niche appeal outside of mainstream tastes, i find it enormously validating that my Horror script be awarded in this way. Confirmation of what i have long argued about Horror - when at its best, no other form speaks to the human condition more acutely than the high mythological pedestal of Horror. Stories that scare us are woven into our bones, as Stephen Kings saids, “the night thoughts that trouble a whole society”, our fears define who we are and how we understand ourselves in a very profound way.
Horror (when it’s good and not cheapened and diluted by mindless splatter) embodies those most vital of narrative elements audiences crave: high stakes, deeply flawed characters, compelling concepts and rich metaphors. And it does so in a direct way that few other forms of narrative can. Horror is NOT a niche genre - horror (when it is done right) sits at the centre of cinematic experience with broad potential to effect and engage wide and diverse audiences. And i cant help but feel that in some small way my AWGIE award, and the process it had to go through to win, is some kind of validation of this perspective.
As i sat at our table at the awards dinner - a wee bit intoxicated on winning, grinning and red wine - i found myself surveying the crowd, hundreds strong, and drawing another interesting conclusion about the AWGIES, the Australian Writers Guild and the nature of writers as a collective…. (it was pointed out to me that the collective noun for a group of writers is a ‘Worship of Writers’ - and it seems wholly fitting)
The AWGIE crowd is not short on celebrity and influence - all of Australia’s major stage and screenwriting talent is in attendance, including all their various collaborators - directors, producers, network executives, funding body investment managers - all the major players of the Australian industry are on show… And yet, when you put that many serious writers together in room there is a remarkable and surprising lack of Ego. Any kind of gathering of artists en-masse is bound to bring posturing and pettiness and yet whenever i attend an AWG event im stunned by the utter lack of pretentiousness. Even more significantly, it is entirely rare to have a professional body of artists be so openly and collectively supportive of each other. The Australian Writers Guild in particular has very successfully fostered a culture of open support, encouragement and collaboration - of the kind very few professional bodies could boast.
It made me wonder about the nature of writers and why this culture exists? Is it because writers are so often overlooked with all attention on directors and actors, that they feel a need to band together rather than turn on each other?
Is it perhaps something about the nature of the writing art itself. Unlike directing and acting, writing is something performed alone and requiring nothing but paper and pen (digital or otherwise). In this way, much like painters, the writer is compelled to write, Irrespective of whether they are going into production or not, the Writer will write - has to write. And because of that compulsion that all writers know too well, there is a collective empathy that forms, that binds us together and motivates us not to claw over each other, but rather to elevate each other in a very empathetic way.
Whatever it is, its a culture that the Australian Writers Guild has very successfully fostered and cultivated over its 50 year history. One that is very much on display at events like the annual AWGIE awards and even more so at the National Screenwriters Conference which the AWG stages every two years. The NSWC is a quite extraordinary event i have been privileged to both attend and speak at in the past. Neither a junket piss-up with friends, or a hard-nosed business event for cutting deals, the NSWC embraces all the collaborative supportive culture of writers whilst dispensing with any of the cliqueness and insularity that many other similar events can quickly descend into.
The AWG NSWC is an event where Hollywood heavyweight screenwriters will share a beer at table with un-credited writers, TV executives and film-school students. And do so without any air of an exclusive club nor of a tone of superiority. And whilst maintaining this tone, the conference still delivers on being the THE event for getting noticed, making deals, forging connections and learning. It is quite extraordinary and for any screenwriter - aspiring or established alike - you would be mad not to save your pennies and make it a must-attend event.
The theme for the conference is ‘What Happens Next?’ and this feels entirely appropriate as I now truck my award-winning script under my arm and start shopping it around.
The 2013 australian screenwriters conference is on 20-22 February 212 in Mornington Peninsula, Victoria.