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A Bridge to Nowhere

September 1, 2011
It’s not, I imagine, as good a feeling at being told, “your screenplay has been optioned,” or, even better, “your screenplay has been sold.”  Nonetheless, winning a screenwriting contest is a pretty terrific feeling.  Contests–like listings on Inktip.com, sifting through the writing gigs on the International Screenwriter Association’s web site, sending out queries directly to producers–are another weapon in the unproduced screenwriter’s arsenal.  There are good contests and not-so-good ones, some more prestigious than others.  One of the lessons I have learned is to check and see if the prize is something that can advance my writing career–does the script get passed on to agents and producers?  Are the judges agents and producers looking for new material?  If so, then it is in most cases worth it for me to enter.  This is not simply abstract reasoning; I ended up finding a manager through a contest she judged last year.

Thus, I was thrilled to discover that I had won the Bridge International Screenplay Competition in  January.  Best of all, the prize was that the winning script would be shared with production companies.  This certainly seemed like it was worth the ten dollar entrance fee.  I shared the link with friends and colleagues, and waited to be contacted by the contest.   A congratulatory email or phone call, clearly explaining what my prize would entail.  A month went by and I heard nothing, so I emailed the contest directly (Hi!  I’m your winner!), and received no response.   I was interviewed by the MovieBytes web site for winning the contest, but still had not been contacted directly by Bridge.  In April, I contacted Franklin Mensch of MovieBytes and asked if he knew anyone at the contest he could contact directly.  He didn’t, but agreed to send them an email on my behalf.  No one at Bridge responded to his inquiry.

This summer, I decided to see if I could learn anything else about this contest. I noticed that the contest was listed on MovieMaker magazine’s web site, so I contacted the magazine and asked if they had any information.  MovieMaker’s estimable editor, Jennifer Wood, contacted me directly and passed on a phone number for me to try.  There was no answer or voice mail.  By now thoroughly frustrated, I asked Ms. Wood if she had any other suggestions.  She had two:  try to contact any previous winners and see what their experience was like, and to contact Fuse Media Ventures–the company that produces the contest.  She encouraged me to keep digging (I now know why she is such a good editor) and had the Bridge listing removed from MovieMaker’s web site.

I found the 2009 winner:  Ada Lee Halofsky, a journalist and screenwriter with an impressive list of credits.  Ms. Halofsky informed me she had never heard anything from the contest–no direct contact, no email, nothing.  She told me that she too had attempted to contact Bridge “and received the same vacant sound of wind blowing.”  Ada also said that she thought the contest was valid, but that it just lacked follow through.  Sometimes contest and film festivals do appear to be organizationally challenged, so this was a good point.   I began to think that perhaps I was overreacting, that there was actually nothing nefarious going on here.

My doubts stayed with me until I finally got a hold of someone at Fuse Media Ventures: a gentleman named Tom O’Malley, who through Fuse runs a web site called Bar Channels.  He emailed me this response:

I don’t mind admitting to you that we don’t officially have the name “Fuse Media Ventures” registered. It’s just what my small group of friends has always called our web projects (the screen play contest is not ours, obviously).  We had a contact of ours do some digging and it seems the FMV you are referring to is no longer in business. Thanks for alerting us (accidentally) that we may need to start calling ourselves something else though!

I was almost ready to believe his explanation,  but then I noticed this:  if you look on the Bridge web site’s lists of sponsors, you find a link to  “Bar Channels.”  I also did some more research on Mr. O’Malley and discovered he is the founder of  Ace Fest–a New York film festival that includes a screenplay contest.  This is the type of coincidence neither myself nor Ada could ever have gotten away with in our winning scripts.  So I sent Mr. O’Malley another message, asking him to answer three questions:

1) How do you explain this coincidence?  2) Who from the “other” Fuse approached you for the sponsorship?  3) What was your source confirming the “other” Fuse’s demise?

Would it shock you to learn that I received no answer?  (Ah, there it is again. The sound of vacant wind blowing).

I don’t know for certain if this is a scam, but it certainly seems like it. It’s just another important reminder that one must remain eternally vigilant.   While the entrants to the contest are only out ten bucks, it is incredibly disappointing to work very hard at a piece of writing, to receive some validation for your work, only to discover the entire process is fraudulent.  Contests like Bridge are just an unfortunate part of the reality.  I do know one thing for certain, though:

I will not be entering Ace Fest’s screenwriting competition.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Melissa permalink
    September 2, 2011 12:32 pm

    Aww 😦 Things like this are so tricky. I deal with a similar issue when I enter scholarships and contests for college. There is always the thought of “is this a scam?” in the back of my mind. So I try to Google the scholarship’s name plus the word scam. If a lot of articles come up warning people about it, I click the hell out of the contest website. Hopefully the fraudulent contest you entered didn’t steal any of your written work, or worse– credit card numbers and the like.

    Better luck next contest, ay? 🙂

  2. September 2, 2011 7:08 pm

    Stealing work isn’t really an issue–especially if the contest is going to leave a public record of the submitted scripts. Plus, my scripts are registered and copyrighted before I send them out. I also don’t worry about credit card information, because there are many laws that protect the consumer there. I think the scam is you get 1000 people to send you ten bucks, and then spend no money on a prize. A pretty good deal!

  3. September 5, 2011 8:17 pm

    Kevin, this is disheartening, but hopefully your investigation has made it that much more difficult for them to do this sort of thing again.

    • November 27, 2011 8:13 pm

      It is disheartening, but sadly, all part of the process. There are people with integrity, and people with out. If you are going to put your work out there, you are going to encounter both. I haven’t seen any new ads for the contest, so it will be interesting to see if they try it again.

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