Why Orson Scott Card’s Second Place Finish Is A Bigger Story Than The Winner’s

The winners of the 2016 WeScreenplay Feature Contest are the pair of novice screenwriters whose script scored highest after multiple rounds of blind judging. But there will be no moment in the sun for Kenlon Clark and William Rubio. They have been overshadowed by the second prize winner – Orson Scott Card. WeScreenplay clearly understands he’s the main story (or major distraction), too, because they simultaneously published one post announcing the winners and another justifying the way they handled the outcome — “When Orson Scott Card Entered the WeScreenplay Feature Contest”.

The WeScreenplay process and the prizes, in a nutshell, are —

After 5 rounds of reads we’ve determined the top 5 winners for the contest. The Grand Prize Winner will have amazing mentorships with the Director of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the VP of Development for Morgan Freeman, and a Director of Development for Brookstreet Pictures. Not only that, but we’re giving away over $20,000 in cash, prizes, coverage, and more to all the winners.

Card’s entry finished second in blind judging and he satisfied contest’s financial requirements:

Last week, we sent out an email to our 26 finalists in the competition asking for written confirmation that they are, in fact, eligible to win the contest.  That means that the writer cannot have earned more than $35,000 from professional screenwriting in the past 18 months.  While sending out the emails, we noticed one submitter in particular under the name of Orson Scott Card.  Sound familiar? Yep, that Orson Scott Card, the acclaimed novelist and author of the beloved and award-winning novel Ender’s Game.

This presented us with a bit of a predicament.  On one hand, Mr. Card is technically eligible, according to the rules, to win the competition, as he is a novelist and he has not earned more than $35,000 in the past 18 months as a screenwriter.  Furthermore, his script’s finalist ranking was fair and square, per our judging process.

…Mr. Card’s script MESA 1966, through five rounds of reads, and completely anonymous to judges, received the second highest overall score in the entire competition, just behind the grand-prize winning script FORGED by Kenlon Clark and William Rubio.

We contacted Mr. Card and he clarified that he entered the contest because he considered himself a novice screenwriter and that he valued the two sets of notes that he got back from the anonymous judges, however he expressed that he did not want to detract from attention to other talented finalists. We’re excited to discover Mr. Card’s excellent screenplay as the 2nd place winner in this contest, and because of Mr. Card’s previous accomplishments as a professional writer, we’ve added a sixth winner to the (previously 5) winners….

Most people would agree that Orson Scott Card is one of the most successful writers ever in the sf field, which raises the question of what would attract him to enter any kind of contest for novices. The simple truth may be what he said – that he feels he is a novice screenwriter. Perhaps there also is satisfaction in letting his work stand for itself, in a blind judging process where there can be no politically-tinged backlash against his expressed views, something that prevented him from writing a Superman comic several years ago, and relegated him to the sidelines of the Ender’s Game film publicity tour.

[Thanks to Jack Lint for the story.]

39 thoughts on “Why Orson Scott Card’s Second Place Finish Is A Bigger Story Than The Winner’s

  1. I can see the appeal of a blind judging process for an accomplished author. I’m not sure about matching the spirit of the requirements, especially if even the contest runners use the phrase “technically eligible.” 😉 So, good on them for adding a 6th winner. Regardless, congrats to the grand prize winners and the other winners. 🙂

  2. I find myself in two (or more) minds about this. On the one hand, he seems to have been totally within the letter of the rules, and the idea that getting a blind judging was attractive to him rings true – consider J K Rowling submitting as Robert Galbraith to prove she could do it on her talent again.
    On the other hand, the competition is to reward and encourage novices who might benefit from professional judgement and feedback, and Card is well experienced as a writer and sufficiently wealthy and connected to get any help he needed moving over to script work. Luckily the competition organisers seem to have negated any impact his result might have had, but what if they hadn’t and the fifth place winner has been squeezed out? I think that would have been very harsh, and OSC can’t have known in advance that it would have worked out okay.
    It leaves me with a sense of…disquiet.
    Nevertheless, hopefully the final result is that the other winners are happy, and the organisers enjoy a nice little publicity boost.

  3. Kendall: I’m not sure about matching the spirit of the requirements, especially if even the contest runners use the phrase “technically eligible.”

    When I read the contest runners’ statement, my first thought was, “Oh, so Card is ‘technically eligible’ in the same way that the Puppies’ cheating on the Hugos was ‘technically legal’.”

    I think that entering this contest shows an incredible lack of grace on Card’s part, given his already lengthy experience and acclaim in the writing field. 🙄

  4. Given Card has had plenty of experience as a playwright, it seems disingenuous on his part to have entered a screenwriting contest. We all know you can write Scott, but kudos on being rewarded as a novice. ::golf clap::

  5. He’s written plays, for video games, video shorts — one of which he directed — and two animated television series. He’s currently producing and writing a television series. And very probably he helped with the Ender’s Game screenplay initially. Apparently, people are already willing to give him money to do screenplays without any mentoring at all.

    I bet the person who came in third in this contest was just thrilled.

  6. Perhaps he is using this to test the political waters and determine how high or low a profile he wishes to keep.

    Or, maybe, just maybe, history is repeating itself and the committee from the Church that used him to front for Ender’s Game (novella) has set its sights on filmmaking and everyone figured “heck, it worked back in 1977, why wouldn’t it work now?”…except this time there’s no Hugos or Nebulas to subborn.

    On the third tentacle, I’m guessing that “technically” means he’s not yet taken a paycheck for his current “not script writing” gigs…and it makes me wonder what kind of deal he cut for the crap that was the EG movie…he might not be getting a piece of DVD sales…or it might not be selling….

  7. @Steve Davidson — “Or, maybe, just maybe, history is repeating itself and the committee from the Church that used him to front for Ender’s Game”

    Ummm — what?

    Yes, I know he’s Mormon — but what’s this about the church “fronting for Ender’s Game”?

    As for entering the contest — I agree it was a cheap trick, and to me it does indeed feel in the same ballpark as the Pups — gaming the system. If he wanted an objective assessment of his work, I’m sure he’s heard of the concept of pseudonyms.

  8. He was technically eligible in the same sense that “Hidden Figures” is technically eligible for a Hugo or that the puppies didn’t technically violate any rules.

  9. Oh, for heaven’s sake. Hidden Figures is not ‘technically eligible’; it is eligible according to the clear intention of the rules, which were deliberately modified to cover cases like this.

  10. Greg Hullender: He was technically eligible in the same sense that “Hidden Figures” is technically eligible

    You need to stop beating that dead horse. Hidden Figures is clearly eligible according to the rules as set up by WSFS members. The fact that you don’t personally like the way the rules are defined is your problem, and does not affect Hidden Figures‘ eligibility in any way.

  11. The fact you don’t personally like the rules for voting doesn’t make people wrong for using a slate then. You should have quit beating that dead horse and accepted it.

    You could at least try not being a hypocrite.

  12. Greg Hullender: The fact you don’t personally like the rules for voting doesn’t make people wrong for using a slate then. You should have quit beating that dead horse and accepted it.

    This is a false equivalency.

    A slate provides an unfair advantage, just as Card had an unfair advantage in this contest.

    Something being eligible because the rules have been specifically written to ensure that such works are eligible does not have an unfair advantage.

    But nice try.

  13. Just to clarify that: ‘or related subjects’ was added to the rules after the Apollo 13 nomination, because some people had objected to it, and the Business Meeting wanted to clarify that nominations of this kind were legitimate.

    The equivalent in the realm of slates would be if the Business Meeting had reacted to the Puppy campaigns by passing a rule which said ‘Voters may select their nominees either by following a slate or by other means’. If they had done that, there would be no doubt that slates were legitimate.

  14. @Andrew M: Actually, “or related subjects” was introduced as an amendment at the 1995 Worldcon, when Apollo 13 had already been released but before it could have been nominated. It was on some people’s minds, as the minutes indicate:

    Mr. Matthews asked whether the film Apollo 13 was eligible under the current rules; the Chair declined to state an opinion.

    Apollo 13 did get nominated in the 1996 Hugos, and the amendment to add “or related subjects” was ratified at the Worldcon that year.

  15. Greg Hullender: go ahead, tell us the Science Fiction Achievement Awards aren’t for fantasy. Robert Bloch will snicker at you.

  16. I can sympathize with the idea that “related” should mean more than “a lot of SFF Fans like this”.

  17. I would say there are and always will be grey zones.

    Expanding voting possibilities widens the scope and offers additional opinions/possibilities.
    Slate voting narrows the scope and narrows the number of possibilities and opinions.
    So I dont see a hypocritical position on rejecting the latter while agreeing with the former.

    “Scrolling pixels like its1969”

  18. Bill: I can sympathize with the idea that “related” should mean more than “a lot of SFF Fans like this”.

    Well, that isn’t what “related” in the category definition for Best Related Work means, so your sympathy need not be offered in this case.

  19. I’d like to have a little more demographic information on the rest of the field before I get too excited over OSC’s actions.

    Regards,
    Dann

  20. @JJ

    Bill: I can sympathize with the idea that “related” should mean more than “a lot of SFF Fans like this”.

    Well, that isn’t what “related” in the category definition for Best Related Work means, so your sympathy need not be offered in this case.

    I thought “Hidden Figures” was under consideration for Best Dramatic Work, Long Form; not Best Related Work.

    Regardless, nothing in the Constitution or the minutes of the amending Worldcons (1995-1996) says what “related” in the category definition for [Best Dramatic Work, Long Form] does mean, so whether or not a work is “related” defaults to whether the membership votes for it. In other words, whether or not a lot of SFF Fans like it.

  21. @Bill: why does it have to be that fans \like/ it, rather than honestly thinking it’s related?

  22. I think “related” in the Dramatic Presentation categories is somewhat nebulous. It’s somewhere in the region between “a lot of SFF fans like it” and “I know what I mean when I see it.”

    This is an instance where I tend to trust the collective judgment of those fans nominating and voting.

    In particular, there have been good entries that deal in detail with the modern space program that get a pass under “related” … and I have absolutely no problem with that. Dramatization of the real-life fulfillment of our SF dreams is “related” enough for me, and also seems to be for enough other fans.

    The ship, by the way, actually sailed many years before the change putting in the “related” language:
    News coverage of Apollo 11 (1970 winner); Cosmos (1981 nominee); The Right Stuff (1984 nominee) …
    … and I’m sure more than one person pointed that out at the business meeting where the change was adopted.

  23. Chip Hitchcock, because there’s no policing body or administrator to decide otherwise. So it’s up to fandom-as-a-whole (or, rather, Hugo-nominators-as-a-whole) to determine what is, and what is not, appropriate to nominate.

  24. @Cassy B: I think you mistake me. I’m not arguing that the decision doesn’t belong to the fans; I think Bill is being unsquare in arguing (as I read it) that fans pick what they like without regard to the definition of the category.

  25. @Chip — I suppose it is possible that people vote for things that they don’t like, but I don’t think it happens often enough that edge cases (“edge” with respect to whether or not a work is “related”) will get voted in on that basis, without having a substantial “like” support behind them.

    @Mark Richards — Yes, the works you named did get nominations and awards. And if I had been a voter back then, they wouldn’t have gotten my support. Neither would have a lot of other works which have been honored. My own feeling is that the literal words matter — that a work in question has to be a dramatic work (rules out Apollo 11 coverage — journalism isn’t drama), and it has to be SFF or related to SFF (rules out “Hidden Figures”, “Apollo 13” and “The Right Stuff” [historical drama], “Dr. Strangelove” [comedic political satire], “Chicken Run”, “Rabbit of Seville,” [anthropomorphic animated comedies], and others). Great works all, but when they get a Hugo nomination or award, they bump out another work which is really SFF (or related). (To me, this is the same general argument that comes up with with Orson Scott Card and the screenplay — yes, he gets through the rules as stated, but his presence keeps out someone else who is much more in the spirit of the award in question)

    I realize that I’m probably in the minority on these points, which is why I stated my original comment in terms of how I feel, rather than how anyone else should feel or act.

  26. @Chip I think Bill is being unsquare in arguing (as I read it) that fans pick what they like without regard to the definition of the category.

    That is more strongly worded than I would have made it, but there is an element of that, I think.

    Look at the edge cases I mention above. They have two things in common: they are well-liked by the SFF community, and they are of a category that overlaps with the interests of many SFF fans (to wit: Hidden Figures, Apollo 11 coverage, Right Stuff, Apollo 13 — manned space; Rabbit of Seville — Chuck Jones animation; Chicken Run — Aardman animation. I could’ve also named Monty Python & the Holy Grail — Monty Python).

    I think the high regard that these works are held in (based on, admittedly, their intrinsic high quality) allows people to gloss over the fact that the relationship that they have with SFF is, at best, tenous. I don’t think fans select them “without regard to the definition of the category”; just that, because they like the works, they allow themselves to stretch the boundaries of the category farther than I am comfortable with.

    (and I’ve never been called “unsquare” before. I’ll note that one for future use.)

  27. @Bill: I agree with you on some of those, but I’m baffled that you don’t consider intelligent, talking, tool-using chickens who build a plane to be within a subcategory somewhere under SFF. That’s hardly a stretch to call it SFF, IMHO.

    So I’m curious, is all animation not SFF to you (e.g., what about “Toy Story”)?

    I realize “what’s SFF and what’s not” can get tedious in about 5 minutes, so I won’t be offended if you don’t reply. Again – just curious how you slice things. Everyone does it differently. 🙂

  28. Bill: Look at the edge cases I mention above. They have two things in common: they are well-liked by the SFF community, and they are of a category that overlaps with the interests of many SFF fans (to wit: Hidden Figures, Apollo 11 coverage, Right Stuff, Apollo 13 — manned space; Rabbit of Seville — Chuck Jones animation; Chicken Run — Aardman animation. I could’ve also named Monty Python & the Holy Grail — Monty Python).

    Actually, you’ve got two sets of examples there. And they’re not “edge cases”.

    1) All of the following items are related to spaceflight and astronomy, and thus related to science fiction:
    Hidden Figures
    Apollo 11 coverage
    The Right Stuff
    Apollo 13
    Cosmos: A Personal Voyage

    2) All of the following are fantasies, and thus qualify as Speculative Fiction:
    Rabbit of Seville
    Chicken Run
    Monty Python & the Holy Grail

    The fact that these works are well-liked by the SFF community is the reason they made the ballot, and the fact they are of a category that overlaps with the interests of many SFF fans is hardly surprising because a lot of SFF involves space flight and / or Fantasy.

    I don’t know why this is such a difficult concept for you.

  29. @Kendall — I can’t give you a well-reasoned response without thinking about it a lot more than I have; right now, all I can say is that the original proposal for allowing Apollo 13 as a related work was called “I Know It When I See It”, and when I see Chicken Run, I know it isn’t in (my) box labeled “Fantasy”. (And I think that the original title implicitly recognizes that this is a subjective call.)

    Sure, some animation is SFF; the Disney fairy tale movies with strong elements of magic, Wall-E, Heavy Metal. But just using animal characters instead of people (Chicken Run, Ice Age, many Loonie Toons/Merrie Melodies) or machines instead of people (Pixar’s Cars) doesn’t automatically make a movie SFF. I suppose some of these have some SFF elements, but to say that they are SFF (or are even related) pulls the defintion of SFF farther than makes sense to me. YMMV, and I appreciate that you are accepting of and are interested in views and definitions that are different from your own.

    @JJ You consider works about spaceflight and astronomy to be, by definition, related to SFF; I don’t. (In the years before Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin, though, a work about spaceflight would have been SFF, or related to SFF) Look at it this way — in the late 1800s, a work that assumed heavier-than-air flight would have been SF. Does that mean that Sully is now a legitimate candidate for BDP, being “related” and all? What line of reasoning makes movies about manned spaceflight legitimate candidates, but not movies about aviation, other than the fact that SFF fans like spaceflight in ways that they don’t like aviation?

    All of the following items are related to spaceflight and astronomy, and thus related to science fiction: . . .
    All of the following are fantasies, and thus qualify as Speculative Fiction: . . .
    I don’t know why this is such a difficult concept for you.

    It’s not difficult for me. It just assumes things as axiomatic that I don’t agree with. (and phrasing it that way, that it is difficult for me, suggests that when I don’t agree with you about matters of subjective opinion, it is my reasoning skills that are deficient, rather than that we simply have different definitions and opinions. Kinda patronizing.)

  30. Bill: phrasing it that way, that it is difficult for me, suggests that when I don’t agree with you about matters of subjective opinion, it is my reasoning skills that are deficient, rather than that we simply have different definitions and opinions. Kinda patronizing.

    What are talking animals, and talking cars, and strange women in ponds distributing magical swords as a system of government — but fantasy? How are they any less legitimate than elves and orcs?

    Your insistence that fantasy movies have no place in the Hugos certainly seems elitist and patronizing to me.

  31. I think that entering this contest shows an incredible lack of grace on Card’s part, given his already lengthy experience and acclaim in the writing field.

    It’s an odd thing to do, but his participation has provided a publicity boost to the contest at some cost to his own reputation. Professional writers of great acclaim don’t enter contests intended to discover amateurs. Card looks silly for having done this, like Adele entering a local talent show.

    The people running the contest should have disqualified his entry. Their workaround was OK, but omitting him entirely would have better protected the integrity of the contest.

  32. I think there is something odd about counting stories as fantasy just because they include talking animals. This is just an instinctive thing; I want to be able to say A Hundred and One Dalmatians is not fantasy, though its sequel (its real sequel) The Starlight Barking is: that Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is not fantasy (it’s SF, if anything), though the film, The Secret of NIMH, is. And I think other people distinguish things in this way too; there was certainly some puzzlement at the film of NIMH introducing fantastic elements which were not justified by the book.

    Perhaps the difference is between talking animals as a supposition (‘What would it be like if animals could talk?’) and as an assumption (‘This film is about animals, which can talk, of course’). The talking animals in Narnia are certainly fantastic, because it’s a distinctive fact about them that they can talk. Doctor Dolittle is fantastic, because understanding the animals is a special ability of his. But A Hundred and One Dalmatians isn’t fantastic in the same way.

    This doesn’t mean that they can’t be nominated for Hugos. ‘Or related subjects’ was introduced deliberately, so it must mean something. The voters wanted to include things that are not SF or fantasy, but are related to SF or fantasy. These seem likely candidates.

  33. I wouldn’t call Guardians of the Galaxy fantasy just because a raccoon can talk, nor Maus a fantasy because the characters are mice, pigs and cats.

    Giving animals human traits is such a common storytelling device that it can be used on different genres. Like anything else it should be determined by the story itself, not using a hard rule.

  34. @JJ Your insistence that fantasy movies have no place in the Hugos certainly seems elitist and patronizing to me.

    I haven’t insisted any such thing. Obviously fantasy movies have a place in the Hugos — the rules make that quite clear. I’ve only said that my definition of fantasy doesn’t include some of the things that the definition used by other people does. Further, I’ve recognized, without disparaging, those other definitions as legitimate. What would be elitist would be if I said my definition (on a matter of subjective taste, no less) is the right one, and that any other would be wrong. Like you are doing.

  35. Bill: Obviously fantasy movies have a place in the Hugos — the rules make that quite clear… I’ve recognized, without disparaging, those other definitions as legitimate.

    The rules also make it quite clear that related works are eligible. And yet you have complained, more than once, that other people are nominating things “simply because they like them” — when in reality, they are nominating them because they feel that they are related or that they are fantasy.

    So yes, actually, you have been disparaging other nominators’ definitions.

  36. Bill, what would you see as related? The bit about ‘or related subjects’ was deliberately added to the rule, so it can’t be treated as a null phrase not meaning anything in particular. It clearly envisages the existence of some works that aren’t SF or fantasy, but are related. Stories about space travel seem very plausible candidates for what would fit into that category, and are almost certainly what the voters had in mind when they adopted it.

    As to why – well, for one thing, because spaceflight is still a striking and distinctive technology in a way that aviation is not. (Compare Round the World In Eighty Days, which contains no technology that that did not exist when it was written, and indeed I would say is not SF, but is surely related.) But also because science fiction as a movement actually contributed to the development of spaceflight. (So yes, a connection with fans is relevant. But not one as simple as ‘they like it’. A lot of fans like the works of Dorothy L. Sayers and Patrick O’Brien, but films of their works are not nominated for Hugos.)

  37. For whatever value my questionable logic might have:

    MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL is fantasy because it’s an adaptation of a set of myths and has a giant and a wizard in it. That it’s funny doesn’t disqualify it from being fantasy; a straightforward adaptation of Arthurian legends with giants and wizards in would be fantasy, and so is this.

    CHICKEN RUN is fantasy because it’s about chickens who build an airplane. It’s not like MAUS, where them being animals is simply a convention of cartooning, or (some) Bugs Bunny or Donald Duck cartoons in which you could replace them with human beings and it wouldn’t change anything. They’re human-like in many ways, but they’re chickens, being bred for food, and they talk and reason and plan and escape. WATERSHIP DOWN is fantasy; so is this.

    RABBIT OF SEVILLE is borderline — it’s a slapstick comedy set at an opera. It’s a comedy about a man trying to shoot a talking rabbit, though, and the fact that the rabbit can talk (and sing, and wield weapons, and more) is central to the idea and so is the fact that he’s a rabbit. You can’t replace him with a human unless you’re willing to treat Elmer as a serial killer, which changes the story rather dramatically. It’s not realistic — it’s set in a world where rabbits have mailboxes AND there’s still rabbit season — but those contradictions don’t feel like fantasy worldbuilding, they feel like Stuff You Ignore Because Otherwise It Gets In The Way Of The Funny. It’s absurd, but is that absurdity is enough to fall it fantasy? For some people, it is, for others not so much. The absurdity of the premise gets shoved aside in favor of Bugs humiliating Elmer in absurd and comic ways; there’s not much coherent story there to call “fantasy.”

    [WHAT’S OPERA, DOC? is fantasy, though — Elmer has magic powers, not just cartoon powers. Any Donald Duck story with Magica deSpell in it is fantasy. Any story with the Terries and the Fermies is fantasy. But Uncle $crooge’s adventures in the Yukon aren’t fantasy, because aside from the fact that the characters in them are dogs and ducks, they’re period adventure (often highly exaggerated period adventure, but still), not fantasy.]

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