I decided to enter a few competitions with some of my short scripts… And quickly discovered that, as screenwriters, we are spoilt for choice. There’s hundreds of contests out there, with new ones starting every year. So which ones should you be entering, and spending your hard earned money on?
When all was said and done, I collected two 1st place, one Runner’s up, a Third, a Finalist and one Semi-Finalist placing. (In the interest of full disclosure, I also entered five more scripts that got absolutely nowhere. Nada. Zilch!) But I did gain knowledge and experience in the process – and that’s valuable as well.
But, let’s back up for a moment and ask one important question… Exactly why do you want to enter competitions in the first place? For me, it was reasons 3 and 4 from the list below. But different competitions offer different opportunities. It’s important to define your goals at the very start, in order to plan proper strategy. Do you want to:
- Get yourself an agent, manager, producer.
- Get professional coverage.
- Win prizes, such as money/trophies/software/film festival passes, etc.
- Add ‘award winning screenwriter’ to your resume.
- A mix of various aspects of the above.
Let’s consider these motives, one by one.
1) Obtaining an Agent, Manager or Producer
There are only a handful of screenplay contests that will consistently get you this level of attention – and then only if you place semi finalist or finalist. These are the big players in the game: The Academy Nicholl Fellowship, Page Awards, Scriptapalooza, BlueCat, and a handful of others (that I have less direct experience with.)
But remember – if you’re angling for these big fish – these contests attract thousands of entries. Competition will certainly be fierce!
– Page has been around for over 10 years and has a $25,000 First Prize. In 2014, it was won by Matias Caruso (interview here), whose started sharing his writing and learning his craft on SimplyScripts.
– Nicholl has been around even longer – thirty years and receives over 7000 entries annually. Up to five winners can receive $35,000 fellowships.
– Scriptapalooza has been in the game over 17 years, receiving over 4000 entries annually. One major plus: the judges are all agents, managers or producers and the first prize is $10,000.
– BlueCat has been around since 1998, attracting over 4000 entries per year. This one boasts a $15,000 grand prize (and $10,000 for the winning short too!)
Not to mention other high profile comps, like Final Draft’s Big Break, Script Pipeline, Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition, etc. Score big with one of these, and your feature, short or TV pilot could connect with the ‘right’ people.
2) Get coverage
You can get coverage from a variety of sources – from the free opinion of people online, to shelling out hundreds of dollars for professional readers (of varying quality.) You can also get it as a result of entering some screenplay contests – which is sometimes packaged as part of the entry fee. Bluecat does that. So does ReelWriters. So when you are contemplating a competition, research if they do a coverage package – and determine if that’s useful for you.
3) Win something
Prizes range all over the map: nice trophies. Free software, discounted services… all the way up to some pretty substantial monetary prizes. Screencraft for example, have a number of competitions with various prizes. Check out what the competition you’re considering offers – and if it’s something valuable to you. I.e. is it worth spending $30 to enter a competition for a copy of Final Draft, if you bought a copy recently? Probably not – if that’s all that a win will mean.
4) Award winning screenwriter bragging rights
Does this matter? Well, if it’s Page, Nicholl, etc – then yes, it probably does. As for the others… Well, here’s how I think about it personally. When trying to persuade producers/directors to read your scripts, I think ‘award winning’ may help get your script read. (And maybe even read first.) It may also be something a producer might be able to use while marketing your work. I’ve never heard anyone say it’s a bad thing. Though you have to balance that against the cost of multiple entry fees!
5) All the above (or any combination)
Hey – wouldn’t it be grand to win a competition and really score? Get the prizes, the coverage, the bragging rights – and have your work seen and produced? Well, one can definitely dream. And if you back it up with hard work… those dreams do sometimes come close enough to reach…!
Researching Competitions and Lists
Okay – so you’ve decided competitions are worth a try. But if you’re not ready to tackle Nicholl, where can learn about the smaller fry? Here are a few handy links that I’ve used in my searches – complete with details on submission requirements, deadlines, etc…
1) Movie Bytes – http://www.moviebytes.com/
2) InkTip – http://inktip.com/competition_directory.php
3) FilmFreeway (Film Festivals too) – https://filmfreeway.com/
4) Without A Box – (Film Festivals too) – https://www.withoutabox.com/
5) Coverfly (Competition and tracking portal) – https://www.coverfly.com/
* It’s worth pointing out that some Film Festivals – like Austin, Nashville, etc – have screenwriting comps within their festivals. Getting into the finals of these often includes free passes for the festival as well.
Finally, let’s end with a few tips – garnered both from my own experience and common sense:
1) Thoroughly research any competition you are thinking of entering. How long has it been established, who runs it? Are there any complaints online? If you have serious doubts… spend your money elsewhere.
2) Does it have a genre bias and does that bias fit with your script(s)? If so, use this to your advantage.
3) Does it offer different categories for scripts, e.g. Drama, Horror, Comedy? In general, the more categories the better. That means that your Horror opus won’t be competing against indie Dramedies. (Especially good if you get a reader whose favorite film is Juno!)
4) Do all scripts have to have a certain theme? I found an Australian comp where all the films had to involve dogs! If your script doesn’t fit, it won’t win.
5) What can you afford? Competition entries can mount up fast. Always spend wisely. Look for discounts via sites like FilmFreeway, Coverfly and MovieBytes. And take advance of early entry discounts, too.
6) Do you want your script tied up? Most competitions have a “no option” entry requirements, so If your script’s been already optioned/sold, that disqualifies it from competition, and if it gets optioned during the competition window then it can get disqualified too. Now, that’s no problem if you’ve just landed a $10K option, versus say a $250 prize. But what if someone wants to option your script for free, or a $1 type option? Remember, too, that many competitions have very long entry windows. Your script could be ‘considered’ for months.
7) Read the rules carefully. Make sure you understand all the requirements, and any rights you’re potentially signing away. (For instance, winning the Disney Fellowship may require certain compromises.)
8) This should go without saying, but make sure you send in the best version of your script possible. And I don’t just mean the strongest story. I mean proofread the script within an inch of it’s life. Why spoil your chances – and waste your money – with a poorly formatted script, strewn with typos and littered with grammatical errors?
9) Send a properly formatted script in PDF format. Word docs and other files are a strict no-no.
10) Don’t forget to take your name and address details off the script title sheet if the competition asks for it (Page does, for instance).
So what now? Get out there and research! Pick your competitions wisely. Polish your script until it shines. Then submit…. And let it go. It’s in the hands of the judges now….