There are tons of screenwriting contests out there. Many of them charge a hefty fee just for the privilege of considering your work. But are they worth it? And what are the best ones? Indeed, how do you tell what is “best” when entering a screenwriting contest?
The first contest I ever entered no longer exists. I studiously ignored the rules about formatting, had my script professionally bound at the local Staples, paid my $40, and waved goodbye to it in the mail.
Nowadays, I like to think that I know a little more than that.
For me, it’s all about a “risk to reward” ratio. Before you shell out your hard-earned $45+, I ask:
How big is the contest you are entering?
What are the prizes?
What will you achieve if you win or place?
The bigger the contest, the more competition. Do you enter a massive international contest like the PAGE Awards with thousands of other entrants, or do you target the latest niche contest for horror screenplays?
What are the prizes? Is it a $50 check and some software, or is it $10,000? Some contests like Trackingb.com don’t even offer a cash prize. The “prize” is that you get your script shopped to some very influential people. Is it worth it? Well, that’s up to you. Some contests even promise to make the winning script. In my book, that is priceless. But will it lead to anything? Again, like most things in showbiz, it’s uncertain.
“What will you achieve if you win” is for me the most important question to ask yourself. Many sources state that there are a few contests that Hollywood truly sits up and takes notice of. For instance, in his excellent book Breakfast with Sharks, Michael Lent states that the top screenwriting contests include:
The Nicholl Fellowships
The PAGE Awards
Austin Film Festival
Final Draft’s Big Break contest
Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship (sadly unavailable outside the USA)
The Sundance Institute (for USA writers only; however they do host an international screenwriters’ lab in Utah if you have a spare month or so and manage to be one of the 6-8 screenwriters they choose from the rest of the entire world!)
He also lists some others that no longer exist. I would add:
So, as the title of this blog is “The Hard Way to Hollywood”, let’s assume that, like me, you are British. That leaves five screenwriting contests that, according to Lent, appear to be some of the few contests that have truly sparked A-list careers. For example, Andrew W Marlowe (Air Force One, End of Days), Doug Atchinson (Akeelah and the Bee), and Allison Anders (Gas, Food, Lodging) all won Nicholls Fellowship Awards.
Sort of narrows it down, right?
Did you notice all the qualifiers in those earlier sentences?
I would not discount the smaller contests. They may provide you with a nice, fat check (or cheque, as we say in England) that will keep you going for a while longer. Or they may open doors and work very hard for you and your script. There are plenty of success stories associated with other contests, such as Script Pipeline or Scriptapalooza. So the field is not perhaps quite as narrow as I have led you to believe.
Another factor in your decision whether to enter a contest may be where you are right now in terms of skill and experience. Before the website was discontinued, I used to regularly place in WriteSafe.com’s monthly contest. No money. But it looked good on my fledgling CV (or resume, if you’re from the USA). Did it get me anywhere? Maybe, in small steps.
So I can’t tell you whether it’s worth entering in screenplay contests. Only you can do that.
There are, of course, many A-list screenwriters who never won a screenplay contest.
Also, depending upon where you are in your career, you may choose to go for a smaller contest with less competition, but which is going to net you valuable connections and where the organizers are going to work harder for your script.
One last thing: it pays to check out the genre of scripts that have previously won. There is little point sending your zombie slasher movie to the Nicholls unless it speaks to something new in the human condition. But then again, you never know!
To find a complete list of contests, check out the ever-reliable http://www.moviebytes.com.