- Circulation of your script to producers/agents, garnering industry attention
- Networking opportunities with industry professionals
- Script analysis with an overview of the strengths and weakness of your script
- Marketing soundbites to include in cover letters or on your website
- Strengthen your writers’ CV
- Boost you confidence in your abilities as a writer
- The motivation of a deadline
- $$££€€ cash prizes
BUT… there are now so many screenwriting competitions, preparing submissions is time-consuming and can set you back quite a bit of $$££€€. So what’s a writer to do?
Have a competition STRATEGY covering the following four elements:
Anecdotal evidence suggests industry executives only take notice of the really big competitions, but these typically receive upward of 7,000 entries so odds of success are extremely low. Vince Gilligan of “Breaking Bad” fame got his break from entering a small, local contest, because one of the judges was so impressed he took him under his wing.
Moviebytes is a useful site for information on the various screenwriting competitions, but it is very US-centric. Use your favourite search engine to find out about more local screenwriting competitions. Then draw up a list of those you may be interested in entering this year.
This is likely to be a very long list! Narrow it down by working out what it is you want to achieve, from the list of possible benefits above.
- Looking for networking opportunities? Select a competition attached to a festival, or with a swanky awards ceremony.
- Looking for feedback? Select a competition that incorporates a free or paid script analysis service.
- Looking for $$££€€? Select a competition that gives cash prizes.
You get the picture… Some of the competitions I personally recommend include:
BBC Writers’ Room submission window
BAFTA-Rocliffe Forum submission windows
Euroscript Screen Story Competition (for Treatments)
Shore Scripts Screenwriting Competition
Screenwriting Goldmine Awards
Page International Screenwriting Awards
Final Draft “Big Break” Contest
Scriptapalooza Screenplay Competition
Blue Cat Screenplay Competition
Note: all of the above competitions are open to international submissions, as long as they are in English. Also consider competitions related to Film Festivals, especially Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, Austin and Nashville, and genre-specific competitions, such as the various Screencraft contests.
A new competition I like the look of is Jameson First Shot. It gives you the opportunity to make a short film with Kevin Spacey’s Trigger Street Productions, starring an A-list actor. Last year it was Adrien Brody. This year it will be Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Few competitions are free. Those that are typically have a nationality or residency requirement, often because there is some form of subsidy from taxpayers’ money. The BBC Writers’ Room submission windows are an example of this.
Other competitions have a sliding scale of fees, with the amount you pay increasing as you get closer to the deadline. These fees can quickly add up to a substantial sum, especially if you submit several screenplays in the ‘late’ window.
Decide how much you can set aside to spend on screenwriting competitions this year. Depending on how much you have to spend, you may have to prioritise which ones you enter, which will further shorten your list.
Screenwriting competitions take place throughout the year. The ones you select will depend on whether you have polished material ready to submit or not. Ask yourself, “Will I be able to complete my screenplay and put it through a rigorous review and re-drafting process in time for the deadline?”
Set yourself stretch goals, but be realistic.
By now, you should have a shorter list of competitions to submit to. It’s time to put your best foot forward.
- Polish your script
Don’t fall at the first hurdle by presenting a script that is full of typos and in non-standard format. You may think you’re too much of a storytelling genius to bother with such niceties, but the readers you have to get past certainly won’t. Preferably you will have gone through several drafts and even employed the services of a script reader such as Lucy V. Hay herself (whom I wholly endorse and recommend!)
- Check the rules
Don’t let your entry be disqualified on a technicality. Competitions vary as to whether cover pages should include personal details or not and the naming conventions of files. If the rules are silent on this topic, then include your personal details and include both your name and script title in the file name.
Make sure you know what you’re signing up for. For example, some competitions have exclusivity rules – if you win another competition while your entry is under consideration, that may disqualify you from further advancement.
Don’t leave it to the last minute to find out if you can fulfil the format requirements or not. A writer I know missed a deadline because they could not convert their script into a PDF file.
- Additional Requirements
Most competitions require your logline, and some may require a short synopsis or writer bio. Have these written in advance, rather than cobbling something together as you go through the process of uploading your script.
Ready to submit? Go for it. Good luck!