There are hundreds of screenwriting contests out there, but are they worth it? At the Screenwriters World Conference in Los Angeles, there was a whole session dedicated to 'Making the Contest Cut' but how do you know which, if any, you should be spending your hard-earned cash entering?
Screenwriting contests can be useful for:
– Gauging where you are among your peers. They are subjective though, so don't freak out if you do well in one and get nowhere in another.
– Getting you industry exposure. We all know how hard it is when you are unrepped to get the industry to read your script. Contests can circumnavigate the 'no unsolicited submissions' barrier. Some contests have industry players on their judging panel, like my recent Script Angel contest in association with the London Screenwriters Festival. Others will ensure that the finalists' scripts are read by specific managers, agents and producers. Check their websites to find out what they are promising to do for you if you do win or place highly with them.
– As a 'calling card.' When you're trying to get the attention of managers/agents and producers, being able to say that you won a well respected contest might help persuade them to read your script. The value of the win will depend on the contest's reputation within the industry; placing in the quarter-finals of the prestigious Nicholl Fellowships probably has more value than winning a very small, brand new contest that no one in the industry has heard of.
– Giving you a deadline for your writing. Most contests run at the same time every year so you can plan ahead. Even those that don't should give you plenty of time between their launch and last submission deadline. Knowing you need to get your script finished and polished by a certain date can be a great motivator.
– Money. Many screenwriting contests offer cash prizes. In my view, those offering cash but no exposure to the industry are to be approached with caution as in the long term what you most need is to be getting your script read by the people who can really help your screenwriting career. That said, a substantial cash prize might buy you the time off from your job to really make progress with your screenwriting.
So how do you choose between the hundreds of screenwriting contests out there? There are 338 contests listed just on MovieBytes. This is where it's important to start getting to grips with the industry. I curate a list of well respected screenwriting contests in the UK and US, which I update monthly. If you attend screenwriting events like the Screenwriters World Conference or the London Screenwriters' Festival you'll hear producers, agents and managers mention contests they rate.
Here's my run-down of the most well respected contests in the US:
- The Nicholl Fellowship (run by The Academy)
- PAGE International Screenwriting Awards
- Austin Film Festival Screenplay & Teleplay Contest
- Tracking Board Launch Pad
- Tracking B Feature Script Contest
- Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest
- Script Pipeline
- Blue Cat
In the UK there is also:
- Screenwriting Goldmine
- BAFTA Rocliffe
- Red Planet Prize
Many film festivals also have screenwriting contests and labs, including Sundance, The Hamptons International Film Festival, Edinburgh International Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival and many more.
Are screenwriting contests worth it? Some of them definitely are. So, do your homework and research them. Make it a part of the strategy to get your screenwriting widely read in the industry. Budget for them and plan ahead so that you can get your script ready and polished in plenty of time.
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