In my previous article I asked 'are screenwriting contests worth it?' My answer, with a few caveats, was a resounding 'yes.' So, how do you make the contest cut? What will make your screenplay stand out among the thousands of others entered? What can you do to improve your chances?
Don't get disqualified. You need to make sure your script actually gets read, so don't make silly mistakes that give them a reason to disqualify you.
- Make sure you are eligible to enter. Some screenwriting contests are only open to residents of a specific country. Others have criteria about how much you can have earned from your screenwriting. Some need you to be available to attend workshops in a specific geographical location on specific dates. If you don't meet the eligibility criteria then don't apply - they'll just disqualify you and you'll have wasted your time and money.
- Abide by the rules. Read the small print on the contest website. If they ask you to remove your contact details from the front page, DO IT! If there's a page count minimum and maximum, stick to it. If it's a genre-specific contest, say for Thrillers, don't send them your Drama, no matter how good you think it is.
Be uniquely you. Lots of industry folk talk about looking for a unique writing voice, but what does that mean? It means writing a script that you are passionate about, that comes from somewhere in you, that says something you believe about the world. It means writing a script with attitude; your attitude.
Make it good. That means doing as much as you can to be sure that the script is ready to send to contests. That might be peer review, getting coverage or working with a script editor. Check out all the ways you can get feedback on your script to ensure it's as good as you can make it at this stage of your screenwriting career.
Then make it polished. I can't stress this one enough. You might have had a lightbulb moment just days before the submission deadline that means you've done a major rewrite. It's great that you've 'fixed' the story but a good story poorly executed because you ran out of time will struggle to impress in a contest. Give yourself time before the deadline to POLISH your script. You've focused on your main character, their story tracks and the script does everything it should in its genre; if it's a Thriller, it's thrilling, if it's a Horror, it's scary, if it's a Drama it is intensely moving and emotionally dramatic. That's all great, and a given, but to stand out it needs to do more.
- Does every scene hook? Does it raise a question that makes us want to know what happens next?
- Are your secondary characters more than just ciphers? They might work in the context of their narrative function for your lead character's story, but are they interesting? Do they have a life and story of their own?
- Does the dialogue pop? Does it use subtext to imply meaning and pose questions?
- Do you pay-off all the little touches you set-up?
- Is it cinematic? Too often scripts tell a good story but they don't use the cinematic language enough and could just as easily be a stage play. Create a visual mindscape for your film.
- Is it typo-free? Proof read it, thoroughly. Or get someone else to proof read it for you. Typos are a real bug-bear for script readers. A sloppy script suggests you don't care about it so, frankly, why should they?
Yes, the competition is fierce but screenwriting contests offer a genuine way to get noticed by the industry so take the opportunities offered and make it count. Good luck!
- More articles by Hayley McKenzie
- Why Spec Scripts Fail: Failure to Do Your Homework
- FREE Download with Tips to Succeed at Screenwriting Contests!
“No other screenplay contest offers what the Industry Insider Contest does — a chance to develop your script alongside an industry professional. Some contests are about cash and prizes. The Industry Insider Contest is about advancing your career and developing material that can be successful in the marketplace. It’s about opening up doors.”
- Tyler Marceca, The Disciple Program – Contest Winner (Robert Mark Kamen Round)