What to Expect from Screenplay Contests

in Writing

Screenplay contests can offer emerging screenwriters a great chance to be noticed by agents and producers working in the industry. If you have a draft that you feel confident about, you might consider submitting to one of these screenplay contests.

But what is the process like? Who picks the winner? How long do such screenplay contests take? And how do you choose the right one? Let’s break it down.

Researching Screenplay Contests

First of all, each contest is different. They might offer different competitions based on genre or format. Some screenplay contests are more well-known than others and their entry fees might reflect that, but writers placing high within those are sure to be noticed. Additionally, a contest might offer feedback with your entry or you might be able to purchase it alongside your entry. Even if your script doesn’t make it all the way to the final round, receiving feedback can help writers evaluate why their script didn’t go forward and what its strengths and weak spots are. It’s surely more insightful than a standard rejection letter.

Therefore, writers should research well in advance and save money accordingly to however many contests they plan to apply to. It’s useful to have a look at the winning screenplays from previous years or in users’ reviews to gather a sense of the reputation and inclinations of certain competitions. For example, dramas might win more often than horrors. Read the rules carefully and make sure to look out for special themes: a contest might be specifically looking for stories with women as main characters or screenplays in a certain genre.

Keeping Track of Entries

Most screenplay contests have several entry deadlines, usually labelled as “early bird deadline,” “regular deadline” and “late deadline.” Each one calls for a respectively higher entry fee the closer it gets to the contest closing. This means that earlier you submit, the cheaper it will be, but it will also entail a significant gap between your submission and the date the results are announced. It usually takes from six to twelve months for winners to be announced. Make a note in your diary or put a calendar reminder on your phone for the date you’re supposed to hear back. Remember to cross off each competition from your list to keep track of your progress.

Who Reads Your Script?

Screenplay contests employ professional script readers to evaluate each entry. These readers look at plot, dialogue, structure, pacing, marketability, and similar narrative elements and score the script accordingly. If a script reaches the final stage, it will be passed on to a roster of judges with extraordinary credentials.

Shore Scripts has judges who have been nominated for Oscars, Baftas, Golden Globes and Emmys. Their names are usually advertised with pride on the website. If a script makes it to later rounds in several competitions, that’s a sign it’s resonating and almost ready for development. Purchasing professional feedback can be extremely useful in such cases to learn which areas still need to be addressed (for example, the dialogue might be excellent, but the third act drags). On the other hand, if a script doesn’t seem to be performing well in any contest, the writer might need to work on it for a few more drafts.

There’s definitely a degree of luck and personal preference involved, but you should still make sure each submission is the best it can be as it needs to stand out amongst thousands of others.

What Do You Win?

What’s the aim when entering screenplay contests? That depends on what stage of your career you’re at and what particular script you are submitting. In any case, you will surely get plenty of recognition. Winning screenplay contests, or placing as a finalist, means competent readers and judges have given your script a stamp of approval. Your name and script will be advertised on the contest’s website, via their newsletter and to their industry network. More so, you will probably be invited for an interview. This is sure to win the attention of agents and relevant people who can commission you work, or perhaps even produce your spec script. For features and TV scripts, this is the most desirable outcome. If you are submitting to short film contests, some of them offer grants to the winner to fund the short film’s production as it’s usually a more reasonable budget than that of a feature.

If one of your scripts has placed well in a screenplay contest, make sure to mention it when you’re sending it out within the industry. It will definitely boost your chances. Other than that, make sure you have done your research and pick your screenplay contest’s submissions carefully. Fingers crossed!


Image Credits: Vlada Karpovich

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