Screenplay (22031)

You've typed "Fade Out" on your last page and fastened the pages of your screenplay together with #5 Acco brads and registered your work with WGA. The next step is to get your script noticed. If you've written more than one screenplay, you already know you will spend a good deal of time trying to get an agent or production company interested in reading it. Your ultimate goal is to sell your work and these are the people who can make that happen. You may send out queries or make cold calls, submit your work online or off. But if you've done this before without results, maybe you should consider another approach - promoting your work through screenwriting contests.

How Contests Can Help Market Your Script
Many scriptwriting contests offer cash prizes to winners. But look for additional offers like, representation or introduction to industry professionals. Other benefits included in some contests are announcements made to the industry by the contest sponsors. The Nicholls competition for instance, sends out announcements each year at the end of the competition. It includes a list of winners, finalists, semi-finalists, and quarter-finalists. If your name is included on any of these lists, it’s quite likely you will receive a request for your script or a synopsis. And you don’t have to be in the higher ranks to be contacted. Even quarter-finalists get requests from producers, directors and others looking for the next big hit. They see contests as a filter and know that only the best scripts rise to the top. Material already screened through the contest, insures the professional that he won’t be wasting his time on a badly written script.

Script Analysis
Years ago, if you entered your script into a competition, you were likely to receive a short analysis of its strong and weak points. Things have changed. Very few contests offer critiques, which is unfortunate. Writers, especially new writers, benefit greatly from the opinions of people in the industry.

Blue Cat is one of the competitions that offers analysis. In addition, they send the analysis to you allowing a reasonable amount of time for you to rewrite your script and resubmit the revision. The second draft requires another entry fee but at a discounted rate. Both drafts of the script remain in the competition. Keep in mind that analysis of your script is only as good as the person who reads it. Also remember it’s only one person’s opinion. If your script get cuts from the competition because one reader didn't like it, don't let it discourage you. That reader may have simply had a problem with your subject because of his personal agenda. You may have better luck with another contest. While readers should remain objective, that may sometimes be too much to expect.

Who Are The Readers?
In 2010, the Blue Cat competition had 2970 entries. Considering each script is around 110 pages, the contest readers had to review 326,700 pages! Trying to fairly evaluate all entries obviously takes a team of readers and considerable time. Some contests hire individuals who work for production companies, or studios as readers. Other contest readers may be actual agents, directors or producers, people with the ability to help you if they like your script, even if your script does not win the contest. And then there are those readers who are not even involved in the industry. Since the readers are the gatekeepers to the top prize, it’s even more important for you to be selective in choosing a competition with authoritative readers who can weed out poorly written scripts and move talented work up in the ranks.

Entry Fees
You're the only one who can decide if entering contests is worth the expense. There is no standard for script contest entry fees. Some, like the Nicholls Fellowships seem to never change their fee ($30), while others escalate yearly. You can pay as much as $75 per entry in some contests. The fees are used for prizes, to pay readers, and to administer the contest.

Contests that provide analysis often have sliding fees with multiple deadlines. If you get your script to them by the first deadline you’ll pay one fee. If you procrastinate and submit a month later, the fee increases and keeps doing so as the final deadline approaches. When analysis is involved, getting the scripts read and responding to writers in a timely way, presents problems for some contests. Blue Cat has an excellent reputation for delivering on their promises.

Which Contests Are The Real Thing?
You can’t get more real than the Nicholls Fellowships competition. It’s sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. For many writers, a Nicholls win has been the stepping-stone to a long and successful screenwriting career.

The annual list of script competitions has grown and is comprised of the genuine as well as the shady contests who do little but pocket your entry fee and offer a paltry first prize. Across America, states sponsor contests of their own with hopes of finding scripts about their locale which will bring the film industry and revenues to the state. Contests can also be sponsored by production companies, who see your draft as raw material which they hope to help you develop to suit their vision.

Do research. Look online for contests that have a long history and good reputation. It’s important to investigate the individual contests before forking over entry fees. There are many sites online that offer contest information. Look through them and choose one that will guide you in making an informed decision. Also get recommendations from screenwriting friends. You’ll find lists of contests online at and other sites. Google "screenwriting contests" and you will find plenty of information. Be sure to read what other writers say about their experience in specific contests. Make note of the guidelines for submission and the deadlines.

Be aware that on some websites, ratings for contests are a result of that site’s personal agenda.

The Prize
What does the contest offer winners? If the only prize in a contest is money, it may be because the people behind the contest don’t really have good connections in the film industry. Seek out contests that offer a foot in the door, a meeting with agents or production companies, or other perks that will help market your script. If you can't decide where to start, consider my top three picks: Nicholls, Blue Cat, and Austin.

Cash is usually the top prize in any contest. The Nicholls competition is a fellowship that disperses your dollars in installments throughout the year with the intention of providing you an income and freeing you from other job worries so you can concentrate on writing. Your win holds you to a contract in which you agree to produce a finished script in that year. Your winning contest script is also archived at the Academy library where others can view it, a prestigious honor.

Scriptwriting software, subscriptions to industry publications, introduction to studio people, a guarantee that your script will be produced, and screenwriting workshops are all prizes that might be offered in various competitions. All of these benefits might in your eyes, justify the cost of entering a contest.

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