Screenwriting competitions are a great way for the film industry to identify up-and-coming screenwriting talent.
There are currently a great many screenwriting competitions available to enter, many of which have outstanding reputations and gain genuine recognition for their shortlisted entrants, finalists, and winners. But with the range on offer, entry fees, and strict rules, it can be difficult to know whether they are worth it and which ones are suitable for you.
The Benefits Of Screenwriting Competitions
Winning a screenplay competition can help to gain recognition and prestige in an increasingly competitive industry—especially for new writers. In the majority of competitions, entries are strictly anonymous and read without any prior information. This gives all writers an opportunity to allow their work and script to speak for itself. Even if you do not win, appearing on the shortlist or as a semi-finalist or finalist is a major achievement and can open doors.
Doing well in a screenplay competition helps to demonstrate that your work has both commercial and artistic potential. It is a great way to begin a letter to a potential agent, for example, and many screenplay competitions also include meetings with agents, producers, and studios as part of the prize or process.
Screenwriting competition prizes often have the screenwriting profession in mind too. Screenwriting software, coverage (a written report on the strengths and weaknesses of your script), pitch meetings, and cash prizes are all favourites and very valuable at any stage.
Types of Screenwriting Competition
Sites like FilmFreeway and Withoutabox specifically list film festivals with a screenplay category. Many festivals now only accept digital entries (uploaded via a computer) but some still accept postal entries that reach them by the deadline.
Specialised screenwriting competitions
A number of prestigious screenplay competitions exist in their own right without being attached to a film festival, such as American Zoetrope, the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards, the BlueCat Screenwriting competition and more. The prizes are often impressive and can lead directly to meetings with agents, producers, and studio executives
Extended collaborative programmes
These competitions can be suitable for those with a completed script who want to take it closer to production by networking with producers and directors to form a team. Screen Yorkshire’s Triangle Programme takes this approach, and can lead to optioning deals, further funding, and more.
Fellowships and attachment programmes
There are a number of prestigious screenwriting fellowships and attachment programmes such as the Academy Nicholl Fellowship and the Screencraft Fellowship. They frequently offer winners and finalists the chance of extended meetings and introductions to industry professionals, along with a cash prize, and a year long ‘attachment’ in which to produce a second feature script.
Discipline and Reward
Having a screenplay competition in mind can help you to work to a deadline. If you complete your script in time and send it off, be sure to celebrate. Studies have shown that rewarding positive behavior or habits creates the incentive to keep them up in the future—and the same goes for writing to a deadline!
How to Choose A Screenwriting Competition to Enter
When choosing a screenwriting competition to enter, think carefully about what you hope to achieve. If your goal is to do well enough that you have something to approach an agent with, for example, then research competitions that also announce their shortlist, semi-finalists, and finalists. This can give you a fantastic boost and addition to your writing CV even if you do not win the competition overall.
If you want to improve your screenwriting, competitions offering coverage can be helpful, as well as those with prizes such as screenwriting software and books. It can also be helpful to check against each entry fee whether there is a cash prize for winners and finalists—although a number of competitions are prestigious enough in themselves not to offer one. Further meetings and exposure may be an equally valuable prize.
Do your research, plan ahead, and check the eligibility and rules in advance to make sure that you and your work are suitable.
Note from NWN: don’t forget that if you are writing a television screenplay, the Northern Writers’ Awards are open for entry until Thursday 2 February 2017. There are opportunities for both serial drama and television drama writers, and you can apply for one award or both: www.northernwritersawards.com
Jessica Sinyard is an award-winning screenwriter and published sports journalist based in North Lincolnshire. Her feature screenplay Wild Dog Country won the Best Feature Screenplay Award at the Illinois International Film Festival in Chicago (2009), and her subsequent screenplay Follow Me was a finalist for Best Screenplay at the Queens International Film Festival in New York (2009). Her feature screenplays and television pilot scripts have been selected for several additional festivals including the Polar International Film Festival (Wild Dog Country, shortlist, Best International Feature Screenplay), the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards (Rook’s Parliament, Quarterfinalist Best Television Pilot, and White Nights, semi-finalist Best Television Pilot).