by Ann Marie Williams author of Screenplay Competitions: Tools and Insights to Help You Choose the Best Screenwriting Contests for You and Your Script
Entering screenwriting competitions takes time and money. And — if you enter the right script in the right competitions — the competition process can provide you with information that can help improve your script and your writing as a whole. Moreover, entering a competition has the potential (if your script ranks well enough) to garner industry interest in you and your script. But, there are a lot of competitions out there, and a lot of entries in those competitions. So, here are a few steps you can take prior to entering a competition that will, hopefully, help streamline the entry process, help you select the right competition for you and script, and help you get the most out of your entry time and money.
This post originally appeared on Lucy V. Hay’s Bang2Write blog as 10 Quick Tips on Entering Screenplay Competitions. My thanks to Lucy V. for sharing this post and for her incredibly kind words about Screenplay Competitions.
1. Decide what you want out of the competition process
Before you start researching screenwriting competitions, decide what you hope to gain from entering. Do you want a competition that will launch your career if you win? Or, are you looking for a competition that will provide you with detailed insight into how your script ranked and why?
2. Decide if you want written critiques (and if, so what kind)
The written critiques that are offered in relation to competition entries are many and varied, so determine the depth of feedback you’re looking for in a critique and how much are you willing to pay for it. Often you’ll have to decide at the time you enter a competition if you want the critique offered, so do your research prior to starting the submission process.
3. Research the competition
This might go without saying, but it’s a good idea to only enter competitions that are reputable and have garnered respect from the industry. This doesn’t mean new competitions aren’t legitimate, nor does it mean that a competition that has been around a long time is the right competition for you and your script. But you don’t want to get your script (and your money) tangled up in a scam.
4. Read the judging criteria
Not every competition looks for the same qualities in scripts. Some want edgy Indie scripts. Some want big-budget blockbuster scripts. Reading the criteria a competition uses for judging entries can help determine if your script is a good fit.
5. Read the Eligibility Requirements
Once you’ve narrowed down the list of competitions you want to enter, make sure you can enter them. Eligibility requirements pertain to both the script (it’s format, genre, length, etc.) and the writer (age, writing income, previous competition/fellowship wins, etc.).
6. Understand what you are legally agreeing to when entering a competition
Always read the fine print associated with the competition you plan to enter. This includes the rules, agreements, eligibility requirements, terms and conditions, privacy policies, etc. — as well as the prizes awarded. Also know that, in addition to reading the fine print for the competition itself, you may also need to read the fine print for the competition’s parent site and/or any third-party submission sources utilized.
7. Protect your work
It isn’t usually an entry requirement to copyright your script with the U.S. Copyright Office and/or register it with the WGA — but, many competitions do recommend that you do at least one (if not both). Personally, I always copyright my work. Just be aware that it can take several months to process the copyright or registration. If you want to have the official copyright/registration confirmation, you’ll have to start the process well before you enter any competitions.
8. Know the deadlines
Some competitions have multiple entry deadlines (the cost to enter increasing after each deadline passes). Other competitions have an incredibly short entry window, lasting only a few days or a few weeks. Keep a record of these deadlines — after all the time and energy you’ve put into researching and selecting competitions (not to mention writing your script!) you don’t want to miss an entry opportunity just because you missed the entry period.
9. Know your script’s main genre
Some competitions utilize what I call “genre-specific judging” (meaning scripts are judged only against other scripts submitted under the same genre — rather than judging all scripts and all genres together). But, even if the competition does not use genre-specific judging, entry forms typically ask for your script’s genre anyway (usually so competition administrators can match your script to the appropriate judges).
10. Write your logline ahead of time
Most competitions require a logline with entry, so it’s a good idea to write this a few days or weeks before you plan to enter. Even if the competition doesn’t use your logline as part of the judging process, the logline could be used to help match your script to the right judges and/or to market your script if you win/place. That’s decent incentive to write a succinct, accurate, and compelling logline, right?
BONUS TIP Remember: one competition is just one competition
One of my scripts reached the semifinals at Austin Film Festival, the semifinals at ScreenCraft, and the finals at the Nashville Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. However, that same script (same script, same version, same everything) failed to make it past the second round at the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards, or get anywhere at Nicholl, Big Break®, BlueCat, or Script Pipeline.
So, remember, the results from one competition — or even two or three — is not always perfectly indicative of the quality of your writing. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still benefit from the competition process. Entering competitions, reading legalese, learning how to deal with results and analyzing critiques… these can all be great opportunities to improve your script and yourself as a writer. And that can help get you closer to a screenwriting career — whether you win the competition or not.
Thanks for reading! And happy writing!
Want even more tips? Check out Ann Marie Williams’ book Screenplay Competitions: Tools and Insights to Help You Choose the Best Screenwriting Contests for You and Your Script