I think we all can agree, screenwriting contests can be useful tools for both new writers and those with experience under their belts. They’re excellent ways to get noticed, but some of the contests out there can’t take you as far as some others. So what are the best screenwriting contests to enter?
In today’s post, we’ll give you a list of our favorites, and take you through the pros and cons of contests in general.
What are screenwriting contests?
Film and TV are such saturated industries.
Especially for screenwriters.
So it's imperative for any screenwriters that are looking to take their career to the next level must find a way to set themselves apart. This would mean you need to put down those screenwriting books for a period of time and look into screenwriting competitions.
Screenplay contests are excellent opportunities to create that space.
By entering screenwriting competitions, you'll get your script read by executives, agents, and managers. And, if you win, you can put "award-winning writer" at the top of your resume. But you may spend a lot of money trying to do that.
Screenwriting contests receive hundreds, if not thousands, of entries. Often, you won't hear back from the competition or judges unless you win. And even then, it's usually an automated response.
There's also the factor of entry fees, which can add up if you blast your script to as many screenwriting competitions as you can.
But, we'll go over all the details for the best screenwriting contests of 2020 as well as a useful tool called the BlackList.
Knowing everything you can about these screenwriting competitions will allow you to formulate the best plan of action to get your foot in the door and your script read.
Why submit to a screenwriting competition?
So why should you submit to screenwriting contests? Because you never want to actively limit your career. Screenplay contests get your script read. It may not win, it may not even stick out, but someone will spend their time reading what you worked on.
Even better, many of the writers who win these screenwriting contests end up signing a development deal or selling their winning script to one of the judges.
While the competition is tough - as it is for all of Hollywood - screenwriting contests can be worthy investments for kickstarting a writing career.
That's the whole reason you wrote the script in the first place. Next to getting it made.
And, you never know. You may win, get the reward money, and then get signed by an agent because they can sell an "award-winning script."
Or, you may not win, but maybe a judge will earmark your script and kept you in mind regardless of the results.
All because you made an effort to submit a well-written script.
There may be hundreds of reasons to not enter screenplay competitions, but there’s one reason to do it that beats them all:
In an industry as nebulous and insular as entertainment, opportunities are something that should never to be passed up.
Script competition requirements
How to enter screenwriting contests?
Every screenwriting contest has its own entry regulations and process. The best way to enter a script contest is to find its website and follow the directions. If you feel the urge to do something different, restrain yourself.
Additionally, make sure your screenwriting software is capable of exporting your script to PDF. Under no circumstances should you submit anything other than a PDF.
Only submit a PDF when submitting to screenwriting contests.
If you used StudioBinder's Screenwriting Software to write your screenplay, it takes a single click to download your script as a PDF (or even print it).
Just visit your Write page, click on the more icon and then select Print.
The screenplay will be perfectly formatted and ready for you to submit to the next screenwriting contest.
Additionally, keep track of your submissions. It can help to have a spreadsheet detailing which screenwriting contests you submitted to and when.
Formatting your screenplay
Don't forget to format your screenplay
When you're polishing off your script, it's easy for mistakes to falls through the cracks in the final moments.
So before you send out your PDF to screenwriting contests, just remember to double-check the screenplay format.
One of the more common mistakes is formatting elements on the screenplay incorrectly, i.e. "Action" actually being a "Scene Heading"
In StudioBinder, you can easily confirm (or modify) your screenplay formatting right before printing your PDF.
Just click on some text on your screenplay, then you'll see the element highlight blue to indicate what the actual formatting is.
In this case, you can see that my Scene Heading is actually a Scene Heading.
Top Screenwriting Contests in 2020
Pick out the right script competition
Some of these deadlines have passed, but you should add them to your calendar for next year as well. Also, try to read past winners to strategize what kinds of scripts win. Do they favor comedy, drama, period pieces?
Information is key to picking the right place to enter.
The official screenwriting competition of the Academy (think: Oscars), this one is considered quite prestigious. It is, therefore, quite competitive.
A well-judged screenplay contest, one of the best features of this particular one is the number of genres you’re open to submit to. Comedy, sci-fi, horror, half-hour sitcom, they're all represented here.
They even have a "public domain" contest just for works based on IP that isn't copyrighted anymore. Think: Shakespeare, Greek Mythology, or most books or plays published in the United States before 1923.
Screencraft has one of the best screenwriting websites that every screenwriter should check out.
Tied to the Austin Film Festival, this screenplay contest is also considered prestigious. Sometimes it will even include some celebrity judges who announce the winners.
An internationally recognized screenwriting competition, shows such as Ozark and Justified have won this contest. As well as films such as The Judge and The Accountant.
Exclusively judged by Philip Seymour Hoffman's brother, Gordy Hoffman, BlueCat has had a number of its alumni go on to be a part of a number of successful projects.
A rare bird in the world of screenplay contests, Finish Line allows you to re-submit your script after you receive notes. This increases your chances of winning because as the old saying goes, "writing is rewriting."
Another largely popular screenplay contest, this one doesn't have the diverse genres as ScreenCraft, but divides film and TV.
One of the few other screenwriting contests that offers feedback or coverage from the judges. These can be crucial to developing and rewriting your script over time.
10. Sundance Lab
The official contest of the biggest festival in the industry, this is more of an incubator or development course than a screenwriting competition.
That being said, it's great to have on a resume and can really open doors.
The Lab has a number of "tracks" to submit to. Whether you're doing the feature film program or the TV development lab, the networking opportunities available to winners are too good to pass up on submitting here.
11. Script Pipeline
Script Pipeline has been around since 1999 and is a sort of a competition staple for writers.
Although Script Pipeline's screenwriting competition is a great way to discover talented writers, their interest is just as much in incubating talent over the long haul. Contest finalists and handpicked screenwriters work with Script Pipeline executives year-round, getting ongoing, one-on-one feedback and broader exposure on their work.
Over the last two decades, Script Pipeline has facilitated over $6 million in screenplay and TV pilot spec sales, so it's definitely worth checking out. Especially, if you're looking for a hands-on approach and continuous guidance.
The Scriptation Showcase is created by Scriptation, a popular script collaboration app used by thousands of productions worldwide. Their screenwriting competition circulates winners’ scripts to the directors, showrunners, and producers behind your favorite movies and TV shows.
Grand Prize and Top Prize winners will receive cash prizes and access to Scriptation Industry Pro.
The competition also offers feedback via PDF markup. Entrants have the opportunity to review notes directly within their script and better understand the thought process behind each suggestion.
Handling script notes
"We have some notes..."
Not all screenwriting contests give feedback or notes to the writers. But the ones who do can be really helpful for making revisions and improving your script.
Additionally, the screenplay contests that do give feedback can help you narrow your search down.
If you submit your script to a contest and it gets recognized, or you get constructive notes, revise it and send it to three more.
If it doesn't? Shelve it and move on.
The key to being a writer isn't having one script that you think is great, it's about consistently writing and improving.
Use screenwriting competitions to build up that portfolio and keep track of what's sticking and what isn't. You may find that readers respond more to certain genres or subject matters than others, this is useful information for pinpointing your voice.
About the Blacklist
The Black List is not a screenwriting contest, but it’s worth it.
One thing you may have heard about (or should know, if you don't) is a thing called The Black List. The Black List used to be a poll conducted by executives, readers, agents, and managers where they voted on their favorite spec scripts floating around the market.
The list was then tallied and released and, quite often, the number one script saw itself quickly gobbled up by a studio or production company.
Since then, the Black List has morphed into something much larger.
Now, the Black List uses a stable of professional readers to constantly rate and promote screenplays in a database. Every day, people upload their scripts, and over time they all get read. The ones that rank well are promoted and visible to producers and executives who've registered for the service.
They still release the annual list, but in the previous years it’s become much more of an event than it used to be.
The Black List is a great way to see in, more or less, real-time how your script is fairing against the competition without it being one of the myriad of actual screenwriting competitions.
They also have internal contests and grants you can win by being an active member of their website. Each one is hyper-focused, so you’ll know right off the bat whether or not your script fits the bill for what they want and need.
Screenplay > Screenwriting Competitions
Up next: Inciting incidents!
As you can see, there are a plethora of screenwriting contests available for you to submit to. The critical thing is how you submit to them. Glean whatever notes you can from each contest. That information should be considered prized intel as it's not often that you get the chance to hear back from readers.
By using resources like a story circle, or by learning how to effectively outline your script before going into the writing process, entering these screenwriting contests will prove to be a more fruitful endeavor.
As we said, this is about creating more opportunities. Don’t let them go to waste with a flawed script that could be easily improved by using the Hero’s Journey or having a stronger inciting incident. In fact, the inciting incident is a great place to start!