Screenplay contest – a waste of time or a sure-fire way to break into the industry?

While there are some duds out there, there are reputable screenplay competitions that have helped shape and kick start many writing careers. Do your homework and make sure you’re submitting your very best work and you might just walk away with cash in your pocket and invaluable industry contacts. Here are some tips from Screenplay Contest experts.

1Screenplay Contest Do’s and Don’ts Tip #1 : DO Go With the Establishment

“Submit to a contest that is respected by the industry and has been around for several years. The more established the contest, the more attention you’ll get if you win or place as a finalist.”

-Susan Kouguell, screenwriter, filmmaker and author of Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays

Susan Kouguell (@SKouguell) | Twitter

Summary: Choose your contests wisely! Make sure that if you’re sending in the cash to submit and going to all the trouble of polishing your script for the contest that you’re sending it to one that will benefit you if you win. Winning contests is a great way to break into the industry so choose ones who have real connections and a strong networking-possibility.

2Screenplay Contest Do’s and Don’ts Tip #2: DO Start Late

“I’d hazard about 95% of spec screenplays start far too early in the story, usually because they introduce us to characters for an extended period so we ‘care’ about them. This means the reader is asked to ‘wait’ for the story to start … Scripts need to hit the ground running.”

-Lucy V. Hay, head reader for the London Screenwriter’s Festival, novelist, script editor and blogger.

Lucy Hay (@Bang2write) | Twitter

Summary: Don’t bore the readers! They’re reading hundreds and hundreds of scripts, make your beginning so compelling that they don’t immediately toss it in the reject pile. Start with action and get the story moving right away.

Screenplay Contest Do’s and Don’ts Tip #3: DON’T Enter Big-Budget Fare

“Keep in mind that the industry professionals who sponsor some of these film and TV competitions do so in order to find good producible material, hopefully for lower rather than higher budgets. Therefore, entering a screenplay in a genre with a story that screams “high budget” lessens the writer’s chances of winning.”

-Lynne Pembroke, screenwriter, poet, script analyst and owner of

Summary: Be mindful of your genre. Sci-Fi and Action typically have high budgets so do your best to write a script that wouldn’t be astronomical to shoot. If the contest is looking for low-budget material to produce, they’ll be more likely to choose your script if it’s economical.

4Screenplay Contest Do’s and Don’ts #4: DO Get Some Feedback (Beforehand)

“Before you even send your script in, have at least five people who are not related to you in any way read it and give you honest feedback. Pay attention to their comments objectively. If all agree that the “yellow-sweater-wearing lady” is completely unnecessary, she probably is.”

-Melissa L. Pilgrim, freelance writer, screenwriter, playwright, and script consultant.

Summary: Ask for feedback! You can’t be afraid of criticism when you’re submitting your script to be critiqued so make sure it’s polished. Get feedback wherever you can and listen to it! Even if the consensus is to cut your favorite scene, if your readers don’t like it, it probably needs work and the judges won’t like it either.

5Screenplay Contest Do’s and Don’ts Tip #5: DO Search for a Killer Title

“Give your screenplay a really great and memorable title! It’s the first thing a reader sees and you’ll have a better chance if the title is interesting and makes the reader want to open the script.”

-Elizabeth English, founder of Moondance International Film Festival and competition.

Summary: Make sure your screenplay makes a great first impression! Your title should be clever and fun and pique the judges’ interest. It should imply what the story is about while also enticing them to keep reading. Make it count! A good title can set the tone for the entire screenplay.

6Screenplay Contest Do’s and Don’ts Tip #6: DON’T Skip Structuring Your Story

“What else do the judges like? Structure. If you’re unlucky enough to have a judge who reads the first ten pages and then flips right to page 25, then you want to give them what they are looking for. There are plenty of books on structure out there… A solid structure makes for an easy read. And an easy read is one thing that judges like.”

-Greg Gasawski, screenwriter and playwright, winner of John Golden Award for Playwriting, Chesterfield Writer’s Film Project, and one of the judges of The Chesterfield Writer’s Film Project.

Summary: A screenplay contest isn’t the time to challenge the Three Act Structure convention. Judges want to see a writer educated in screenwriting. They want to see one who has done their homework. Make sure your act breaks and turning points fall in the right places– the judges will appreciate it.

7Screenplay Contest Do’s and Don’ts Tip #7: DO Research

“Perform your due diligence. Internet searches help weed out fake contests who don’t award cash prizes to actual entries. In hard economic times, many agencies or other film organizations run contests to improve their cash flows rather than discover new talent.”

-J. Gideon Sarantinos, film and TV writer and owner of script consultant company, Script Firm.

J Gideon Sarantinos @jgsarantinos

Summary: Be wary of fake contests! While there are tons of reputable contest out there, there are also a lot of duds just looking to collect money. Make sure the contests have real winners with real prizes and make sure the people who run them have real connections in the industry. A quick internet search will show you which ones are real and which ones should be avoided.


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About The Author

Michael Rogan
Editor, ScriptBully Magazine

Michael Rogan is a former screenplay reader and optioned screenwriter. He is also the founder and editor-in-chief of ScriptBully magazine, and has written a few non-sucky books including "How to Write a Book That Doesn't Suck (and Will Actually Sell)". He has made it his mission to help screenwriters kick ass - and rid the world of films based on action-figure lines.

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