I recently heard an informative seminar from Chris Soth and Jim Cirile who runs the Writers On The Storm screenwriting contest. A key feature of this contest is that is provides critical and constructive feedback in scripts.
This serves as an acknowledgement of the writers’ work, since many contests don’t bother to notify entrants of their progress and only notify the winners at the end. There is little if any disclosure of the judging process. Regrettably, a significant number of contests are scams or over-priced.
Writers should be considering how a contest can advance their career. Who will read the winning scripts? A cash, product or service prize is nice, but often times your script cannot proceed. Ask if winning a script will get you representation, your movie made, or in the hands of someone that can greenlight it? Especially for non-L.A. based writers, contests can provide industry access.
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.
It is noteworthy that major agencies don’t care about contest winners. They care about marketable scripts they can sell. Furthermore, contest winners often don’t write commercial scripts. They may not even be ready to be circulated in the industry despite their competition win. By definition, every contest must declare a winner and they can only work with the quality of scripts entered.
On a positive note, contests provide third party validation of your scripts. Therefore writers should mention if they win a contest. Reputable contests have been known to gain writers representation, meetings with producers, and have their scripts produced.
The Nicholl Screenwriting Competition, is generally considered the most prestigious contest since it is run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Perversely, I’ve heard anectdotal reports of quarter finalists progressing further in their careers than winners, due to the commerciality of their scripts.
Not being dismissive of contests, they are awards in their own right and their accolades should be treated as such. They are a means to an end, but not an end in themselves. Many writers mistakenly believe that a win is their big break. Their journey has only begun.
Some writers enter the same script in multiple contests thinking that their chances of a win will be raised. It isn’t a lottery and each competition runs independently, with its own remit.
Specialist niche or genre contests may work better to get non-studio material recognized. It is therefore important to select a contest that is best for your script.
Bigger cash prizes don’t necessarily equate to better contests.
Many screenwriters are worried about the theft of their ideas in contests. It happens less frequently than you may imagine, since your idea is already fully fleshed out and less likely to be stolen. Since writers are creative, chances are that they will overhaul your idea into an unrecognizable form rather than steal it. Scripts are often the cheapest part of the film making process, so stealing makes little sense. There have been countless claims brought against producers for producing similar themed films. Most of them are unsuccessful.
The key advice to a standout competition entry are the first ten pages. Exercise brevity, a strong protagonist, conflict and a fresh premise. Is the idea movie worthy? Can you see it in a cinema? How does it fit in with similar films?