ATQ35: Should I be entering screenplay contests?

“Should a spec screenplay be submitted to a screenwriting competition?

Kem Royale
Screenwriter

 

Hi Kem. That’s a great – and very timely – question! 

When I started out, back in the 1990s, I don’t think I was ever aware of screenplay competitions.

Now it’s hard to get on the internet without tripping over the latest genre sub-niche event.

You can spend all year entering them – and spend a small fortune in the process.

How real are the claims?

Without a doubt, careers have been ignited by placing in one or two of the more well-known events.

I have first-hand evidence of that with the Screenwriting Goldmine contest, with many of our finalists getting commissions and/or agents as a result.

Add a couple of finalist places and maybe a win in a couple of middle ranking or major contests, and agents and producers will definitely pay attention. 

Obstacles

Yet there is a sweet spot. Some of these bigger competitions have thousands of entries.

The Channel 4 contest here in the UK attracts around 1,500 entries a year.

I’ve heard the Bluecat competition in the USA gets 3,000 to 5,000 entries.

I don’t know about contests like the Nicholl Fellowship, but you know they won’t get any fewer, and I can imagine their entry numbers are stratospheric.

When a contest of that size only has a handful of winners, with the best will in the world, it’s always going to be a bit of a lottery, and there will be some very deserving writers left out.

And of course there is the cost of entry.

Invest in your career, of course, but it can really add up over the year.

Do your research

A little due diligence goes a long way.

Look at the panel of judges, (the ones they actually name on the website!)

Do they have decent records as producers, directors, writers or script editors?

Are those track records on shows or movies that you recognise?

Then look at the list of what that contest has done for their past winners.

Over time is there a healthy picture of finalists getting their winning scripts optioned, or even put into production?

Or do winners tend to vanish without trace?

What can you win?

Then look at the prize fees. Some contests major on that, with thousands of pounds up for grabs in the prize fund.

Other contests offer other more intangible prizes, such as status, meetings with current execs, or screenplay mailouts to production companies.

A lot of entrants to the Screenwriting Goldmine Awards tell me that having the deadline to enter is a massive gift – it actually makes them finish a piece of work. Can be priceless!

And finally, be aware of where you want to actually work.

For example, some contests aim to place you in the US movie industry, and some, like Screenwriting Goldmine, are more oriented for those who want to work in British TV.

Find the sweet spot

It’s up to you to form your own opinion of what is most useful to you at this point in your career, and to find your own sweet spot among all those considerations.

For the record, if I were starting out as a writer in the UK this year, I would definitely be entering the Channel 4 contest, Shore Scripts, Screenwriting Goldmine, and, if I wanted to write for the theatre Nick Darke.

If I were trying to write movies for the American market at the moment (which I’m not) I would probably personally enter Page, Bluecat, Nicholl, Austin, Final Draft, and Sundance.

There are other big and worthwhile contests of course, but these are the ones that have caught my attention one way or another.

Importantly, given the sheer numbers applying to most of these, I wouldn’t be entering with any real idea that I would win. It would be more out of interest, to find out how I ranked. Getting into the later rounds would give me a real confidence boost.

Bottom line: it depends!

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