Win Screenwriting Contests
On any given day, a screenwriting contest is probably being held
Should you pay fees to enter them? Who
are the judges? Will you get a
critique whether you win or lose? Where
do you go from here with your winning (or losing) script?
Such are the questions that plague writers planning to put their
screenplays up against total strangers in a competitive forum.
The enticement to participate, of course, is the fact that these
scripts are actually being asked for, as opposed to the customary pitching
route of writing copious letters, making telephone calls, and knocking on doors
to see if someone, anyone might like
to read your material.
The even better news is that, with certain exceptions (usually
tied to direct association with the sponsor or regional/membership
restrictions), they are open to all and are extremely well publicized on the
Internet and in trade magazines.
The prizes awarded are as diverse as the material being sought
and range in significance from a nice chunk of change and/or an option agreement
(Hurrah!) to a cheap certificate and complimentary plastic comb (Oh).
Somewhere in between are scriptwriting software packages, agent
representation, expense-paid seminars, mantle-worthy awards, screenwriting
books, and consultations in person or in print by industry experts.
I think the delightful irony here is that although your lack of
experience/credits could preclude you from getting a Disney exec to even read an
unsolicited letter, your participation in a Disney-sponsored script contest will
assure that your material is reviewed, judged, and maybe even selected!
There is also a lot of latitude in terms of entry fees, most of
which go toward administrative processing costs, reimbursing the judges for
readings/critiques, and paying for the prizes.
While your personal budget picture is obviously the determining factor in
how many contests you choose to enter, those which will yield some measure of
professional feedback on your work are generally well worth the cost of
admission. (And don’t forget that
you can deduct those fees on your income taxes as writing expenditures, along
with membership dues, subscriptions, and supplies.)
What can you do to increase your chances of winning?
1. Follow the instructions!
2. Always submit a freshly printed out copy each time. It is worth the expense.
3. Use #6 brass brads to bind the project. Never use a binder, metal slide fasteners, or Velo plastic strips.
4. Do not write the title on the side binding.
5. Submit the script in an envelope that will be easy for the recipient to open. Layers of heavy-duty tape on the outside or gobs of gray fluffy insulation on the inside are annoying.
6. Include a self-addressed, stamped postcard whereby the recipient can confirm that the material has been received. Do not, however, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the script’s return if the rules specifically state, “Scripts will not be returned.”
7. Enter early as opposed to waiting until zero-hour. The same psychology of theatrical auditions curiously applies to the order in which scripts are read; those viewed first tend to set a precedent for those that follow. Toward the end, the judges are more rushed and impatient to get through the stacks. Suffice it to say, a lot of scripts begin to look exactly the same at that point.
8. Fill out the requisite releases and contest forms legibly and in black ink.
9. Include the appropriate contest fees in the same envelope with the entry forms and the script. (You’d be surprised how many people forget to do this.) Your check should be paper-clipped to the entry form, not submitted loose where it could accidentally be tossed out with the envelope.
In the event that you move or change your phone number during the
competition period, it would be prudent to let the contest officials know that
via mail. If their letter of
congratulations comes back returned or they call only to hear the message that
your number has been disconnected, do not count on them investing a lot of time
to find out what happened to you.
Nearly every screenwriting site listed has an announcement
section for upcoming competitions. My
where you can find the rules and advance information on contests held monthly,
yearly, internationally, and even those that charge no fees to enter.
The brief sampling below will give you an idea of what’s in the works
for aspiring contestants:
Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting
The Nicholl, an international contest held annually, is open to
any writer who has not optioned or sold a treatment, teleplay or screenplay for
more than $5,000. Up to five
$25,000 fellowships are offered each year to promising authors.
Austin Heart of Screenplay Competition
This contest invites entries in both the Children/Family and
Adult/Mature categories. Cash prizes and passes to the Austin Film Festival are
awarded to the lucky winners.
Chesterfield Film Company Writer’s Film Project
Up to five winners (in any genre) are eligible for $20,000
stipends for one-year fellowship based in Los Angeles to learn more about the
craft of screenwriting.
Walt Disney Studios Fellowship Program
The people responsible for that famous mouse also hold a
screenwriting competition every spring. Like
the Chesterfield, the prize is a residency program in LA for 8 lucky writers,
with round-trip airfare and one month’s accommodations provided for those who
live outside of Southern California.
Writer’s Digest Writing Competition
The television and movie script division of this annual contest
is still fairly new, but already attracting a high number of applicants.
Unlike other contests in which the entire script must be submitted, WD
calls for only the first 15 pages plus a one-page synopsis.
Cash awards, books, and WD subscriptions are in the offing, with the
Grand Prize being an expense-paid trip to New York City to schmooze with
publishing industry execs.
Moondance International Film Festival
The objective of this international contest is to promote and encourage women screenwriters and filmmakers. Screenplays, animation, stage plays and short stories are all eligible for review. Helpful tip: Moondance judges encourage non-violence as a solution to conflict, and place high emphasis on character-driven, intelligent, and non-stereotypical roles for females.
Former actress and director Christina Hamlett is the published author of 17 books, 104 plays and musicals, and more than 250 magazine and newspaper articles. Her website can be found at www.absolutewrite.com/site/christina.htm.
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