Screenwriting competition season is an exciting time. You’ve written a great script. You have the opportunity to put your work in front of professionals. Don’t risk jeopardizing your submission with mistakes that can easily be avoided. Every year, competitions filter through thousands of submissions. Be one of the entrants who shows you care. Present your best self and your best script.
5 common mistakes when submitting your script
You didn’t follow directions
The details can make or break your submission. I’ve been to two panels featuring the heads of the network television writing programs. The way you pay attention to application details leaves a large impression. They figure if you can’t follow a simple instruction, how are you going to fare in a year-long program that requires you to build upon a series of details and instructions? They would rather take someone who can follow directions over someone who didn’t put in the effort to do just that. It’s the base level requirement in some cases.
Breathe. It’s going to be just fine. Not every program will penalize you for small mistakes but some will. So why take the risk? Staying organized and efficient will eliminate some of that stress.
You didn’t proofread.
Again, every contest runs differently. Some are very lenient when it comes to typos in spelling and grammar. That being said, poor attention to these things gives a bad impression of you to the reader. You look messy, like you didn’t care to edit.
By Great Scott, ask someone to help you proofread. I have to do this all the time. My brain ceases to efficiently spot errors after I’ve read over my writing one time. It “autocorrects” if you will. Since I know this about myself, I rely on the good graces of my friends to help me out.
You don’t know if the reader you’ll get cares or not, so eliminate that worry.
You’ve fudged the formatting and page count.
Formatting should be the easiest thing for you to handle. There are several free programs available for screenwriters to type their screenplay into. No excuses.
Do not fudge the margins, font, or spacing. Readers read so many scripts that they can immediately tell if something is off. Maybe you want to cram in more words or you want to up your page count. Instead, focus on making your script better.
Speaking of page count, personally, when I see a 150 page script enter my sight, I cringe. You may be thinking, “wait, that’s not fair. It could be a really great script. You can’t judge it off the page count.” Oh, but readers can, and they will.
You can usually tell in the first ten pages if a writer has talent. Beyond that you see if they can sustain that talent through skill. When a writer comes at you with a 150 page script, it’s usually a marker of ameteur talent. Usually, it’s a writer using novel-length description that is dense and hard to read. The idea may be good, but it’s not taking advantage of the visual medium that a screenplay caters to. All the detail adds nothing.
There are produced scripts and shooting scripts with high page counts, but that is a luxury you are not afforded when you are being graded on your skill in a contest. It can affect pacing, structure, and many other parts of the criteria you are being judged for writing.
For features, tell your story in 90-120 pages.
TV drama pilots should stick close to 60.
TV comedy pilots range a little bit.
- The Parks and Rec pilot is 41 pages.
- The Brooklyn Nine-Nine is 36 pages
- The New Girl is 35 pages.
- The Insecure is 33 pages.
- The Big Bang Theory pilot is 51 pages. (Consider that it’s a multi-cam live show and the formatting is a little different).
You submitted less than your best work
Avoid submitting a script that you know isn’t ready.
Did you rush to get it done? Can you pinpoint specific parts of the screenplay that you would like to fix? Have you forgotten to write the essays required for a writing program or lab?
You can easily avoid this. Prepare your script and stay on track with your goals in order to submit the best work you have to offer. If you know when the contest deadlines are, you know how much time you have to work on your material.
You submitted to the wrong contests
Carefully consider which contests you want to enter. Pay attention to the differences between the general competitions vs. labs vs. programs. Know what you want from a contest, and assess which ones you think you would do well in.
Smaller contests don’t offer the exposure of larger ones, but what if you want something different? Let’s say there’s a local contest that is part of a larger film festival. It probably has less entrants than a larger contest. Maybe there’s a small cash prize for finalists, but the larger prize is the opportunity to go network with other filmmakers at that festival. If that’s something that you want, go do it.
You don’t have hit up every large competition on the grid. You can think outside the box. Just try to make sure that whatever you enter is legitimately run.