How to Pick the Right Screenwriting Contests for You

With over a hundred to choose from, which screenwriting contests are right for you? Let’s break it down into three parts: the types of contests, your script, and what’s legit. When it comes down to it, you want to be smart and selective about the contests you enter. It would make no sense to apply to all of them. You want the right match.

Let’s also speculate that you and I don’t have bucketloads of money (I do have a change jar) or oodles of free time (though I sometimes lie awake until 4am under the soul-crushing weight of existence). Keeping an eye on our wallet and our watch, let’s look at the below information to deduce which screenwriting competitions are right for you.

Check out a list of 2022 contests from Lauri Donahue

There are different types of competitions


A fellowship implies some kind of grant (money) and a mentored environment for a writer to hone their skills. The Nicholl is the most popular fellowship in this category. The Nicholl gives $35,000 to up to five writers each year. The money is meant to help you financially for one year while you complete another script.


A lab is typically a program that lasts weeks or even a month. The most popular labs would be the likes of Sundance or Film Independent. In these programs, you workshop a script with select peers and mentors. There is not necessarily a cash prize, like with a fellowship. The prize is the opportunity to hone your skills in a controlled environment.

General Contests

General contests and competitions typically award cash prizes for winners and runners-up. Exposure is also said to be awarded to finalists, which means phone calls or meetings with managers or agents.

Writing Programs

Many of the network writing programs for television used to be called fellowships. “Program” feels a little more all-encompassing as the network takes a writer under their wing for about a year. Writers are paid biweekly/monthly (a salaried stipend), mentored, and hopefully are able to staff by the end of the program (though it is not guaranteed).

Consider how your individual script factors into the equation

Television writer?

In addition to your original pilot, you’ll need a spec to apply to the big network writing programs. If you don’t have a spec of an existing show, try looking into more general contests where an original pilot is all you need.

Feature writer?

Your indie drama may do stunningly in Slamdance. Do you make short films and have a vested interest in features? Sundance might be your jam. Rocking a niche comedy? Maybe you want to submit to a genre-specific contest.

Choose legitimate screenwriting competitions

How can you tell if a competition is legitimate and taken seriously in the industry?

Consider past winners

Did these people get representation? What are they doing now? Is this contest new but has a great track record? Has this contest been around a while, but they haven’t had successful winners since 2009?

See what comes highly recommended

Use trusted sites to tell you what contests are noteworthy. Websites like Indiewire, No Film School, and Good In A Room have great recommendations. If the screenwriting competition runs a blog, you might get a biased interpretation of the “best” contests.

Ask peers

If you know people who have submitted to screenwriting contests before, ask them what their experience was like. Are you the only screenwriter you know? Search on Reddit, ask a screenwriting Facebook group, take to Twitter – the internet is your friend.

Do this right now

Make a list of 10 contests that interest you. 

Write down those deadlines, add up the fees, and get a scope of all the submission materials required. The first step is your script, but the second is organization. You got this!

This is the second post in a four-part series. Check out the first post How To Prepare for Screenwriting Competition Season