How to Prepare for Screenwriting Competition Season

November 18, 2016 Industry

Contests offer a way for screenwriters to gain exposure and access to the entertainment industry. No matter your day job, your proximity to Hollywood, or your connections, competitions hold the power to level the playing field. Your work has the chance to speak for itself as it’s evaluated against other entrants. All you have to do is get yourself and your script ready. Follow this step by step look into what you can do to prepare for screenwriting competition season.

Choosing a Screenwriting Contest

What should you consider when picking which contests to enter?

Look at what each screenwriting contest offers to winners and runners-up: prizes, mentorships, week-long programs, exposure, discounted festival entry, etc… It differs per competition. What appeals to you?

Not all competitions are created equal.

Advertising does not equal legitimacy. Look at the results of the contest, the contest’s track record of success for its winners, the judges who are reading your script, and how long the contest has been around.

Everyone basically can agree on the top 10-15 competitions.

Why? Because those are the ones that have the most name recognition and legitimacy in the industry. All around, people agree that the top two contests for features are the Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition (though there’s been a lot of talk recently that it’s gone downhill – they also do not pay their readers) and the Academy’s Nicholl Fellowships. For TV, the big network writing programs hold a lot of heat. In addition, Austin also has a TV pilot contest, which is taken seriously. 

For more extensive lists of all the competitions you can submit to, check out:

Jelena Woehr’s Google Grid

Film Freeway

Create a plan of action

Once you’ve chosen a few contests that you want to submit to, put the submission deadlines into your calendar. Now you know what you’re going to do and when you need to be ready by.

You’re writing and revising on a deadline. This is a chance to really stay motivated and focused.

Depending on where you are in your process, your timeline is going to be different. You might have a completed first draft, you may still be brainstorming, or you may be revising a script that you already submitted last year. Give yourself time for each stage.

Your journey might look something like:

  1. Brainstorm: 1 week
  2. First Draft: 2 months
  3. Get Notes: 2 to 3 weeks to let them get back to me
  4. Revision: 1 month
  5. Get Notes: 2 to 3 weeks to let them get back to me
  6. Final Draft: 1 month
  7. Proofread: 1 week
  8. Submit: 2 days

This specific outline implies that it could take you 6 months to finish your pilot, tv spec or feature. 

Grab a pen and paper. Write down what your process is and how long it will take you to complete the material you need to submit.

Don’t forget that some writing programs and fellowships require additional material like bios, resumes, personal essays, and more.

Prepare your script

Submit your best work. You want to feel like you’ve done everything possible to make the script that you are submitting stand out, reflect your abilities, and represent you as a writer.

Ace the easy steps. The easy steps are following submission directions and proofreading your script. If they tell you to take your name and WGA registration number off of your title page, do it. Are you terrible at proofreading? Ask a friend or a professional to help you.

Take a look at each contest website to see how the readers will be judging your script.

For example, let’s look at the PAGE Awards judging criteria

They grade you 1 through 10 on these criteria: premise/concept, presentation, structure, plot, pacing, characters, dialogue, theme, style/tone, and commercial potential.

Now you know that when you’re re-reading and revising your script, these are the things you should analyze.

Submit your best material!