I’ve mentioned before that I organize different writing groups, where screenwriters can get feedback for their projects and exchange ideas. I love these meetings because other than that, they also make me reflect on topics that screenwriters constantly struggle with.
Last week, someone asked me if writers should enter screenplay competitions, so I thought about writing about it and maybe shed some light on this constant dilemma.
What are screenplay competitions?
Essentially, any event or space where writers can submit a screenplay for judges to review and receive prizes. These prizes vary a lot from competition to competition. Common prizes are cash, products, or other industry-related things, such as the production of the script or receiving professional feedback. They can also be trophies or decorations such as the Oscars.
Competitions come in many shapes. There are film festivals that have a separate section for their competitions, but there are also individual companies and associations that hold contests. The options are endless and exist in almost every country.
What does participating in a competition entitle?
It obviously depends on the contest. But generally speaking, you’ll need to submit your screenplay accompanied by your details and, in some cases, an entry fee. Usually, you keep the writing and exclusivity rights (meaning that you’re still the owner of your script and can keep entering other competitions/production companies), so it’s important to have it copyrighted by the relevant institution.
Okay, but are they actually worth it?
Whether you should enter a contest or not depends on many factors. First and most importantly, your goal towards your screenplay. If you’re planning on self-production, it might not be the best idea to invest in competitions. Unless there’s a specific award that you think could help your production.
An award from Sundance or Cannes is very likely to interest your potential investors in your project. But recognition from a small, local festival might not.
If you plan to only sell the script, some screenplay competitions might be a great fit. They can be a way to network with potential buyers and you can make use of prizes such as feedback and mentoring.
You also need to consider the kind of budget you want to invest in this. Some competitions have entry fees, which vary from as little as 5USD to even hundreds. So it’s important to consider this when you’re creating the project’s budget.
Note also that not all competitions will be right for your project, so be thoughtful before applying and paying fees. Research the competition, take note of previous winners, and keep your project’s strategy in mind.
How do you stand out in the competition?
So you’ve decided to participate in a competition and you’re ready to submit your script. Before doing so, make sure you’ve got this covered:
I know I’ve said that format isn’t the most important thing when you’re first writing your script. But it is when it comes to submitting it.
Competition judges receive tons of scripts every year and sometimes they don’t have the bandwidth to read them all. The format is the first thing they will notice. If your script doesn’t comply with industry standards, it might not even get past the first judging round.
Use professional screenwriting software and make sure to follow the basic rules.
2. Story Structure
Unlike production companies and networks, most competitions aren’t exactly looking for the next best story, but rather the next best writer. They will judge the story, of course, but they will also be looking to see if you know how to write. And story structure is the best way to show it. Make sure your three acts are clearly defined and have the key elements they should. Remember that before breaking the rules you need to fully understand them.
A clear theme can go a long way during script competitions. The theme allows the reader to connect to the story and understand it no matter their background. This is important because judges might be from different places and have different cultures, so crafting a story with universal values can help them bond with your project and select it.
Remember you’re not alone.
Preparing for a contest is just as important as preparing to pitch to a network. Getting professional feedback before you submit it can help you increase your chances of being selected. Script consultants, like myself, often offer services designed for competitive submissions. We will work with you to improve your project based on the specific contest’s requirements.
Happy writing and good luck!