There are as many ways to break into screenwriting as there are ways to skin a cat. One of the ways to make it as a screenwriter is to enter reputable screenwriting contests. Careers have been launched as frequently as money wasted in entry fees. It all boils down to one simple question:
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH?
Screenwriting contests are a great way to force you to stick to deadlines and finish your screenplay. Oftentimes, scriptwriting contests have financial incentives for early entries.
Screenwriting contests provide validation to emerging screenwriters. They make them feel part of a professional writing community and inspires them to keep writing, especially if they place.
Many contests have handsome cash prizes. This is always nice, but this is an unwise motivation to enter them. Others offer screenwriting software or subscriptions to screenwriting software. Treat prizes as a bonus. Access to industry pros who can move your career forward is the real prize.
Many screenwriting contests offer basic or extended feedback for a nominal additional fee. This may range from general comments on the reader’s initial reaction to your script to constructive development notes.
PUTTING YOURSELF OUT THERE
Contests also get your work read. By whom is another matter. How much of your screenplay they read is also contentious. What are the grading criteria? Who can say? So long as you’re throwing your hat (or screenplay) in the ring. Stay present. You have to be in it to win it.
Many contests send their winners’ loglines to a list of industry contacts. At the very least, your name and a brief description of your work are planted into their consciousness. The film industry is a vastly small space. Executives often exchange screenplay experiences with each other about which screenwriters they’ve read lately. You could be one of them.
Part of the beauty of this industry is that you may get a call from an industry professional, unrelated to the contest you entered, because your screenplay was forwarded to them. Referrals are an invaluable currency in this business.
GETTING YOUR SCREENPLAYS READ BY PROFESSIONALS
Whether contest script readers can advance your screenwriting career is a moot point. I’ve asked numerous agents and managers whether they read screenplay contest winners. Some say they read the winners or semi-finalists of ‘respected’ contests only. An equal number aren’t interested because there are so many scriptwriting contests out there, many of which are little more than revenue raisers for the organizers.
Many managers who do read winners, do so to see what screenplays are out there, which writers they should watch and potentially invite to a meeting. On rare occasions, they option winning scripts or even fast track them into development.
The managers who aren’t interested in screenwriting contests claim the winning material either isn’t up to industry standard, the material doesn’t have a defined audience and isn’t easily producible, or more frequently, it doesn’t fit their current development and production slates.
Many contests are highly nuanced and they attract certain types of film scripts. Entrants are always at the mercy of the overworked and underpaid script readers. Some readers respond to the quality of writing, while others respond to scripts appealing to their personal tastes.
Finally, agents and managers primarily serve their existing clients and their work. They simply don’t have the time or resources to read additional scripts on a regular basis. When they do, they are usually sent to lower level staff for vetting first.
Harsh realities aside, producers are always looking for new voices and quality screenwriters to keep the industry alive. Write with your bold, authentic voice so you stand out. Success is more likely to follow.
This is a big deal. An industry professional has read your work and wants to meet you. It means they respect you as a screenwriter and/or your work. General meetings are ‘first dates’ to get to know you better (translation: to ensure you’re not a weirdo or difficult to work with.) You might also get asked what else you have? (translation: we love your writing, but your screenplay is not for us.) They may want you to develop their own projects with them or send you out for Open Writing Assignments.
Not all successful screenwriters enter contests and not all screenplay contest winners become successful. I’ve met serial contest winners who can’t get produced as often as working screenwriters who’ve never placed in a screenwriting contest. It all comes down to what works for you. Find your own path to success.