There are a lot of avenues that new screenwriters can take to get exposure and hone their writing skills, but one of the most valuable is the screenwriting contest. There are several benefits to entering and here are just a few:
- If you place or win, you get immediate exposure. I won a screenplay contest with a screenplay I wrote in film school and for the next few months, I received email after email from producers and managers wanting to read it. The organization that puts on the contest will suddenly be behind you and your script, pushing it into the hands of those that can get it made. Why? Because if your movie gets made because of their contest, that’s a tool they can use to get more entries (and of course more entry fees) for the next one. Some are even small production companies with financing, looking for the right screenplay to produce themselves. Winning, in and of itself, can mean your screenplay gets made into a movie.
- Winning or placing in a contest will go on your writing resume and that looks good for every project you write after that. Winning a screenplay contest says, “Industry pro’s think this writer is good.” As soon as I see that on a resume, I get more excited to read that writer’s work than I do to read a screenplay from someone else that’s never stood apart from the pack.
- Free Feedback. Hiring a screenwriting coach, or paying for professional coverage can be expensive. Some contests are able to justify their higher entry fees by sending you feedback from the judges. This feedback isn’t usually as extensive or detailed as what you’d get if you hired a consultant or coach, but it’s valuable nonetheless.
- They are great networking opportunities. If a contest is connected to a film festival, even if you don’t win, it will give you a reason to go there to network. Imagine being at a cocktail reception for one of the festival’s films and as you mingle with industry professionals, you can say “I’m here because I entered one of my scripts into the screenwriting contest.” It’s a way for you to tell anyone and everyone that you’re a screenwriter without having to awkwardly work it in to a conversation. If it’s a genre-specific festival (like a horror festival), you may meet a producer or director that wants to read the screenplay because they are specifically looking for unproduced screenplays in that genre.
- You can win money and prizes. Who doesn’t want that?
- Last but not least, it gives you a sense of how you rate compared to your competition. Most competitions bar professional writers from entering, so you’re competing against other novice writers. If you opt to receive the loglines of all the entries (a good number of contests will provide this to entrants), it can give you some insight into the kind of scripts that are out there competing in the marketplace as well.
One note of caution about contests… before entering, always research the contest to see if anyone has written anything negative about it. There are a few scams out there. And of course, before sending your script out to anyone (including contests) register it with the WGA, west.