Why You Should Enter a Screenwriting Competition [in 2024]

a winning name in an envelope with a statue

If you’re a beginning screenwriter, you might ask yourself if entering a screenplay competition is worth it or not. After all, most are not free to enter, and there is no guarantee you’ll win anything or even place well.

I wondered the same thing when I was starting out, and I decided to take the (small) risk and try a few. And I was so glad I did!

In this article, I’ll share with you why I decided to enter script competitions, how I’ve found them beneficial to my career, and why you should enter them too!

What is a Screenplay Competition?

A screenplay competition is a contest where writers enter feature-length, short, and TV pilot scripts to be read by a panel of judges, who rate the work on everything from plot to character development to dialogue to action to technical aspects, like spelling, format, and grammar.

Whether it is an annual screenwriting competition, a monthly contest, or a one-off, competitions are typically one of two types. The first is a standalone event dedicated strictly to writers and their craft; the second is when they are part of a film festival where filmmakers showcase their films.

Either way, it can be a great way to get your work noticed by industry professionals. Competitions and festivals allow filmmakers, writers, and directors to show off their writing and directing skills and other talents.

Competitions can include everything from short films and digital series to feature-length films, TV pilots, and documentaries. By participating in a screenwriting contest, you can network with potential partners for future projects, gain exposure for your work, or even win awards and prize money.

If you’re considering entering such a script competition, try to pick one that best suits your genre and writing style, and be aware of all the submission requirements. But most importantly, don’t rush!

Take the time to write a high-quality screenplay and ensure it is appropriately polished before submission.

Neil at a Film Screenplay Competition
Neil with Award at ScriptSummit Competition

Why Enter a Screenwriting Competition?

Participating in a screenwriting competition is an excellent way for aspiring screenwriters to break into the industry and get their stories out into the world.

It’s a great way to practice your craft, get to know other professionals in the field, and gain valuable feedback from top-level industry veterans. Plus, it’s also an opportunity for you to test your scripts against those written by other writers on a level playing field.

With contest winners having the chance to receive substantial rewards such as mentorships, staff jobs, and development deals with Hollywood production companies in the aftermath of a big win, entering a screenwriting competition could make all the difference in helping you launch the career of your dreams!

Benefits of Screenplay Competitions

Let’s look at some of the benefits you can receive by entering your first screenplay competition!

Exposure and recognition

One of the most effective ways of developing your scriptwriting skills is by entering screenplay competitions. Not only do they provide a great opportunity to be acknowledged and applauded for your work, but they also help improve your chances of gaining that all-important exposure.

Not every writer is in a filmmaking hub (such as LA, New York for Americans or Vancouver and Toronto for us Canandians!), and even those who are might not know the right people to see their work. A script competition may be a way to get your screenplay before a production company, agent, director, or some other key person in the film industry.

A competition win is the stamp of approval by a verified third party that something you have written has merit, and it may open doors that would have otherwise remained closed to you.

If the script contest is an in-person event, you may get the chance to network with some of the world’s brightest screenwriting minds and film industry veterans who can help you get your screenplay off the ground.

Plus, even if you don’t walk away with the grand prize, there are still plenty of other advantages, like getting valuable feedback from experienced judges or even landing an option deal from one of them (if you’re very lucky!).

You may also find screenwriting classes or workshops connected to many script competitions and film festivals. These offer an opportunity to fine-tune your craft and help hone your writing skills.

Networking opportunities

Entering the best screenwriting contests is an excellent opportunity to get your work seen by industry professionals. It also provides networking and growth opportunities as you learn from other writers who have had similar experiences.

a woman networking at an event

Meeting people in the entertainment industry can provide invaluable advice about where to find work or may even lead to collaboration on writing projects. Through these competitions, you can learn what works with readers and filmmakers and connect with those same people, providing a roadmap to success that may not be available through conventional routes.

Networking opportunities come in many shapes and forms, from mixers to after-parties to award dinners to everything in between. Even if you’re not an extrovert, try to push yourself and be social at these events, as you never know where they could lead!

Prizes

Entering screenplay contests can be a great way to potentially pick up lucrative cash prizes and other awards!

Prizes for winning scripts vary greatly, from trophies to software to feedback to consideration by industry professionals, but they could also involve cash prizes that range from $100 to more than $20,000 for a grand prize winner.

Personally, I’ve won various amounts from screenwriting competitions, varying from the hundreds of dollars to thousands. While it won’t likely replace your 9-5 income, it’s a very welcome bonus! Plus, it can make you feel better about reinvesting that money into screenwriting software, online courses, script coverage, or even personalized coaching.

red and white neon light signage saying "win"

Criteria for Choosing the Best Screenwriting Competitions

Credibility and Prestige

Choosing the best screenwriting contests can be difficult, but having a few criteria to help guide your decision will make the whole process much easier! Credibility and prestige are essential criteria for this.

Look for evidence of industry professionals who have submitted their scripts in the past or have been involved in judging. Also, look at the trades online forums to see which script contests are mentioned at the top. This is a great way to get an idea of how credible and prestigious the competition is likely to be.

Additionally, research any reviews online from past participants and winners – this is usually a great source of information on how valuable it can be. In the end, go with your own instinct as well as gather intelligence from everywhere you can because selecting the right one could make all the difference!

Genre and Format

When choosing the best screenwriting competitions for you and your work, it’s important to look at several criteria, including genre and format.

While most major competitions are open to all genres and formats of scripts – though they are divided into genres or classes – many have restrictions on what they will accept and/or award. If you specialize in a specific type of script, such as horror or sci-fi, I’ve found that entering competitions geared towards those disciplines is often more beneficial.

In addition, the piece’s length and format must align with the competition requirement, with many having a maximum page count for either features or shorts. It’s worth taking time to research various screenplay contests beforehand so that your submission is within their guidelines and eligible to win a prize.

a typewriter

Opportunities for Feedback and Networking

If you’re an aspiring screenwriter entering your work into screenplay contests, feedback and networking opportunities should be two of the primary criteria you consider when choosing a contest to enter.

You want to make sure the prize package offers more than just a nomination or monetary award; the best competitions can provide valuable connections and advice. Competitions that offer panels of industry experts are helpful for getting real-time feedback on your work, as well as learning from other writers’ submissions.

Furthermore, many screenplay contests include some sort of event or gathering where finalists can meet with industry executives or representatives from production companies. While prize money is still important, feedback and networking opportunities can be even more valuable to your career development over time if you take advantage of them.

Prizes and Recognition

When considering which screenplay competition to enter, prizes and recognition should be considered.

Prizes can come in many forms, from cash awards to industry connections, so it’s important to understand what the ultimate goal of your submission is and look for competitions that align with it.

Take a look at the past winners of each competition and consider the type of material that won and how those winners have gone on to get recognized by the industry afterward. This will indicate the sorts of stories, styles, and approaches that are favored and how significant each particular competition is in terms of exposure for potential success.

movie, movie theater, video, cinema sign

How to Enter a Screenplay Contest

Research the competition

Before you enter a screenplay contest, research the competition thoroughly. Find out which categories and genres the contest caters to, how long the submissions must be, and what format they should be written in.

Knowing the judges, too, is great because often they all come from different backgrounds, so adapting your script a little here and there may give you the edge to stand out above the rest. Don’t forget to read any additional rules, as well as any past experience you’ve had at the contest – this could determine whether that information gives you an advantage!

Research past winners

Researching past winners of your chosen contest is a great way to get insight into what kind of stories they tend to reward. Look beyond winner information and read recaps or articles about their winning entries to familiarize yourself with the type of material the contest might recognize.

Take note of common elements found among the most successful scripts – genres, themes, characterizations, narrative arcs – and apply these characteristics to the drafting process for your own entry.

Prepare your submission (formatting and submission guidelines)

Taking the time to make sure your submission is in the proper format and satisfies all the competition guidelines can mean the difference between success and failure!

Start by ensuring that you’ve included all required elements like a contact form, registration details, and any synopsis or logline requested.

After that, double-check that your text appears in Courier 12-point font, that each page is correctly labeled with the page numbers at the top right corner, and that line spacing is set to 1.5 throughout the document. You’ll want to use the best screenwriting software to ensure that your script is formatted perfectly!

Some screenwriting contests allow contact information on a title page, while others prefer to have it blank save for the title. Make sure you check for these and any other special instructions before entering.

Once you have completed these steps, go ahead and submit before the deadline so you have nothing else to worry about!

a screenplay

Submit your screenplay (look at all deadlines)

Start looking into early bird deadlines – they often cost less than regular entry fees and may give you a slight advantage in general, as most submissions tend to come in with later deadlines.

If you want judges who aren’t overwhelmed or tired and at a lower price – get it in right away! Submissions after early bird deadlines may be accepted, but you’ll have to shell out more money.

How to handle rejection

Remember that rejection is part of the process of becoming a screenwriter.

It can be hard to feel proud of your work and still receive a “no thank you” as a response. Although disappointment is inevitable and understandable, rejection should not stop you from progressing forward with your writing journey.

That’s why opting for feedback may prove helpful for many writers – both those who progress and those who are knocked out of the competition early. It’s a good way to learn what judges think of your work and what they might be looking for in general the next time.

Changing perspective and being open to feedback allows writers to find strength when they’ve received an unfavorable outcome. Take time to assess what was learned, reflect on advice given, practice gratitude for critical insight, and continue refining your craft.

Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve learned all about why you should enter screenwriting competitions, it’s time for you to polish your script and decide which contests you want to enter.

Make sure to check out my article on the best script competitions here, so you can decide which ones will be the best for you and your particular script. Competitions have been instrumental in my career, and I know they will be for yours too! Happy writing!

Common Questions (FAQs)

How can script competitions help me gain exposure in the industry?

I’ve found that these competitions can be a great platform for exposure. They’re often judged by industry professionals and attended by influential people in the film industry. Some of my friends have even secured representation or sold their scripts through these competitions!

What should I keep in mind when choosing which screenwriting competitions to enter?

Always look at the competition’s reputation, who’s judging it, and what you get out of it – not just the prize but also feedback, exposure, and potential networking opportunities. I always weigh these factors before entering.

What if I don’t win? Are there still benefits?

Absolutely! I didn’t place well in or win my first few competitions, but the feedback I received was invaluable. Plus, just being a part of some of the competitions led to networking opportunities and even interest from industry professionals. So, don’t get disheartened if you don’t win. Every competition is a stepping stone towards your goal.

What competition should I enter?

I always recommend the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting to any screenwriter. While it gets TONS of entries (it is administered by the people who give out the Oscars!), if you do happen to place well in the competition, it can open up unique opportunities and introductions to key industry players.

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