Evan Daugherty has adapted Snow White, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tomb Raider, and He-Man for the big screen, but he didn’t get his big break while working in Hollywood. He lived in Dallas when he funneled a fresh spec script, Shrapnel, through Script Pipeline’s 2008 screenwriting competition, and won.
“I decided to actually fly out to L.A. for the ceremony. I had no expectation of winning,” he told Script Pipeline. “I was just using it as an excuse to visit some L.A. friends. So, when I was announced as one of the Grand Prize winners, it was a real shock.”
The win helped him land a manager, an agent, and his first job—writing a draft of Warner Bros.’ Masters of the Universe film. Shrapnel became the Robert De Niro-John Travolta film Killing Season. And he also sold Snow White and the Huntsman, a script he’d written as an NYU sophomore, for $3.25 million.
We can’t promise that every one of our 15 Submission-Worthy Screenwriting Competitions of 2020 will change your life as dramatically as Script Pipeline changed Daugherty’s. But screenplay competitions can be an excellent resource for writers, offering valuable feedback, industry connections, mentorship, and even monetary prizes.
Of course, there are a lot of contests out there, and they all cost precious cash to enter. So in the interest of saving screenwriters time and money, while simultaneously supporting competitions with proven value, MovieMaker has sorted through dozens of them.
Before we share the top 15—in alphabetical order—let’s outline why screenwriters would even want to gamble $40 to $100, per contest, just for the chance to compete with thousands of other spec scripts.
1. Constructive criticism. It’s the most basic benefit competitions can offer screenwriters. Praise and criticism are essential for growth in this craft. Awareness of strengths and weaknesses in one project is key to improving the next.
2. Cash. Without an agent, this may be the next best way to capitalize on hard work. Prizes can range from a few hundred dollars to $35,000.
3. Connections. Relationships are currency, but most people don’t have the luxury of being born into the film business, or even schmoozing with assistants at happy hours in Hollywood. Fortunately, the best screenplay competitions are either judged by or closely aligned with industry professionals. Impressing a literary manager, agent, or development executive—or even one of their assistants—could be a game-changer.
4. Validation. If you already have industry contacts, doing well in a screenplay competition will make them more likely to read your project. Shout about any honor on social media, and then tout the victory in every email inquiry going forward.
Most contests also welcome television spec scripts and even short film scripts, but this article focuses on feature screenplays.
And so, with all that said, here are 15 screenwriting competitions worth your time and money in 2020.
Entry Fee: $48-$88 2020 Deadlines: March 6 – May 1
This Coverfly-qualifying competition offers prestige, and a lot of money. Each year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences awards up to five $35,000 Nicholl Fellowships to amateur screenwriters, who are expected to complete an original feature film script. Payments are made quarterly and are subject to satisfactory progress of the recipient’s work, as judged by the Academy Nicholl Fellowships Committee. From the program’s inception in 1986 through 2019, $4.58 million has been awarded to 176 writers.
In addition to getting paid to do what they love, the writers are invited to participate in awards week ceremonies and seminars in November, and that means opportunities to network with the biggest names in cinema.
Over a dozen of these screenplays have gone on to production. 2015 winner Elizabeth Chomko’s What They Had starred Hilary Swank, and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018. Writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton’s 2013 indie drama hit, Short Term 12, was nurtured during his 2010 fellowship.
Despite this contest being sponsored by the organization behind the Oscars, it’s very accessible. Anybody who has earned less than $25,000 from screenwriting during their life-time can enter a screenplay that simply must be original. No adaptations allowed. Good luck.
Entry Fee: $45-$70 2020 Deadlines: March 27 – June 1
Although this annual October festival screens plenty of films, its roots are in the writing process. The Austin Film Festival & Conference, launched in 1993, was the first of its kind to bring professional and amateur screenwriters together to celebrate the craft, fostering careers in the process by introducing literary talent to agents and producers.
Cash prizes of $5,000 are awarded to winners in the drama and comedy categories, while horror and sci-fi category winners receive $2,500. All entrants are guaranteed written feedback, and those who reach the second round (the top 20 percent of total entries) get even more detailed feedback from readers. Those “Second Rounders” also get $50 off of a festival badge, granting them access to networking and learning opportunities galore, including exclusive panels, like grabbing lunch with an industry veteran, or participating in a mock writers room.
“The Austin Film Festival is true to their word—this is the writers festival,” said 2019 Sci-Fi Feature Screenplay winner Christopher Corte in a testimonial featured on the festival’s website. “AFF dedicates so much time and resources so the focus stays on the writer. It’s that attention which led me to signing with my managers at Lit Entertainment. Austin is the spotlight writers need.”
This Coverfly-qualifying screenplay competition is best suited for those interested in attending the festival, win or lose, because the experience is where screenwriters will discover the true value of the contest.
The AFF website also quotes X-Files creator Chris Carter describing it as “one of the best film festivals you’ll ever experience.”
Entry Fee: $50-$80 2020 Deadlines: June 30 – December 15
Founded by screenwriter Gordy Hoffman, brother of late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, this screenplay competition has been nurturing talent since 1998, a few years before the founder won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival.
First and foremost, BlueCat is a great opportunity for amateur writers to get feedback on their projects. All entrants are guaranteed a written analysis, and they’re eligible for the $10,000 grand prize, along with a $5,000 prize for feature screenplay winner. Four feature finalists get $1,000 each, as well, and three entrants will win $250 each for the best titles. Screenwriters residing outside of the USA are eligible to win the Fellini Award, which will net the winner $2,500.
As far as access to the industry, BlueCat sends winner and finalist loglines to literary representatives. Directly after being named a finalist in 2012, Ashleigh Powell sold her submission Somacell to Warner Bros., and more recently wrote The Nutcracker and the Four Realms for Disney.
Years before Ana Lily Amirpour became an in-demand writer-director, known for the films A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and The Bad Batch, she was just dreaming of being a professional filmmaker. Winning the BlueCat grand prize in 2007 was the first stepping stone in a career that continues to heat up.
“The second script I wrote, I entered into the BlueCat screenwriting contest, and honestly had no expectation or anything,” she said in a 2012 BlueCat interview. “And then when I won, it was just suddenly everything became really real… It was the first thing to make me believe that it could happen. And it did happen.”
Continue to see the rest of MovieMaker‘s submission-worthy screenwriting competitions