In his must-read tome Adventures in the Screen Trade, the late, great author William Goldman states: “Writing is finally about one thing: going into a room alone and doing it. Putting words on paper that have never been there in quite that way before.”
The writer’s life is a notoriously lonely one, with perhaps only a poor potted pothos, a perennial propensity for procrastination, and a painful penchant for pathos as company. Hours upon hours are spent capturing free-floating fragments of the imagination and then crafting the kaleidoscope into captivating and coherent form.
Whiling away at writing for the small screen with the dream of reaching the big one, you can be left wondering, “Is it any good?” Or, you may have a way with words but no way into the industry. You might have the next Blade Runner on your hands, but no means for it to find its way into the hands of those who can get it made.
Once upon a time, there was no choice but to move to the City of Angels and call Hollywood your home as you hoped for a lucky break. Now there’s a raft of prestigious screenwriting competitions, many of which are based in Tinseltown, which you can enter from any corner of the globe. But, as with film festivals, one has to be discerning as to which ones are legitimate and which are laughable.
Fear not, dear wordsmith: Your chivalrous companion in creativity, MovieMaker, has partnered with Coverfly to detail our first-ever annual top screenwriting competitions list. These illustrious contests—most of which are international— provide a welcome deadline, worthy eyes for your words, and invaluable evaluation… all the while giving you the most bang for your bard-like buck.
Scot Lawrie, co-founder of Coverfly, tells us: “There are three things to look for in a screenwriting competition. First, is there transparency? Who owns and runs it? If that’s not easy to discover, move on quickly. Second, is there a demonstrable track record of winners achieving career movement such as signing with an agent or meeting with producers? Third, make sure there are industry people reading the scripts.”
A good place to start your search is Coverfly.com, which, due to its invitation-only criteria, only allows bona fide screenwriting competitions to be featured in its stable.
While researching screenwriting competitions, we discovered other tips writers can use to determine whether a contest is worth its salt:
• What is the backstory and experience of those who run it? Assess whether they are well-connected within the industry.
• How communicative are they? Do they respond to email queries? If you get nothing but tumbleweeds, it might be best to steer clear.
• Are judges or mentors listed? Is there anyone involved who you particularly admire or who is linked to the kind of company
or film that fits well with your work? If so, it’s worth a shot.
• Are the prizes beneficial? One writer may be keen on a cash prize, another may appreciate the chance to have their script read by someone who could bring it to production. Decide what incentive you value the most and choose accordingly.
• How helpful is the contest in advancing your writing career? Some contests keep in touch with entrants and ply their scripts where there may be interest, others will provide opportunities for one-to-one mentorship.
• Does it have a selection of genres so you can target your script appropriately? What are the chances of winning? Some contests are open about the number of entries they receive so you can work out whether the odds are in your favor.
Another thing to consider is that while script readers typically sign confidentiality agreements, it’s prudent to protect your work by registering it with the Writers Guild of America and/or the Library of Congress Copyright office.
As you peruse the following list, which is in no particular order, take heart in the fact that there have never been greater chances to break into Tinseltown’s fortress from the comfort of your own room with the might of your keyboard.
As uttered in the Goldman classic The Princess Bride: “Have fun storming the castle!”
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