Rejection. If you want to be a screenwriter, you better get used to it. But the best way to avoid the dreaded “pass” is to better understand what your reader wants.
With that in mind, and as a companion piece to MovieMaker’s piece on What Film Festivals Want, we asked the fine people behind some of the most popular, rewarding, and respected contests three simple questions:
What are you looking for in a successful screenplay?
What common mistakes turn your readers off?
How many pages of a screenplay will you actually read before passing?
The answers are below, in the competitions’ own words, and we highly recommend reading before you submit your hard work for judgement.
Notice commonalities — all want unique voices, character and plot development, structure, format and grammar. But also pay attention to particular interests of each competition.
What the Austin Film Festival is searching for is not necessarily what ScreenCraft or Script Pipeline are seeking. Fortunately, we’ve got all three of those, and more, sharing their honest answers to a few important questions that could help you decide if your screenplay is up to snuff, and where you should submit it.
We’ll update this article as more competitions respond to our inquiry, designed to help you increase the odds of your work being recognized — and maybe launching your career in the process.
Austin Film Festival Script Competitions
What Are You Looking For? Mostly a unique voice with a thorough foundation in storytelling. But, broken down into elements, the scripts that do well in our competition have very strong characters, plot, dialogue, structure and concepts.
Common Mistakes: Typical mistakes we see are concepts we’ve seen many times before, incomplete structures, plots that don’t add up, characters that are one-dimensional, and dialogue that is often too on-the-nose.
How Many Pages Will You Read? Each script gets at least one full read-through because we understand some scripts take a little longer to reveal their story elements. If a script gets a “yes” from the first reader, the second reader is also required to read it in full. However, if it’s given a “no” in the first round, the second reader is only required to read up to page ten, so while scripts are given the full attention they deserve in the first round it is still important to provide that hook by page ten, in case the first reader gives it a “no.”
What Are You Looking For? Humanitas looks for stories that challenge us to use our freedom to grow and develop, that confront us with our individual responsibility, and examine the consequences of our choices. We get many prestige drama scripts, but the type of stories we look for can come in any shape: a crime thriller, speculative sci-fi, a half-hour comedy.
Common Mistakes: It varies from reader to reader, but a common comment judges make is that the narrative “wanders” or “rambles.” The concern being the script feels like a series of scenes strung together rather than a story propelled along by cause-and-effect.
How Many Pages Will You Read? In the early stages of judging, our readers look hardest at the first ten pages of a script. At some point between page eleven and fifteen, they have a good sense of a writers’ voice, strengths, and weaknesses.
What Are You Looking For? Launch Pad is looking for high-quality writing that feels fresh and original. The ideal screenplay submission feels like something we’ve never read before, with a confident voice and professional execution.
Common Mistakes: Spell your character names consistently. You would be shocked how many times we get scripts where characters’ names change in the middle or take on multiple spellings. It’s a very simple thing to check, so when there are mistakes, it looks lazy and unprofessional. It can also make scenes very difficult to follow!
How Many Pages Will You Read? We read the entire script for every entry, so while the opening pages are important to make a good impression, there’s no point at which we simply stop reading and move on.
What Are You Looking For? Scripts are scored on ten different elements, including premise/concept, characters, dialogue, structure, plot, theme, and style/tone. Our judges are looking for screenplays that excel in all these different areas — scripts with strong characters, an intriguing storyline, and a fresh,compelling voice — scripts that they’d love to see produced.
Common Mistakes: Probably the most common mistakes we see are scripts that aren’t in standard industry format, and scripts are either extremely long or too short for their genre. As an up-and-coming writer attempting to break into the business, you can’t afford to break the rules. Even though your script may have a great concept and very cool characters, if you don’t pay attention to the basics of structure and format, your script will appear unprofessional.
How Many Pages Will You Read? Our judges are paid to read our contest entries, so they do read each script in its entirety.