It isn’t easy for emerging writers to break into the industry. The process of building a network, honing your voice and writing skills, building a portfolio you’re proud of, teaming up with reps, and finding paid work takes a lot of time and a lot of grit. Screenwriting competitions can be an avenue to gain some traction and open doors, but with so many out there, it’s critical to be discerning about where to spend your money — as well as being honest with yourself about why you’re entering the competition.
Placing in a reputable competition can give an emerging writer a few talking points in query letters and resumes and, of course, winning can come with great prizes like mentorship, meetings, and money.
So let’s go over some things to look for as you decide which competitions to enter.
Screenwriting competition entry fees aren’t cheap, so it can be a risk to enter all-or-nothing competitions. While most have options to pay an extra fee to receive coverage, some come with basic coverage with every entry. Receiving coverage at least ensures that entrants will get something for their money — and if there are rave reviews inside that coverage, emerging writers can use those to promote their portfolio or query reps.
When looking at reputability, start with the judges. If well-known industry professionals are partnering up with the competition, chances are, it’s a more reliable and respected program.
The judges can also give you a clue about whether your particular script is a good fit for entry. If you have a horror script but all the judges work in comedy, it might not be the best place for your money.
There are a lot of competitions that want easy money from you, so it’s important to do your research. Some film festivals like Austin or Slamdance have screenwriting competitions — these are well-respected places where placements might mean something when you’re looking for reps or employment.
Coverfly has become a trusted website that collates screenwriting competitions and generates laurels and lists-of-interest — it can be a resource for you to host your scripts and submit to competitions that they have vetted.
Ask your network for other recommendations — did entrants feel their feedback or coverage was fair? Was the entry fee reasonable? How was the customer service?
WeScreenplay contests continue to provide mentorship to promising writers even after competitions and labs end. Not every contest does this, but for the few that do, it’s a great opportunity to become part of their community. Programs will identify writers that may not necessarily win but who prove to have undeniable talent and they will use their connections and resources to uplift the writer throughout their careers.
Many programs will also provide mentorship for their finalists — a great consolation prize if your goal for entering the competition in the first place was to bolster your emerging career!
There are a lot of scams out there (and in the entertainment industry in particular) so it’s critical that emerging professionals do their research before spending money.
As a final note, there are a lot of entrants competing for attention in this industry, which means it’s hard to win these competitions. A great script will make itself known, whether you enter competitions or not. Don’t feel pressure to bankrupt yourself to pay for competition fees. If and when you’re ready to test the waters, make sure you do it thoughtfully (and preferably before the early entry deadline!).
Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com. She has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!