So, you’ve placed in a screenwriting competition! Congratulations! It’s an exciting feeling, so take some time to enjoy it. Not all competitions are the same, and they won’t always mean your life and/or career are about to change — but there are some things you can do to capitalize on the achievement.
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Set Specific Goals for Your Screenplay
If you haven’t already, it’s time to get very realistic about setting (and keeping) your screenwriting goals. Is it meant to be a writing sample? Are you hoping to sell it? Do you intend to produce it yourself?
Jonathan E. Stewart (Seuss, Cars 3) recently shared a Twitter thread about breaking in as a writer where he talked about recent trends regarding selling scripts. “Compared with 10 or 20 years ago, the ratio of spec buys to green-lit movies is WAY smaller — put another way, studios are buying fewer spec scripts (but possibly making a greater number of the ones they do buy, silver lining?),” he wrote. He especially emphasized that “naked specs” — screenplays without big name attachments (directors, talent, producers) are very hard to sell right now, even for established writers.
I really hope this perspective helps. For what it's worth I have to remind myself of it often… this is a tough and mercurial business and writers get stepped on a lot. But ultimately it's been completely worth it. Good luck our there––keep up the great work! 18/18
— Jonathon E. Stewart (@JEStew3) November 21, 2022
That doesn’t mean the script you wrote and feel excited about will never be optioned or made, it just means that it could take a lot of time. This is why it’s important to be realistic about your goals.
The script could work as a great writing sample to connect you with reps who can help guide your career forward. Or maybe you should take a cue from Whiplash creator Damien Chazelle and create a short film or a trailer for your script as a proof of concept that highlights the story’s strengths and draws people in.
Synthesize the Feedback
It’s not enough to have a good writing sample — you must have a great sample to be competitive in this industry. If you received feedback with your competition entry, then look at how you can apply them to your script. If you had great scores for story, plot, and concept but your characters or dialogue were average, find ways to add depth to those areas.
Anytime you receive notes or reactions to your writing, there are some things you should think about. For instance, that information will be subjective — but you may begin to notice trends. If your peers and the readers in competitions keep telling you that the story starts too late, you may want to give a critical look at the opening that you’re in love with.
This is also a great time to get your hands on great screenplays with a similar vibe as yours and study what made them so successful. Then get at your draft and make it the best it can possibly be.
Add It to Your Resume
Once you have professional experience on notable shows and films, you’ll want those to be at the top of your resume. Until then, emerging writers need to show that they are learning and striving. In addition to showing where you’ve studied screenwriting (doesn’t have to be an MFA from UCLA — it could be workshops or classes with notable writers), including screenwriting placements from respected competitions demonstrates that you’re on the right path.
If you’ve got a few samples but one of them was a Nicholl’s Quarterfinalist, that could be the first one an industry connection might want to read first.
Share on Social Media
Networking on social media is essential for screenwriters.
If you have a public social media account, you should be using it mindfully with the understanding that potential employers will check it out. It should represent you as the person they would be working with for months or years. Be strategic and mindful about what you’re sharing.
But it’s also social media — it’s a way to connect with your network and let them know that you’re a person with driven energy who is working toward a goal. Sharing your successes keeps you at the front of peoples’ thoughts and reminds them that you’re out there growing, learning, and excelling.
We all want Steven Spielberg to discover us and launch our futures, but it’s more likely that you’re going to get a job from the person in your writers group who loved that hilarious script you table read last year. They’re going to be the person to recommend you when they get their first staffing job and their show is looking for a Writers Assistant with impeccable handwriting and the ability to punch up jokes when asked.
So, don’t be afraid to let your network know — and for heaven’s sake, celebrate your friends’ achievements when they share them. Jealousy and comparisons won’t get you anywhere, but seeing the friends who are a few steps ahead of you succeed is proof that it can be done!
Include It When You Send Queries
Gearing up to send out queries to reps? You’re going to need to write a great query letter.
If you’re submitting to reps, you need to communicate clearly and concisely what makes you desirable as a client. If you can succinctly summarize yourself as a writer, include a logline of a screenplay that supports your writing brand, and add in that the script recently placed in two competitions, then you’ve shown that rep that you’re not only a talented writer but someone who is professional and business-savvy.
Consider Fellowships and Labs
While I’ve seen plenty of people with twenty accolades on Coverfly, the truth is that it can be very expensive to apply to contests — especially if you’re not doing it strategically. If you’ve got a script that has had a warm reception in a contest or two, consider taking it somewhere new.
Research script development labs that spend time improving the script and connecting writers to industry professionals and see if they might be a good fit. Or look into free fellowship programs like the network TV writing fellowships. If you’ve thought about producing yourself, then look into grants or study crowdfunding and secure some funds. Investors might be more inclined to get on board once the script has proven itself elsewhere.
If you want to jump in even further, check out The Ultimate Guide to Screenwriting Labs!
The most important thing is that you’re not just panicking and throwing spaghetti at the wall. Create a plan that works for you and your goals and then implement that plan. Even baby steps forward show progress.
And no matter what, keep writing! The better you get at your craft (and, especially if you want to be a TV writer, the quicker you can write great pages), the more likely you will find the success you’re envisioning for yourself.
Good luck out there and happy writing!
Read More: I Was a Diverse Voices Finalist. Now My Script Signed Under a Shopping Agreement
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!