Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Top 10 Screenwriting Competitions

So a few of you revealed to me that you are screenwriters -- a shock, I know -- who liked reading about "Breaking In," but want to know more about Screenwriting Competitions.

And who doesn't? If you win the right one, you get everything an emerging screenwriter desires: recognition, prizes, and meetings with agents, managers, and producers all over Hollywood.

But what are the right ones? There are hundreds of screenwriting competitions, all asking for a fee, which can get expensive fast if you catch Competition fever.

So allow me to present my Top 10 Screenwriting Competitions:
(rated by Hollywood gossip and a little internet research)

Run by the Motion Picture Academy, they honor mostly Oscar-caliber prestige pictures, but you MUST apply just for the chance of winning: you not only get $35,000, but your phone explodes with phone calls from agents, managers, producers, and executives all over town.

A friend of mine who worked at a major agency was commanded to get the contact list for all the winning fellows before it was announced by any means necessary -- just so this agency could beat all the other agencies to offering representation first.

What writer doesn't want Hollywood in a feeding frenzy over their script?

While Nicholl usually picks social issue dramas, Tracking B loves a damn good genre script with a high concept pitch and an original hook -- something Hollywood would make in a heartbeat. Run by one of the best Tracking Boards in the business, your scripts are read by well-established managers, agents, and executives -- who turn around and sign the winners every time.

This one is less a competition and more a film festival -- devoted to screenwriting. Yes, I'm biased, since I placed Second Round last year, but if you place anywhere in this comp, you gotta go: a packed weekend all about honoring us screenwriters with tons of panels, roundtables with established filmmakers, and networking events where you are just as likely to meet an interested producer or agent at the bar as you are from winning the damn thing.

* * * * *

In my experience, these three are the only three competitions that Hollywood at large has heard of -- winning any of the above is like winning a Hollywood Screenwriting Olympic Medal to wear with pride -- and use to get representation and/or producers.

The following seven competitions will give you connections to representation and established executives, but keep in mind that not everyone in Hollywood has heard of these guys:

* * * * *

This competition seeks original, artistic, and independent voices -- read not Hollywood -- and the winners are invited to a prestigious week-long workshop where some of the best writers in the business mentor you, guide you in rewriting your script into a masterpiece, and help you get your script made into an independent film for, well, the Sundance Film Festival sort of audience. Note that you only send in the First 5 pages of your script with a synopsis, bio, and cover letter -- this one is less about representation and more about making your dream indie movie.

This competition is that perfect mix of indie spirit and Hollywood heat where your outside-the-box script can shine. With separate categories for Feature, Horror, Teleplay, and Short/webisodes, Slamdance has championed all their winners who have a history of not only finding reps and producers -- but their scripts sometimes get made into indie features too!

Grand Prize: $5,000 -- and the top ten finalists are considered for representation by the biggest agents and managers in town and for options by many of the most reputable production companies in Hollywood. Judges: Francis Ford Coppola and company. 'Nuff said.

Perhaps the best run competition in the field, PAGE is unique for having categories in almost every genre -- Action/Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Family Film, Historical Film, Science Fiction, and Thriller/Horror. Not only that, but all scripts go through a rigorous evluation process by professional readers, screenwriters, agents, managers, and executives -- so the winners come out on top receiving offers of representation just about every time.

Newer to the pack, but picking up speed, Script Pipeline gives finalists what they really want: personal introductions to agents, managers, and producers looking just for your sort of material. They have quite a few success stories with winning scripts getting sold and just as many reputable companies and agencies reading the submitted scripts. I know a handful of friends who have had success with them -- worth a shot!

This is the best screenwriting competition you haven't heard of. Tucked away in the gorgeous town of Big Bear a few hours east of L.A., the competition coincides with the Big Bear Film Festival --and damn, do these guys know how to throw a party. All the finalists are read by agents, managers, and development executives in Hollywood -- who come into town to meet the finalists and find new clients. Definitely worth the submission fee.

Like the Sundance Lab, Film Independent offers writers a workshop with established filmmakers to mentor them in rewriting their scripts, in the business of screenwriting, and in getting their scripts made into a great indie feature. Personally, I haven't heard of people finding representation here -- but quite a few stories of meeting a fellow writer, becoming friends, and having that writer introduce them to their first agent.

That's it! But I would advise against blanket applying to all ten. Do some research of your own. What scripts are they looking for? What has won in the past? For example, you might not win Sundance with your hitman action script -- but why not Tracking B or Page Awards?

Most importantly -- WRITE YOUR SCRIPT. And rewrite it. And rewrite it. Send it to your friends. Get notes. Rewrite it. Get more notes. Rewrite it again. Make sure your script is so effing perfect that you can't stand to look at it anymore. Then rewrite it two more times just for good measure. Then you're ready to apply. After one more rewrite. Or five.

Good luck!


  1. Any thoughts on BlueCat?

    1. Good catch! BlueCat is definitely one of the Top Competitions and belongs on this list -- perhaps 3rd, 4th, or 5th place in a revised Top Ten.

      The only reason BlueCat is not on my own personal Top Ten Competitions is because I had the great fortune to study under Gordon Hoffman, the Founder of the competition, which disqualifies me from submission.

      But if you haven't studied under Gordy, by all means, apply! Apply!

    2. Bluecat feedback alone is worth submitting!

  2. Entered Shoreline Scripts last years and got through to the last 50.
    Those guys helped a lot.

    Heard the winner got his script optioned or made or something.

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