Burned: Choosing Script Contests
by Lenore Wright
Hundreds of writing contests tempt screenwriters with the lure of prize money, instant film industry contacts and personal feedback from film professionals.
But contests can be costly, screenwriters should choose intelligently.
By researching and evaluating contests, you will narrow down your choices to the best contests for you personally. If many of these suggestions seem obvious to you, that's a good indication that you're developing the professional perspective you need to succeed in screenwriting.
Check out their website
Nearly all contests have an online page with guidelines and other vital details. I know it's tempting to salivate over the prize list and ignore the other features available on the site. Yeah, its great to know that the winner gets $10,000 and a trip to Hollywood to meet the film industry hotshots you dream of impressing. But it's just as important to find out if the contest has preferences regarding the subject matter the script? Or the ethnicity of the author? Or the state, province or country where the writer resides?
At the very least, read the FAQ page!
Scout the peer reports
If you belong to any online screenwriting discussion lists (and you should!), post a query about the contests you're considering. Learn from the experiences of others.
Check out contest report cards
Movie Bytes offers the most comprehensive contest list online; but the feature that I use most often on that site is their Contest Report Card. Writers evaluate contests they've entered and post their comments in the Report Card section of Movie Bytes. Take advantage of this wonderful free resource. (http://moviebytes.com/ReportCard.cfm)
Feedback, feedback, feedback
Unproduced writers need professional feedback. Some contests offer feedback on your script as part of the package. Even if you don't win, you've gotten some extra value for your money.
Some contests offer staged readings of the winning scripts as part of the prize. Script readings can be a great tool to help you polish your script as well as good exposure. Film festival script competitions in particular seem to offer script-reading opportunities to their finalists.
The people or companies sponsoring the contest should identify themselves and they should have film industry credentials. Some contests feature a well-known director, actor or producer as a nominal sponsor, implying that this person will read the finalists' scripts or at least the winning one. If that is so, it should be stated in their guidelines or on their website - don't just assume it's true.
Some contests post their judges' names and credentials. I find this reassuring; however many legitimate contests don't make this information available for various reasons, not necessarily because they're hiding something shady. A general guideline: The less information the contest makes available, the more aggressively you should query the contest contacts before your write them a check.
You want to win a contest that makes an effort to publicize their winners. When you come across the press releases of contests that tout their winners, instead of ranting, swallow your envy and jot down the contest details so you can enter the next time.
Paid ads announcing winners
The most helpful form of publicity for contest winners are paid ads in the film industry trade papers. Focus on contests that promote their winners in Variety, Hollywood Reporter and the major film magazines.
The Schmooze Factor: Industry contacts
Many contests promise the winners and/or finalists will be exposed to important film industry contacts. Vague promises don't count. The legitimate contests get specific about what they mean by exposure. Find out if exposure means a phone conversation with an agent, a script submission, a pitching session or a trip to Hollywood or New York City?
The Green Light! Factor: Production promises
Some contests promise that the winning script or scripts will be produced; but do they back up this promise with results? Find out - call their bluff. Request a contact email from a previous winner or finalist.
I hope these guidelines help you find a contest that works for you. Be choosey - it's your money, your script, and your career.
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