Why you should enter scriptwriting competitions

Take if from me, your significant other, your mother or your best friend are not your best critics. Really. They're not. As a writer, the most effective way to rate your work is to compare yourself against the work of other writers. A key way to do that is to enter writing competitions.

By entering competitions, you'll get your script read by seasoned executives, agents, and managers in the industry.

That's where it gets tricky. There are hundreds of competitions offering beginner-writers everything from free air-tickets to personal meetings with key producers or stars, and other outlandish promises of writer-nirvana.

Just for sending your script? For a fee, of course. Yes, there's a fee. Most competitions charge you to enter. There are actually two good reasons for this: it separates the wheat from the chaff. If you're serious about your work, you'll pay to give yourself a shot.

Secondly, the competition-owners pay industry big-hitters to get involved and/or read a bunch of scripts, most of which are going to be awful. Nobody should have to do that without some form of compensation.

So if you are going to cough up your hard earned cash, it's best to avoid the snake-oil hustlers and make sure you enter competitions that are credible and well regarded in the industry. That's the good news.

The bad news is, because they're well-regarded, you'll be up against some really good talent. That's okay. If you're serious about your craft, failure is one of the best ways of learning. That's where coverage comes in.

Script Coverage Often part of the services offered by scriptwriting competitions is script coverage (someone who reads your script and provides critical feedback). Coverage usually comes with an additional fee. If you can afford it, tick that box. Good coverage is basically the online form of Obi Wan Kenobi for a writer. It's a seasoned mentor who can show you where you messed up, and how to fix it.

Getting notes, criticism, feedback (whatever you want to call it) is indispensable, so if you don't feel up to absorbing the slings and arrows of criticism, best you find another career double-quick.

Here's a quote from Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The West Wing, Newsroom), one of my favourite writers, on the importance of finding the right person to give you feedback on your scripts:

"You really want to be careful about who you're listening to. If you're lucky, you're talking to someone who's smart, who understands scripts, and who understands the way you write. You're probably not going to find that person right off the bat, much like you're probably not going to marry the first person you went on a date with. But try to find that person. And once you find that person, keep them in your pocket. Don't lose them."

The beginning of that process is by getting coverage from a range of readers. As long as the comments (either negative or positive) are directed at improving the script, and not at you personally, then it's worth the money.

The competitions mentioned below do provide a good, professional coverage service. If you can afford it, use this option, especially if you're new. You'll learn a lot.

There are also websites you can go to that offer script coverage services. The most famous is Blacklist, and there's also Film Freeway and others.

How to submit:

Firstly, don't submit a Word document. (You shouldn't be writing in Word or Pages anyway). There's a universally accepted scriptwriting format that is used for a reason: if you write using this format, it generally times out at around a minute a page.

So, if you're writing a half-hour TV comedy, your (correctly formatted) script should be maximum 30 pages. A one-hour TV drama? Not more than 60 pages. A feature-film? Generally not more than 120 pages.

There is software that takes the pain out of manually formatting the script so you can focus on the writing: Final Draft, StudioBinder, Celtx or Movie Magic. Most writers use Final Draft.

Always save your script as a .pdf document and send that. Gordon's Top Ten Screenwriting competitions:

  1. Academy Nicholl Fellowship

  2. Screencraft

  3. Austin Screenwriting Competition

  4. Page International Screenwriting Awards

  5. Blue Cat Screenplay Competition

  6. Finish Line Script Competition

  7. Final Draft Big Break Contest

  8. Scriptalooza

  9. Slamdance

  10. Sundance Lab

“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around.” Stephen King

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