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Entering screenplay competitions

Update 2012-02-29 I’ve written an update to this post which can be found here: The Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.

I got this question recently:

“What do you think of script competitions?  I have heard that a high budget script will not do very well.”

I entered two (that I remember), the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting and a screenwriting contest that Disney used to sponsor (I’m not sure if they still do).

The script I entered into the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting was a “quarterfinalist” which amounted to nothing more than a nice “thanks, but no thanks” letter.  It’s possible that all scripts are “quarterfinalists” but since I only entered once I don’t know.  I did mention the “quarterfinalist” finish in my query letter for that script since at the time I had no other credits.

I had a friend who was a member of the academy and an early round “judge” for the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.  His professional background is in special effects so it seems to me that the academy will use any willing members as early round judges.  In addition, he got rushed for time while reading his three scripts so he let his wife read and evaluate the last one.

The Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting is considered to be the best screenplay competition.  So if that’s how their process works think about how the other competitions’ processes work!  It doesn’t give me a lot of hope that the “best” script will rise to the top or that the screenwriter is really getting a fair read, which they certainly deserve since they paid to be in the competition.

When I was starting out here’s how I looked at it: I could spend $50 on entering a contest or I could spend $50 on sending query letters to production companies.  I spent my time and money on submitting to production companies that could option and buy my scripts.

If you have plenty of time and money you might as well enter any and all competitions you can.  Who knows, you might get some awards and those awards can only help you when you’re marketing your scripts.  Don’t expect any of the screenplay competitions to directly result in you selling your script because it won’t.  What it will do, if you win or place highly, is give you additional fodder for your query letter and maybe lead to some industry contacts.

But if you have a finite amount of time and money I think you would be better off buying the Hollywood Creative Directory and submitting your script to production companies listed in it.  Follow my advice in my post How to Sell Your Screenplay (in a nutshell) if you have any questions about how to make a professional submission to a production company.

To answer the specific question above; I’ve never heard that a high-budget script would have any less of a chance in a screenplay competition.  Screenplay competitions aren’t worried about a film’s budget so I can’t see why that would hurt its chances.

Update 2012-02-29 I’ve written an update to this post which can be found here: The Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.