Screenwriting Contest Tips
What do you need to know before you enter a screenwriting competition and how can you prepare your screenplay to stand the best possible chance.
The most important thing to remember is that the screenplay competition analyst does not have to and will not, read your entire screenplay. An analyst is going to give your screenplay an opportunity to impress him from page one, but if nothing has been delivered by page fifteen, your screenplay is heading towards the reject pile. Your screenplay needs to come out of the starting gate with the hounds of hell nipping at its heels and hold the analyst's interest until the end. There are a lot of good writers out there and they're entering the same competitions as you. Which brings us to our next point.
Good Doesn't Count
It doesn't matter how good your screenplay is, but how well it measures up to the other submissions. Only the best will win.
Follow The Rules & Guidelines
Every screenplay competition has rules and guidelines. Make sure to read them fully and abide by them. For e.g. it's no use entering a Sci-Fi competition with a romantic comedy, or submitting after the final deadline. It's a waste of your time and money.
Each analyst will be given a set of guidelines, designed to help in choosing the best screenplays from their selection. These guidelines will vary from contest to contest, but the basics will remain the same:
Correct formatting - get it right by using either a specific screenwriting program or implementing the correct specs into word processing software.
Spelling - check your spelling again and again, it is extremely easy to make mistakes.
Overall presentation - no coffee stains, no writing on the spine, no colored paper, no graphics on the front page and use only proper brads with three-hole punch paper.
The general opinion is that if a screenwriter can't even get the basics right, who knows what other errors they may have committed throughout the work itself. For more info on presentation, check out another column How To Make Your Script Look Professional.
If your screenplay can make it past the analyst's basic guidelines, then it can go on to battle for a chance to enter the top screenplays.
The Chosen Few
Each analyst will be asked to return a set number of screenplays for further consideration and getting your screenplay into these chosen few, is the first rung on the ladder. As the analyst reads each screenplay they will grade it, in order to rank it against the other screenplays.
Say an analyst has been asked to return five screenplays. Once they have five that have made it past the basic guidelines, they will rank all others against these. So, your screenplay will have to knock one of these off its perch in order to get into the top five. If it fails to do so, then it goes into the reject pile.
There are different variations of the above grading system, but all competitions have to award each screenplay a numerical value in order to compare it to the others in the competition and define an ultimate winner.
Unless a screenplay competition specifies that it is genre specific, then it's good writing that they're looking for and it doesn't matter what genre your screenplay falls into. Bear in mind the end goal. If the competition promises you meetings with studio executives when your screenplay wins, then you're probably going to want to write something that they could consider buying so you don't end up wasting your foot in the door opportunity.
However, stay original and be true to your own screenwriting style. Don't rehash old ideas or try to write the next Hollywood blockbuster, your screenplay won't make it past that first analyst.
Choose your competitions carefully and enter only those that are run by bona fide companies that can deliver on their promises.
Watch how many you enter, as all those $40-$50 entry fees can soon add up, so try to spread a few out over the year.
Adhere to any rules & guidelines set by the competition.
Enter clean, professional work.
If you win or are placed, make sure to note this in your query letters and any screenplay listings. This kind of publicity helps you stand out from the crowd and might prompt an industry professional to show interest in your work.