I’ve been writing screenplays for years. And like a lot of aspiring screenwriters, I enter screenwriting contests in the hopes that winning could be my Big Break. But after years of entering contests, I’m not sure they actually do any good. There are a lot of contests out there, so if you want to enter and don’t have a thousand dollars to enter them all, you need to choose carefully. Here are a few of the well-known contests that I would recommend that you either Enter or Avoid.
Creative Screenwriting’s AAA Contest.
I hate to say negative things about this contest, since I regularly read the magazine Creative Screenwriting, and I’ve been a finalist in their contests several times.
But this contest is notorious for missing its announced deadlines by a very wide margin. During the Hollywood writer’s strike a few years back, they missed the deadline for announcing the winners by (if memory serves) a good three or four months. At the time, they claimed they were withholding the announcement of winners until the strike was over, to give the winners the best chance of getting notice for their screenplays. But I’ve come to doubt this, since they have gone way past their deadlines numerous times since then, with no writer’s strike as an excuse.
Earlier this year the contest management was changed, probably not for the better. The change happened right in the middle of a contest, which may explain the subsequent delay in the announcements. But still, I don’t think it bodes well for the future of this contest.
They are very good at sending you a constant stream of emails that the contest is open for entries, that the final deadline is approaching, etc, etc, which makes me feel like they’re more interested in money than they are in the actual promotion of an aspiring screenwriter’s career.
Also, when I was a finalist, finalists were supposed to get free subscriptions to Creative Screenwriting magazine, and admission to the Screenwriting Expo in Los Angeles. There were a few other small prizes as well, supposedly for all of the finalists. Needless to say, I never saw any of these finalist prizes.
Being a finalist did nothing to further my screenwriting career, either.
All in all, I have to give this contest an Avoid.
This one is supposedly a highly reputable and influential contest. I’ve entered it a few times, but oddly enough, I was never charged for my entries. I know my entries were received, since I was able to login to my account and view them. But the entry fees were never charged, despite my payment information being current and valid and with the available funds. If my entries were ever actually entered, they never made it into even the lowest rounds, that I’m aware of. So who knows.
I have neutral feelings about this contest, but due to lack of any certainty regarding my actual entry into the contest the few times I’ve tried, I’m going to give this one a tentative and highly-“iffy” Avoid.
I’ve made it into the finals several times in this contest. They don’t bother me much with emails, and they have a good reputation. I never got any activity as a result of my placement in the finals, but at least I still have a feeling that this contest could actually do something for a screenwriter’s career.
The only thing I don’t like about this contest is that the listings of the quarterfinalists, finalists, etc, don’t go back further than about two years. If you win, your name won’t stay on the website very long, so if you claim, “I was a finalist in Scriptapalooza,” the Hollywood Big Wig will look at the site for confirmation and say, “Sure you were, wise guy. I don’t see your name anywhere.”
Still, this is a contest that I would recommend that you Enter.
Final Draft’s Big Break Contest.
I usually enter this one simply because it’s well known, from the king of screenwriting software. But unless you win or place in the finals, entering this one feels like you’re just shooting your work off pointlessly into a vast and silent void. Enter.
The Nicholl Fellowships.
In my mind, the Nicholls are like the [insert a fabulous luxury car here] of the aspiring screenwriter’s world. It’s sponsored by the guys who give out the Oscars, so if you only enter one contest a year, this would have to be it. If you’re an aspiring screenwriter, you almost have to enter this one.
I was in the top 25% in 2010 with my screenplay Billy Barnaby’s Twisted Christmas, which is the best I’ve done out of the two years I’ve entered. My recommendation, my strong recommendation, is that you Enter.
Disney/ABC Writing Program.
I’d rank Disney’s program right up there with the Nicholls, in terms of the prestige and the opportunity this one can give to the aspiring screenwriter, especially those screenwriters who closely match the “diversity” slant of the program.
My recommendation is Enter. It’s one of the only free contests out there. And if you’re a “diverse” individual, your chances of winning admission are greatly enhanced.
Blue Cat Screenplay Competition.
My entries haven’t fared well in this contest in the past. But the organizers and the contest seem reputable, and they give very helpful feedback on your screenplay. Enter.
Fade In Screenwriting Competition.
Another competition sponsored by a magazine. I’ve never entered this one, but last year it got a lot of negative press about not paying winners or delivering on promises. I’ll never consider entering after what I read, and I’m not sure the contest can survive the damage to its reputation. I would give this one an Avoid.
There are a lot of screenplay contests out there competing for your money. I suspect a great many of them only want your money. I haven’t given a comprehensive list, but hopefully I’ve covered the better-known contests.