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Screenwriting contests can be a good way to get exposure, but you need to be smart about how you go about it. Contest entry fees are expensive. Take the time to do your research, be selective, and watch out for scams.
The two granddaddies of screenwriting contests are the Walt Disney Screenwriting Fellowship and the Nicholl Fellowship. Winning Disney will get you a $50,000 stipend and a year working and learning at Disney. Placing or winning Nicholl also lands you a large cash prize and plenty of attention from agents. Other contests, no matter how large the payout, pale in comparison.
Winning a less prestigious contest can be a good thing on your resume—if you know how to exploit it. "If you win first place, shout it from the mountaintops," says screenwriter Andrew Bennett. Industry pros will be more willing to look at a winning script, but be ready to strike while the iron is hot and before the next contest announces a fresh batch of winners. "If you placed second in a competition, you still 'won.' If you were a quarterfinalist, you 'placed highly.' The issue is building credibility," says Bennett.
There are three strategies to entering contests.
1. Enter to get industry recognition. Seek out contests with industry players as judges, or ones that announce the winners in Variety or The Hollywood Reporter. If this is your aim, write high-concept scripts.
2. Use contests as a sounding board, just to see what kind of resonance you get. Choose contests that offer feedback, so at least this way you get something back for your entry fee. This is especially useful if you're still learning the craft.
3. Enter contests with big cash prizes and enter to win. It's a long shot, but if you enjoy that sort of thing, why not? Motivation is the name of the game.
The biggest problem with contests is that too often, the winning scripts don't accurately reflect projects that Hollywood actually wants. Contest judges aren't investing cold, hard cash in the projects they select, so they can allow themselves the freedom of choosing a script they love, no matter how unmarketable. Take contest wins and placements for what they are: confirmation that your writing talent has placed you somewhere in the ballpark. It doesn't necessarily mean you're home free.
Walt Disney Screenwriting Fellowship:
Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting:
Find other contest listings at http://www.moviebytes.com