Screenplay Competitions can be a great way to gain exposure and writing contacts within the film industry. Competitions can also have fantastic prizes too! Some competitions provide cash awards, some provide fellowships (i.e. employment/mentoring), some provide intensive workshop experiences, and others provide potential promotion, representation, or production of your screenplay.
Most screenwriting competitions have a submission fee, usually ranging from $25 - $70. With any screenplay competition, check into the legitimacy of the competition before you blindly send your script and submission fee. Also, we strongly recommend that you register your script with the WGA (and you can also copyright it) before you submit it anywhere.
The screenplay competitions in the list below have been selected as Top Picks on the following basis: They have been around for many years, they offer elaborate prize packages and industry opportunities, they are almost all national competitions, and they have the most notoriety (meaning producers, agents, etc. take more notice when you win one of these competitions vs. a smaller competition).
However, that said, you have better odds of winning a smaller competition since there are less overall entries. Search our Resource Directory for additional screenplay competitions. Entering a competition in your area or with an organization where you are a member may provide you with a very valuable networking opportunity that is not measurable in cash prizes. Remember, entering a screenwriting competition can be much more than simply sending off your script via email...
For example, Michael Hayes won an All-Access Pass to the 2008 Action On Film Festival as a Screenwriting Competition Finalist and attended many of the events and film screenings at the festival. At the GPS after-party, he met IndieClub creator Eric Colley. Hayes said, “It was late. I could tell he was hungry. So I bought him the last slice of pizza before the kitchen closed and let the pepperoni do the rest. Weakness from hunger should never be overlooked as a good networking opportunity.” This meeting led to additional contact between Hayes, Colley, and Hallie Shepherd. (Networking Lesson 101: When you click with someone, keep in touch). As a result of this ongoing relationship, Hayes is now currently developing projects with Colley & Shepherd, and he’s an IndieClub Message Board moderator. Thus, replicate the Hayes procedure and you should do well.
Check out the following Top Picks and get writing, revising, and swapping!
Popular Competitions - Cash Awards
This is one of the most widely known and respected writing competitions with a long list of prestigious winners. It’s technically a fellowship since you are receiving money over the course of one year so you can write, write, write! However, there is so much freedom in this fellowship (the basic requirement is that you finish at least one script in your year as a fellow), so we chose to group it with the Cash Award competitions. Up to five winners will receive $30,000 Nicholl fellowships. One catch: writers who have previously earned $5,000 or more writing for film or television are not eligible. The objective is to give new writers the ability to take time off from their “day jobs” so that they will have more time to write. Additionally, lists of quarterfinalists, semifinalists and finalists are distributed to producers, executives, agents, and others in the development community.
Each year, entries must be postmarked by May 1. Check their website to verify.
For more info, visit: http://www.oscars.org/awards/nicholl/index.html
The 2009 winner received $15,000 in cash, second place received $4,000, and third place received $2,000. The top three winners also receive airfare to L.A. and a three-day hotel stay, plus other prizes and promotion. There is also a nice prize package for the top 10 finalists. The Success Stories section of their website shows that this competition is one that is well-known by Hollywood agents, executives, and production companies.
The entry deadline each year is usually June 1. Check their website to verify.
For more info, visit: http://www.finaldraft.com/products-and-services/big-break/
In 2009, first prize in the Scriptapalooza screenwriting competition was $10,000 (there is also a semi-annual television writing competition with small cash prizes). Prize packages are awarded to runner-ups. Scriptapalooza states that every script entered into the competition is read by a producer, agent, or manager.
Scriptapalooza also offers a coverage service independent of their screenplay competition. Their web site states that those who provide coverage services are not also judges in the screenplay competition.
In 2010, the earlybird deadline was January 5.
For more info, visit: http://www.scriptapalooza.com/
- American Screenwriting Competition
This competition is presented by Hollywood Scriptwriter Magazine and production management company Flat Shoe Entertainment. The Grand Prize is over $12,000 in cash and prizes, with cash and prize packages for the Top 10. They also attempt to set up meetings with industry professionals for the top 3. Judges for previous competitions have included executives from New Line Cinema, Cuba Gooding Jr.’s production company, and Vin Diesel’s production company.
For 2010 regular deadline was January 15, and the final deadline was April 30. Check their website for verification each year on new deadlines.
For more info, visit: http://www.flatshoe.com/
- Creative Screenwriting AAA
This competition is sponsored by Creative Screenwriting Magazine. In 2009, the Grand Prize winner received $7,500, second prize won $2,500, and third prize won $1,000. The winning script and synopses for the top ten screenplays were also submitted to a long list of agencies and production companies. Prizes for winners include items ranging from software to professional screenplay analysis to educational DVD’s.
Deadlines vary, as the competition sometimes takes place more often than annually.
For more info, visit: http://creativescreenwriting.com/aaa/index.html
Popular Competitions - Employment/Mentoring/Workshops
- Disney/ABC Television Writing Fellowship
This fellowship is a one-year program sanctioned by the WGA, West. Winners become actual salaried employees of Disney/ABC, with the ultimate intention being that Disney wants to prepare and develop the fellows’ abilities for a career in writing. For this competition, you need to write a spec script of a current broadcast or cable network series. What does that mean? It means you write a script for a real show, using that show’s characters, situations, dialogue style, etc. So pick a show you are familiar with! You need to be able to capture accuracy in character voices; story structure; the series’ tone; and innovation, etc.
Additionally, there are three other writing initiatives sponsored by Disney/ABC: The ABC Daytime Writer Development Program (yep, for soap opera writing), as well as two initiatives for specific ethnic groups: the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) Television & Film Summer Workshop and the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) Latino Television Writers Program.
Each year there is a submission period that runs for several months in the spring. (Check their site to verify specific dates).
For more info, visit: http://abctalentdevelopment.com/programs/programs_writings.html
The Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship is designed to attract, develop, and staff writers on Nickelodeon Network productions. It provides a salaried position for up to one year and offers hands-on experience writing spec scripts and pitching story ideas in both live action and animation television. Fellows have the opportunity to nurture relationships with others within the network, and they will also be assigned to an Executive in Charge of Production. This is a full-time position that is intensive in nature, thus you may not hold other full-time employment or be enrolled in school if it will interfere with the Program. Like the Disney/ABC Fellowship, writers must submit a spec script of an already existing television comedy series: comedic, live action or animation, and based on a half-hour television series.
The submission period for the '10 - '11 fellowship was between January 2, 2010 and February 28, 2010.
For more info, visit: http://www.nickwriting.com/
- Sundance Screenwriters’ Lab
Once a year, the Sundance Institute accepts open applications for the January Screenwriters Lab. The Screenwriters Lab is a five-day writer’s workshop that gives independent screenwriters the opportunity to develop their material in a workshop environment. Writers work intensively on their feature film scripts with the support of established writers. One-on-one story sessions with Creative Advisors support, challenge, and inspire the screenwriters during this intensive process of script development.
Applications are available online each year starting after that year’s Lab, usually due in the spring for the following January Screenwriters Lab. Check the sites for specific deadlines.
For more info, visit: http://www.sundance.org/
Popular Competitions - Agent/Representation/Production/Promotion
While the winner does receive cash ($5,000), the winner and top-ten finalists are all considered for representation by an exhaustive list of reputable agencies. Thus, the focus of this competition is more on the representation and promotion of new writers than it is on prize money. One catch: writers who have previously earned $5,000 or more writing for film or television are not eligible.
The Eighth Annual American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest opened May 2010, with an early deadline of August 2 and a final deadline of September 3. Check their website for verification each year on new deadlines.
For more info, visit: http://www.zoetrope.com/contests/
- IFP/Seattle Spotlight Award
A unique program, the IFP/Seattle Spotlight Award grants a team (writer, producer, director, and DP) with significant in-kind goods and services to produce a short film on 35mm or 16mm. One catch: This award is limited to IFP/Seattle members (to join, you must reside in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, or Washington). Though this opportunity is limited regionally, we chose to include it in our list, because it is a great example that many organizations have competitions that enable you to get your screenplays produced. The IFP/Seattle Spotlight Award offers several thousand dollars of in-kind goods and services from leading Pacific Northwest production companies. The application is designed to challenge filmmakers to produce a comprehensive and compelling film package that includes a script, breakdown, budget and marketing strategy. Check with your local organization and festival for similar competitions!
Deadlines are usually in the summer. Check the website for exact dates.
For more info, visit: http://ifpseattle.org/events_spotlight.htm
Film Festival Screenwriting Competitions
Most film festival writing competitions offer smaller prizes than some of the other competitions listed above. However, winning a festival writing competition can give you additional exposure and if you choose to attend the festival (and you choose one that is filmmaker friendly as opposed to “film lover” focused), it can be a fantastic networking opportunity. There are way too many film festival competitions to list, so we have chosen a couple fests to highlight below:
- Slamdance Writing Competition
Slamdance has competitions for features, shorts, and teleplays. They also have a competition specifically for horror screenplays. Winners are honored at an award ceremony sponsored by the WGA, presented in an issue of InkTip, and some of the screenplays will receive on-stage readings. Additional cash and sponsor prizes are given out to winners. Deadlines are usually in the spring and summer.
For more info, visit: http://www.slamdance.com/writing/
The six winning screenwriters of the ATLFF Screenplay Competition attend a workshop to refine their script with industry professionals at a weekend retreat in Atlanta, GA. The retreat includes group work as well as intensive one-on-one mentoring sessions. Winners receive airfare, lodging, some meals, and a public, staged reading of an excerpt of their work. Deadlines are usually in the summer. For more info, visit: http://atlantafilmfestival.com/content/view/301/154/
Visit our Resource Directory for an extended list of links to screenwriting competitions of all types and sizes.
If you have a screenwriting competition you would like included in this list, please fill out our Request Form to become a partner and have your link added to our Resource Directory.