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02/13/2003 - To Contest or Not To Contest

Brian A. Wilson


This week's column comes in response to a question from Joseph A. in Philly.

He asked me my opinion on the value of contests. OK, here goes.

I believe the value of a screenwriting contest is determined by what you want to get out of it.

I enter contests for one of three reasons:
--If I win, I'll get a lot of money.
--If I win, I'll get a lot of recognition.
--If I enter, I'll get feedback on my script.

Let's examine the last reason first.

The feedback itself must be taken with a grain of salt. After all, there's no way of knowing the qualifications of the person giving you feedback. That said, there's also no way of knowing the qualifications of the low-level reader who gets your script in Hollywood, so maybe it's about a wash!
Contests that seem to give good feedback include the Wisconsin Screenwriters Forum (http://www.wiscreenwritersforum.org/) and the Scriptwriters Network competition (http://www.scriptwritersnetwork.com/). I was less impressed with coverage from the Nevada State Screenwriting Competition (http://www.nevadafilm.com/mainframe.html), but it's cheap to enter so what the hell?

Big money as a payoff speaks for itself. I know of a guy who won ten grand in a contest. Disney fellowship winners take home something like $36k. That's real money. And Disney is even free to enter, so who can resist? Final Draft pays off ten grand as well. There are more high-dollar competitions, as your research will reveal.

The recognition quotient is getting a bit harder to define these days. A few years ago, contests were a relatively new contraption. As such, they were watched carefully, seemed to carry more weight and winners were heavily sought after.
Now, the field has been diluted with dozens and dozens of contests (many listed on this very web site), which somehow lessens the impact of all of them.
Nonetheless, good things happen from contests. Movies get made. Writers sign with agents. Producers option scripts. All because somebody forked over the entry fee and submitted the script.

And you don't have to win to "do well." Major competitions hire up-and-coming producers to read semi-finalists and up. Those producers are trolling for material. They may advance a script they love. If it doesn't do well in the contest, they may option it anyway.

Feedback comes in another form as well. If you enter a script in, say, ten contests and place well in five of them, you're getting the message that your script is rising above the competition. On the other hand, if you enter, say, twenty contest, and nothing happens, maybe you're not getting your point across. Is it the writing? The concept? That's where some written feedback can help.

So what contests should you enter? Spend your money wisely. Back to my original premise, enter something that will pay off handsomely, in cash or recognition. You can't go far wrong with Nicholl, Austin Heart of Film, Final Draft, Chesterfield and Disney. You could probably throw in Project Greenlight and Scriptapalooza as well.

Beyond that, enter what you think you will win. Your script set in Wisconsin? Enter it in Wisconsin Screenwriters contest. Jesus is your protagonist? Gotta go with the Christian Screenplay Competition.

Choose carefully, don't blow all your money on contests, but give it a shot. Lightning might strike, and if not, at least you're in the game and getting people to read your work.
Good luck!

Keep writing.


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