Why I Don't Like Screenwriting CompetitionsComplications Ensue
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Thursday, January 11, 2007

I recently got an email from someone wanting me to interview the founder of a screenwriting competition.

I don't like screenwriting competitions. The economics are akin to that of a lottery: many entries pay for a few prizes.

Moreover, I'm not at all clear that they select the most viable screenplays. The screenplays are being judged on some abstract "goodness" criterion. The winning script is probably well written, but that's not what gets a movie made. What gets a movie made is a producer's "Do I love this so much I'm willing to spend a couple years of my life trying to get this sucker made?" (Or a director, or a star.)

I feel there's only one real kind of screenplay competition, and that's the one every agent and producer runs. The prize is a produced picture. The application fee is nothing. Why pay $45 to submit to a competition when you can email a query letter for free?

There is a distinction between independent screenplay competitions and fellowship programs run by the studios. The fellowship programs, if you can get into them, are a real way into the movie biz. But then you're not winning a cash prize. You're winning a job, a mentor, and a raft of valuable connections. The goal is different, too. Screenplay competitions, I believe, are in business to make a profit for their owners. Fellowships are created by studios and networks in order to bring in fresh viewpoints -- usually minority ones. They're a way of giving back to the community.

There are also one or two screenpay contests that might be worthwhile if you have a slightly arcane script that's hard to pitch but brilliantly written. The Nicholl, for example. The Sundance Screenwriters Lab. But they're funded and run by major legit institutions. The Nicholl, for example, is run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Not by, say, Joey Nicholl.

I know real writers who've broken in via fellowships, and the winner of the Nicholl tends to get a great agent and a lot of buzz. But I've never met any who made it because of an independent screenplay competition. (I'm not saying that no one who's won a competition has ever made it. The pool of successful writers must overlap at least a little with the pool of successful competition winners, if only because of the sheer numbers involved.)

Save your money. Send query letters to agents. Get a movie made.

Eyes on the prize, baby.




I agree with your assessment of screenwriting competitions. I wrote a feature-length script and simply didn't know what to do with it that wouldn't involve $50 a pop for entry fees. It seems like those competitions are often designed to prey on the naivete of young writers.

Is there a resource that provides lists of agents who accept unsolicited screenplays? Maybe you can provide a little more detail or refer me to a site that explains exactly what you need to do to open a dialogue with an agent if you're totally off the street?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:56 PM  

Nice...well said Alex, though you'll probably hear some grumbling from the hive

By Blogger wcdixon, at 2:40 PM  

Sanest comment on screenwriting comps I've read.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:55 PM  

For agent/producer resources, try here:


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:59 PM  

In regards to ia: Does unsolicited mean not to even send a query to the right person? Never know, you might be able to catch their eye with a one page query then they'll solicit your screenplay.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:07 AM  

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