Screenwriting Contests: Worth It?

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Not too long ago, my pilot Blowback was a semi-finalist in the Industry Insider Television Writing Contest. I was elated. Even if I didn’t make it further in the rankings (no, I didn’t make the finals), it was still good to feel my concept was perceived as a viable television show (a very Burn Notice-esque show with a “Blue Skies” type appeal). Anyway, since then I’ve been looking into other contests and competitions to see which, if any, might be beneficial to enter my feature and pilot scripts.

We all know by now that there are a bevy of contests to enter, but so far as I can tell, only a handful appear to have a sound enough reputation to bolster your script by your doing well in them alone. Nicholl, Page, Trackingb, Austin, Blue Cat, those are among the handful that seem to have the clout to make that kind of a splash, but I think a common question we all have is is it worth submitting to others, especially the lesser known ones?

My personal opinion is unless you’ve got a track record, it can really be worth while to have your work judged completely objectively against your peers. More than just getting an idea if a particular coverage reader likes your work or not, a contest can give you something a Pass/Recommend doesn’t; namely an idea where your work stands when directly compared to others. If you make quarter or semi-finals, you know you’re on the right track. Make it to the finals or even place? That’s great validation of your work.

Another benefit is the ability to give someone a reason to go into your script hoping for or expecting a good read, not fearful of stumbling into a bad one. Which would you be more likely to assume will be at least a decent read, a Scriptapalooza semi-finalist or an unknown writer’s cold submission? Of course contests can be expensive, so we all have to decide if the benefit is worth the cost.

Now some people enter every contest under the sun, which is fine, but seems a tad excessive in my opinion. Personally, when I see a list of a dozen contests for one script I can’t help but feel the writer would be better served by listing the key wins or rankings, then offering further accolades upon request. Maybe it’s just me, but too many contests listed looks cluttered and just reminds me of resumé padding. Again, that could just be my skewed perception.

Ultimately there is no right or wrong answer. Contests are great for some and not for others, but I do believe there is something to be said for a competitive environment where you don’t just get notes, but also get to see where you stand in the pack.

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