Lately, a lot of posts have been popping up in my social media accounts about how the feedback from Screenwriting Contests drastically varies for the same script. Contest #1 can rate a script high and point out great characters, while Contest #2 can rate the very same script low and point out that the characters need work. **See caveat below.
How can the same script rate so differently and is it just another example of Gatekeepers keeping us out? I’m sorry to say that contests are not the right tool for breaking into a screenwriting career.
Don’t get me wrong, screenwriting contests have value, but not when it comes to giving feedback. Placing in the semi-finals or winning a respected contest — like Nicholl’s, run by the Academy Awards — is a fantastic tool when pitching your script and getting it read. I’ve yet to meet a producer that wouldn’t read a Nicholl finalist! But that’s where the benefit ends, and the contests that offer the same notoriety as Nicholls are a very short list.
The Big Difference Between Contests & Selling a Script
Contests and their feedback are a unique beast that follow different rules than what you’ll get from a working professional in Hollywood. Producers, networks, streamers and studio executives are looking to invest their time and money in a script that can make it to the screen — any screen. The Industry always comes from a marketing mindset. It’s a “how can I set up this project” mindset. They don’t nitpick over how the screenwriter typed “ok” vs. “okay.” (That’s an actual example from contest feedback that someone posted online.) If a producer gave that kind of response to reading your script, it means they have too much time on their hands which means they aren’t a working producer and can’t even option your script.
So, getting feedback like the one above is a waste of your time. It can send you on a Groundhog’s Day loop of fixing someone’s pet peeve, who has no ability to actually option your script. No one in Hollywood cares if you typed “ok” vs. “okay.” What they care about is the CONCEPT. Can they SELL that concept? Will it LAUNCH a series of movies or seasons? Is the screenwriter someone they can work with for the long haul? Those are the kinds of questions running through the head of a working Hollywood professional that wants to setup their next project.
- The Industry looks for a CONCEPT that SELLS!!!
- Most screenwriting contests look for things to check off a list to eliminate you from advancing to the next level of the competition.
The smart move is to put your effort into your script’s concept, pitch it to producers working in that genre (which means consistently funding and producing movies), and keep pitching. It’s not as easy as just paying a fee and sending in your script to a contest. That’s pretty easy, but using a contest as a shortcut to the real process is a long shot. It can happen, but the success rate is small.
Whatever path you choose — and venturing down both at the same time is an option — it is a numbers game. As much as you write and hone your craft, you need to also be pitching and marketing your scripts. Is this part of the business hard? Can it equally crush your soul like crazy screenwriting contest feedback? Yes, it sure can, but that’s the business side of Hollywood. Even when you have representation, you still have to pitch yourself and your material.
Make the numbers game work in your favor! Consistently strive to put the right script concept into the right hands.
** This advice is for screenwriters that have put the effort into learning their craft and have mastered the skill of writing a professional script. If you have NOT put in that time yet, please do so, and don’t enter screenwriting contests until you have a polished, professional script to enter. Entering a contest with a first draft or an unprofessionally structured or written script is a waste of your money.
Image thru Pixabay & creator RyanMcGuire, thank you!