Top Ten Best Screenwriting Contests to Enter

Here is your list of Screenwriting competitions to enter, not just for 2016, but also for future years. They have all been around for a long time and have had a reputable reputation for a long time.

Top Ten Best Screenwriting Contests to Enter in 2016

By Ken Miyamoto via screencraft.org

Screenwriting contests have become the ultimate way to penetrate those thick studio walls. Studio writers like Evan Daugherty have seen their dreams come true through the success of winning contests. In 2008, he was discovered through the Script Pipeline contest, attaining representation and eventually getting on the Black List that year for his script Shrapnel, which eventually became the film Killing Season.  He parlayed that success and momentum to his $3.2 million spec script Snow White and the Huntsman. There have been many, many such success stories over the years.  Dozens of aspiring screenwriters have signed with top agencies and management companies after winning contests like ScreenCraft and The Tracking Board.

However, since the 1990s, there has been a steady growth of screenwriting contests, competitions, and fellowships — to the point where there seems to be an endless stream of them. How do you find the ones that are worthwhile to enter?

When you’re considering your options, you should always ask yourself this simple question — WHAT CAN I GET OUT OF THIS CONTEST?

Are you more interested in the big cash awards or do you want more access to the film and television industry?

Cash is always nice, but it’s not the goal. (If you want to get rich quick, screenwriting is definitely not the best route). Access to the film and television industry opens doors that you can take advantage of throughout your whole screenwriting career. Access can give you representation, multiple phone calls, and meetings. It’s the access you want — the ability to utilize relationships to push your screenwriting career forward.

Below is a breakdown of the ten screenplay contests, competitions, labs and fellowships that you should be entering, with the sole goal of getting the most out of each and every one.  Of course, we included ScreenCraft’s own genre-specific screenwriting competitions.

1. Nicholl Fellowship

If there’s a granddaddy of them all, this is clearly the one. It’s run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — the Oscars — and is the most prestigious option available to you.

In the past three decades, the Academy Nicholl Fellowships has fostered dynamic writing talent in entertainment ranging from major blockbusters to acclaimed indie hits. Click Here for Nicholl Fellowship Success Stories.

Each year, the Academy Nicholl screenwriting competition awards up to five $35,000 fellowships to amateur screenwriters. Fellowship winners are invited to participate in awards week ceremonies and seminars and expected to complete at least one original feature film screenplay during the Fellowship year.

2016 Deadlines:

April 18th Regular ($60) and May 2nd Late ($85)

2. The Tracking Board’s Launch Pad Competition

If you’re looking for access, this is one of the best competitions out there.

The Tracking Board is an excellent tool for screenwriters — a real-time news service providing writers up-to-date analysis on trends in the spec market and beyond. Their Launch Pad competitions — pilots, features, and manuscripts — have helped dozens of writers elevate their professional careers, sell their scripts and even get staffed on television shows.

In the last two years, 105 writers have been signed to representation from the features contest alone — 114 in the last three years for the pilot contest.

They are also partnered directly with one of the hottest management companies in Hollywood — Benderspink. The company’s clients have made every major industry best of lists including the Hit List, Black List, and Young & Hungry List year-after-year, and include clients such as Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman, Dennis Dugan (Grown Ups), David Robert Mitchell (It Follows), Christopher Roach (Non-Stop), Victoria Aveyard (Red Queen Series), and several more. The company has also produced a number of projects, including every installment of The Hangover franchise, as well as the Horrible Bosses franchise. They’ve also produced The Ring, We’re the Millers, A History of Violence, The Butterfly Effect, and dozens more.

So if you’re looking to get high profile representation, look no further than these competitions.

2016 Deadlines (features):

June 30th Early Bird ($65), July 31st Regular ($75), August 31st Late ($85)

Note: Click Here for pilot and manuscripts deadlines.

3. Universal Pictures Emerging Writers Fellowship

The only major studio-based screenwriting fellowship available to feature writers.

The Emerging Writers Fellowship is a program at Universal Pictures designed to identify and cultivate new and unique voices with a passion for storytelling. Emerging writers who are chosen to participate in the program will work exclusively with the studio over the course of a year to hone their skills. During this program, fellows will be given the opportunity to work on current Universal projects as well as pitch original story ideas. In addition to working on writing assignments, the fellows will receive industry exposure by: participating in filmmaking workshops and studio seminars, receiving mentoring from established filmmakers, networking with top literary agents and managers, meeting with production development executives, and attending screenings and premieres.

Fellows admitted into the program will be hired under a writing service agreement and must be committed to working full-time for one year. Additionally, Universal Pictures has the option to extend a fellows’ contract for a second year. The writer will receive the salary of $69,499 for that first year (likely the same for the second). And yes, you’ll need to physically live in Los Angeles during that time.

Overall, this program is basically offering writers a chance to learn through the system, much like screenwriters did back in the old days of Hollywood. It’s an intense fellowship for those serious in taking on a full-time screenwriting career.

Note that you do need two letters of recommendation from two industry professionals. They define industry professionals as persons who currently or previously worked in the film industry — agents, managers, studio executives, writers, directors, producers, directors of photography, cinematographers, editors, actors and film professors.

Note: They do not include writing partners in this program.

2016 Deadlines:

Currently closed for entries and will re-open for the 2016-2017 period in late November 2016.

4. ScreenCraft’s Screenwriting Contests and Fellowship

ScreenCraft’s screenwriting contests are dedicated to discovering talented screenwriters and connecting them with producers, agents, and managers. Our contests uniquely tailor the prize package and jury for each contest (eliminating potential genre bias) by specializing in screenplay competitions by genre.

In addition to the genre contests, ScreenCraft offers its Fellowship Program and quarterly Short Film Production Fund Grants.

Past ScreenCraft winners have optioned their projects and signed with top representatives at 3Arts, Anonymous Content, Paradigm Talent Agency, ICM, Bellevue Productions and more.

ScreenCraft’s contests have quickly become the fastest growing in the industry, connecting writers with top industry screenwriters, development executives, and representation. Each genre contest has specific judges that have written, developed, or represented the best films and television series of those genres.

Any entrants — whether they win or not — that receive a script coverage rating of 130 or more during the reading and judging process are also shared with ScreenCraft’s exclusive list of industry professionals.

2016 Deadlines:

Click Here for a full list of all deadlines for genre contests, Fellowship, and grants.

5. Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition

This competition has been going strong for over two decades. They pride themselves on their personal touch. All entrants receive FREE “Reader Comments” which are a brief, overall summary of their notes. As an added bonus, for Second Rounders (the top 10-15% in each category) and above, entrants receive further comments from 2-3 readers. They also send both postal mail and e-mail notifications to ensure everyone knows their placement in the competition.

Semifinalists and Finalists have the opportunity to meet with several agents, managers, and executives, and participate in the festival’s Script Reading Workshops where their scripts are read aloud and workshopped in a personalized setting.  Semifinalists and Finalists’ loglines and contact information are also included in the annual Producer’s Book, distributed to all AFF panelists as well as over 400 agents, managers, producers, and other industry professionals.

In past years, the judges have included representatives from Oasis Media Group, Mosaic Media, ABC Studios, Paradigm Agency, Di Bonaventura Pictures, Kopelson Entertainment, Nickelodeon, Escape Artists at Sony, Washington Square Arts, Fourth Floor Productions, Haven Entertainment, Artisan, CAA, Brant Rose Agency, WME, DreamWorks, and Pixar among others.

2016 Deadlines:

April 20th Feature Screenplay Regular ($40), May 20th Feature Screenplay Late ($50), April 20th Short Screenplay Regular ($30), May 20th Short Screenplay Late ($40), April 20th Teleplay Regular ($30), May 20th Teleplay Late ($40)

6. Sundance Screenwriters Lab

The Sundance Film Festival is clearly the premiere event of the year for filmmakers worldwide. For screenwriters, this can often prove to be an amazing launching pad into both indie cinema and Hollywood. This competition will allow screenwriters to network and meet some industry professionals, but will also serve as perhaps the best possible education they could receive in screenwriting and storytelling through film overall.

The Screenwriters Lab is a five-day writer’s workshop that gives independent screenwriters the opportunity to work intensively on their feature film scripts with the support of established writers in an environment that encourages innovation and creative risk-taking. Through one-on-one story sessions with Creative Advisors, Fellows engage in an artistically rigorous process that offers them indispensable lessons in craft, as well as the means to do the deep exploration needed to fully realize their material. They accept 12 project each year.

Some of Hollywood’s greatest talents have gone through the various Sundance Labs, including famous auteurs like Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson.

2016 Deadlines:

The 2017 Lab application is open March 15, 2016 – May 1, 2016.  See the site for application fees.

7. BlueCat Screenplay Competition

If the screenplay that you plan on entering has won a competition before, BlueCat is not for you. However, it does offer some excellent connections for those that have never won any. The writer of the Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal film Prisoners was discovered through this contest years ago.

The unique aspect of BlueCat is that every entry receives written analysis as well — a service that normally costs additional fees for other contests, competitions, and fellowships. While the analysis may not be as expansive as those provided by others, it’s free.

2016 Deadlines:

Currently Closed for entries and will re-open for the 2016-2017 period in November 2016.

8. Page International Screenwriting Awards

This competition was established in the fall of 2003 by an alliance of Hollywood producers, agents, and development executives. It’s widely recognized within the industry as one of the most important sources for new screenwriting.

Past winning writers have signed with top literary representatives, optioned and sold their scripts, landed paid writing assignments, and many now have movies and television shows in production, on the air, and in theaters. This competition allows you to submit under certain genres as well.

Past winners have written films like the recent Maggie, The Judge, and have joined the writing staff of shows like The Walking Dead, Bates Hotel, Sleep Hollow, etc.

2016 Deadlines:

March 15th Regular ($59), April 15th Late ($69)

9. Script Pipeline

This contest has been going on for over fourteen years and continues a long tradition of discovering up-and-coming talent and connecting them with top producers, agencies, and managers across studio and independent markets.

Thus far they tally over $5 million in screenplays and TV pilots sold from competition finalists and “Recommend” writers since 2003.

2016 Deadlines:

May 1, 2016 ($55)

10. Film Independent Screenwriting Lab

Much like the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, this lab focuses on honing the skills of the writer and preparing them for the film industry and how to best tell their cinematic stories. It also connects them with industry veterans as well, so there is certainly an excellent networking opportunity.

It’s an intensive four-week workshop that meets two to three evenings a week in Los Angeles every September. The lab is designed to facilitate each writer’s unique voice through the development of a single feature project. Through personalized feedback from experienced industry professionals and other writers in the program, Screenwriting Fellows will gain the tools to revise and refine their scripts for production.

The Screenwriting Lab also helps to further the careers of its Fellows by introducing them to film industry veterans who can offer guidance on both the craft and business of screenwriting. Each Screenwriting Fellow will be paired with a Creative Advisor, with whom they’ll work one-on-one and in Lab sessions to further develop their project over the course of the program. A variety of guest speakers may screen and discuss their own films, or offer insights into their career trajectories, and a final retreat offers further opportunity for individualized feedback and discussion with additional established filmmakers and producers.

You do obviously have to live in Los Angeles to take part — or live there for at least four weeks.

2016 Deadlines:

April 18th application deadline, non-Member ($65) and May 2nd Members-only deadline ($45).

Honorable Mention: HBO Access Writing Fellowship

This fellowship provides mentorship for up to eight diverse, emerging storytellers. Following a one-week intensive of master classes, participants are immersed in eight months of mentoring by HBO creative executives as each participant develops a script suitable for HBO or Cinemax. Submissions can be original 1/2 hour comedy pilot or 1 hour drama pilot, one act play or full length play, or a feature film screenplay.

This obviously affords writers the chance to work directly with the powerhouse that is HBO right now. Amazing networking opportunities and a chance to get an on-the-job education in screenwriting directly from the source.

2016 Deadlines:

This fellowship is currently closed, but keep an eye on it later in the year as they re-open entries.

Five lessons Rachel learned in the Film Independent Screenwriting Lab

My friend and fellow screenwriter, Rachel Goldberg, wrote a great article about her experience in the Film Independent Screenwriting Lab and with some advice all screenwriters should take to heart. 

The 2015 Film Independent Screenwriting Lab is currently accepting applications. The deadline to apply is April 13.

FIVE LESSONS I LEARNED IN SCREENWRITING LAB

As a Project Involve Fellow, I learned how to keep a short short, to think about distribution before I ever put pen to paper and that tenacity is a necessity in the world of film. Two years later, after countless nights of plotting, outlining and penning, I had the opportunity to participate in Film Independent’s Screenwriting Lab with the feature screenplay, Transformation Awaits, which I co-wrote with Jonathan Pope Evans. After being holed away alone for so long, we were thrilled to have some outside perspective on our strange little love child. The Lab, like Project Involve, provided a great deal of support and guidance from our mentors, and we were inspired by the following words of wisdom:

1. Create characters that actors want to play.
Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terabithia, Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys) explained the importance of creating compelling characters, the kind of characters that lure actors with their depth, complexity and humanity. If actors are eager to breathe life into these roles, we will have a far better chance of receiving financing and guiding our films to fruition. Yes, of course, story is important, but if we care deeply about the people inhabiting the world within our pages, chances are an actor will too. And ultimately, with the right actor attached, our films are more likely to get made.

2. You’re not suffering from paranoid schizophrenia if your characters “talk” to you.
You’re just an intuitive writer. For most of my life, I have thought that there was something deeply wrong with me. This might, in fact, be true. However, I was relieved to learn that the aforementioned instability is not a sign of severe mental illness, but the attribute of a screenwriter who works from intuition. Corey Mandell, an established screenwriter and teacher, led a revelatory workshop on intuitive and conceptual artists. According to Corey, those of us who believe our characters are real, who hear them “talk to us” and who write from a genuine emotional connection are intuitive writers. Our conceptual counterparts focus more on story, causality and plot. Prior to Corey’s workshop, I truly believed I was the only person who wrote this way. It was thrilling to learn that I am not alone. Corey relayed the importance of merging intuition with concept, and taught us to focus on our process, finding ways of putting our characters in situations where they will do what we want them to do. In that way, the final product will be far more powerful. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy might never go into the witch’s lair of her own accord. But once the witch has her beloved Toto, Dorothy has no choice but to enter. It’s our job, as writers, to create a situation where Dorothy is forced to face the witch.

3. Marry artistry with marketability.
All of us in the Lab have written scripts that we are deeply passionate about, most inspired by a profound personal connection. We have been motivated by an intense desire to share our stories and, for some of us, the artistry of character or story may come before genre. Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) validated the importance of art and passion, since it can take years to shepherd a script to life. But he emphasized the need to focus on genre as well. Damien had learned the hard way that artistry is not enough and subsequently changed his approach. When writing Whiplash, a personal story about a talented young drummer obsessed with greatness, Damien thought about marketability and systematically structured the script to be a page-turning thriller. The final product is not a thriller in the traditional sense of the word, but an intense exploration of vaulting ambition that left me moved and shaken.

4. Don’t put all your screenwriting eggs in one basket.
James Ponsoldt directed The Spectacular Now and wrote and directed Smashed, both of which won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance. After the success of Smashed, James was hyper-focused on one project, to the exclusion of all others. Five years later, he realized that by putting all his eggs in one basket, he was denying himself other opportunities. As soon as he allowed room for more projects, James discovered The Spectacular Now. He encouraged us to keep nurturing our projects, but to allow ourselves the freedom to explore other possibilities. You never know what you might find.

5. Your logline should tell us where your characters are headed (and NEVER GIVE UP!).
Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith (Legally Blonde, House Bunny) opened her session by asking us to pitch our loglines. When my moment arrived, I reiterated our well-worn pitch, “When Maggie, a quirky shut-in, gets a feisty new neighbor, Lamay—a transgender woman in an abusive relationship—the two begin a strange friendship that allows them both to break free.” Kiwi smiled with the wisdom of a woman who knows better and asked, “Then what? That’s only Act 1.” Startled, I replied, “Oh. Then they embark on a cross-country adventure to meet a transformational healer.” “Great! That should be in your logline,” she exclaimed. In just a few minutes, Kiwi illustrated the importance of a strong logline—one that introduces the main characters, their goals and obstacles. You might only get one chance to wow a potential producer, actor or executive, so make those words count! But perhaps most inspiring of all was Kiwi’s personal story of perseverance and success. Her first script, the acclaimed 10 Things I Hate About You, received a whopping 60 passes before finding a home, and Legally Blonde was met with 19 passes. The latter has become a multi-million dollar franchise, complete with sequels and Broadway productions. As a screenwriter, the lesson was loud and clear. You only need one yes. Never give up.

Rachel Goldberg / Film Independent Screenwriting Fellow