by Angela Bourassa (@angelabourassa1)
I want to make it clear up front that I am someone who co-founded and co-runs a screenwriting competition. I’m also a writer who has entered a lot of screenwriting competitions and had mixed experiences.
A few years back, I won the LA Comedy Festival screenwriting competition. I got a check for a $1,000, to hear my name announced at an award show, and to give a little thank-you speech. I even got a cool trophy. Winning that contest hasn’t necessarily helped me in my writing career, but it was a greatly appreciated moment of validation.
About a year before that, I entered a screenwriting competition I’d never heard of. The website looked nice, the entry fee was low, and it offered a cash prize to winners in multiple categories. I knew that winning this competition wouldn’t mean I should start writing my Oscar speech, but part of the appeal was that the contest was small, so I’d have better odds.
I ended up taking second in the Sci-Fi category, which felt good. It didn’t come with any prizes, which was a bummer, but not the worst thing in the world.
But then the contest organizers emailed me saying that they would gladly send me a plaque for the low fee of $75.
These jerks were emailing me – and presumably thirty other first, second, and third place finishers in every category – and trying to get more money. They were praying on my need for validation. They were taking advantage of my hope. That really pissed me off.
That contest is now, thankfully, defunct.
Are All Screenwriting Contests / Services / Consultants Scams?
There have been a few high-profile folks poopooing screenwriting competitions lately. On a recent episode of their podcast Scriptnotes, Craig Mazin and John August basically wrote off all contests that aren’t Nicholl, and they didn’t seem all too impressed with Nicholl, either. Stephen Galloway of The Hollywood Reporter took a broader stab at everything from pitch fests to script consultants last week.
And all three men make good points. There are a lot of people out there who want to take money off of screenwriters. Some of those people have good intentions. Some of them don’t.
But where does that leave those of us who are looking to land reps, make our first spec sale, or somehow make a name for ourselves in the screenwriting world? If our parents don’t own a studio and we’re – for whatever reason – not able to move to Los Angeles and spend all of our spare time networking, what are we supposed to do?
This is the question that no one wants to answer, because the answer is murky.
No, screenwriting competitions aren’t perfect – far from of it. A lot of them are not worth your time or money, but it would be a mistake to simply write off everything short of Nicholl as completely useless, especially for writers outside of LA.
A screenwriting competition can’t guarantee you overnight success.
But maybe it can connect you with reps or producers who will actually read your script and meet with you in person.
Maybe it can offer you recognition and/or an event in your honor that will help you feel validated and proud of how far you’ve come as a writer.
Maybe it can connect you with classes, seminars, conferences, or mentors that can help you become an even better writer, honing your craft until you reach the professional level.
3 Questions to Ask Before Entering A Screenwriting Competition
Whenever you consider entering a screenwriting competition, it’s important to be realistic about your expectations and the potential value of the competition. Here are three questions I would ask before entering:
Does the competition seem too good to be true?
If the entry fee is less than $30 or so for a feature competition, that might be a warning sign. Either the contest organizer is going to read all of the entries personally, they’re not actually reading every script that’s entered, or they’ve found unqualified readers who are willing to take about $10 to read an entire script and score it.
A lot of contests these days also offer guaranteed reps, guaranteed options, or even, in one high-profile case, a guaranteed million-dollar production. Read the fine print. Be realistic about whether a rep who is obligated to take you on will actually help you. Maybe they will, but maybe not. Ask yourself why you’re entering the competition, and be honest about the answer.
How will winning this competition help my writing career?
If the only prize offered by a competition is cash, don’t expect winning that competition to help your career. Winning such a contest can be a great ego boost and a nice addition to your bank account, but it’s not likely to be something that opens doors for you.
Likewise, read the fine print when contests promise “meetings” with executives. Sometimes that means an actual meeting, but sometimes it means an advice phone call with an exec who won’t read your script. Those phone calls can be exciting and informative, but again, don’t expect them to open doors.
The same goes for mentorships. Is the “mentorship” one or two phone calls, or is it an ongoing relationship with real feedback and advice? Make sure you know what you’re in for before you hand over your money.
Will I get anything if I do well but don’t win?
Be wary of shallow prize packages. If there’s nothing in it for the finalists and semi-finalists, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. It’s always important to calibrate your expectations, as even the best contests sometimes fail to recognize amazing scripts. But keep in mind that valuable prizes for a quarterfinalist finish can substantially soften the blow of not winning.
Why I Co-Founded Write/LA
This year, I co-launched LA Screenwriter’s first screenwriting competition with Tim Schildberger of LiveRead/LA. Tim is a screenwriting consultant with more than thirty years of experience helping writers succeed. He had a vision for a competition that would offer real value for writers. That competition is Write/LA.
Three winners will fly to Los Angeles, stay at the iconic Standard Hotel, and participate in two days of screenwriting masterclasses with their fellow winners. During this writing lab, the winners will actually write, honing their craft. Before classes, the winners will have breakfasts with working Industry Insiders, learning about how the industry works from the inside. And at the end of the weekend, all three winners will see about 30 pages of their winning scripts performed by professional actors on stage in front of an invite-only audience.
We wanted to create a competition that we would be thrilled to win, and I think we’ve done that. We want to help writers, because we are writers – we know just how hard it is and how much some support, validation, and the chance to showcase your work could help. Whether you’re already in LA building connections or writing somewhere across the country – or even across the world – we hope you’ll see value in the prizes we’re offering.
(And by the way, the prizes for the finalists, semi-finalists, and quarterfinalists are pretty sweet, too. Check out the full package here.)
Be Safe, Be Smart, Be Realistic
You’re bound to spend some money as a budding screenwriter. You need books, you need software. You might also want to take some classes or even go to film school. And then there are consultants and, yes, screenwriting competitions. What you find valuable and helpful is totally up to you, but remember to take a second and reflect before handing over your hard-earned money to anyone. You’ll always be glad that you did.
The Write/LA Extended Deadline is today (Final Deadline 9/2). Learn more at write-la.com
Angela Bourassa is the founder of LA Screenwriter and the co-founder of Write/LA, a screenwriting competition created by writers, for writers. A mom, UCLA grad, and alternating repeat binger of The Office and Parks and Recreation, Angela posts articles through @LA_Screenwriter and unique daily writing prompts through @Write_LA.