How To's | Screenplay Doctor | Screenwriting

Ask the Screenplay Doctor: Top Ten Script Competition Tips

1 Oct , 2013  

Written by Susan Kouguell | Posted by:

Out of the hundreds of screenplay competitions out there, veteran judge and screenplay doctor Susan Kouguell helps you pick which ones to enter and how to do it right. Email screenwriter@newenglandfilm.com to have your screenwriting question answered in an upcoming issue.

Elle R asks:

I write ‘Made for TV’ type screenplays, which would be perfect for Lifetime or The Hallmark Channels.

Are there any contests or websites that are specifically for this type of script?

I have placed in a contest, but from the feedback and everything I’ve been reading, the contests are geared towards blockbusters.

Thank you,

Elle R

Dear Elle,

There are quite a number of reputable contests that are not geared towards blockbusters, so keep researching screenplay and trade publications for competitions that will be a match for your project. In my experience as a judge and when speaking with colleagues about screenplay competitions, I find that judges are not necessarily looking for scripts that have the potential to be blockbusters or even have commercial appeal; they’re looking for the best screenplay. Given this, high concept scripts do not necessarily have a better chance of winning than a non-commercial script.

I cannot recommend specific contests or web sites for your type of project, as I don’t make endorsements.

Top Ten Screenplay Competition Tips

Winning or placing as a finalist in a screenplay competition is one way to get your foot in the industry door and might help get your work some recognition. Competition winners are often listed in trade publications, and this might grab industry folks’ attention. Having a winning contest credit could give you the needed edge over other projects vying for industry attention.

There are hundreds of script competitions that offer a variety of enticements to attract screenwriters so you must be discriminating and do your research. Some contest winners receive positive attention, helping to launch their careers, while others receive little or no attention from winning. If you do win or place as a finalist, you can include this credit in your query letter.

Top Ten Script Competition Tips

  1. Only submit your work when it is the best it can possibly be. Do not waste your money, time (and the judges’ time), and, most of all, your reputation — with scripts that are not truly ready to be considered for competition.
  2. Submit to a competition that has been around for several years and is respected by the industry. The entity or people sponsoring the competition must have film industry credentials. The more established the contest, the more attention you’ll get if you win or place as a finalist.
  3. Winning a “No Name” contest will not impress executives or add much credibility to your work.
  4. Check out contests’ press materials to find who the judges are. Reputable script competitions must have judges who work in the film industry.
  5. Find out what types of prizes the contests are offering and make sure these are legitimate. Do your research and read up on each contest. Getting your name announced in the trade publications as a winner is a huge plus, in addition to any prize money. A promise of agent representation is enticing, but research to see if this is something the competition has delivered on in the past.
  6. Submit to competitions that are the absolute right fit for your project — i.e. genre and subject matter.
  7. Precisely follow contest guidelines. Mistakes will disqualify you.
  8. On the application form, accurately describe your project and don’t invent genres.
  9. Enter early. Scripts that arrive before the deadline are often read first, which means that a tired judge might not gloss over your work.
  10. Read the fine print so you thoroughly understand what you are committing to.

In my experience as a screenplay judge, my fellow jurors and I have been in agreement about the top five or top ten finalists. While some judges’ feedback might be subjective, the bottom line is that our decisions are based on the writer’s unique and original voice, and the most well-crafted and attention-grabbing screenplay. As I always say, you must be passionate about your screenplay and only submit your best work.

Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Kouguell teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide ( www.su-city-pictures.com; http://su-city-pictures.com/wpblog/).

Susan wrote THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises, which is available at $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862 and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. On Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009SB8Z7M (discount code does not apply). To read an excerpt go to: https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1089452. Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page to receive more Savvy Tips.


Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Kouguell teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and film executives worldwide ( www.su-city-pictures.com; http://su-city-pictures.com/wpblog/). Susan wrote THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! (St. Martin’s Griffin) and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises, which is available at $1.00 off by clicking on www.createspace.com/3558862 and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. On Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009SB8Z7M (discount code does not apply). To read an excerpt go to: https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1089452. Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell Twitter page to receive more Savvy Tips.