I get asked all the time about the best contests to enter. The truth is that I’m not a huge fan of contests. There are some good ones out there, but there are also a lot of them that probably aren’t worth the cost of postage for a hard copy of your script. How can you tell the difference? I’m glad you asked.
Question 1 – “How do I benefit?”
What is this contest going to do for you if you win? Is there a decent-sized cash prize? Is it a fellowship that essentially pays you to write for a year?
You also might consider how well-known the contest is and if their name could open doors in the business. The Erie, Pennsylvania Script Rodeo might not be respected enough to open doors for you, but the Nicholl Fellowship is a different story.
Another benefit might be coverage or story notes. Getting an outside opinion can be useful, and professional coverage usually starts at $100-$150 – somewhat more than the cost of most entry fees.
Question 2 – “Who are the judges?”
This is a subset of the first question. Are the final judges people with strong credentials in the entertainment industry? Or are they rubes fresh off the bus from Wisconsin? A competition like Scriptapalooza promises that every entry is read by a producer, manager and agent. Those are the people who you’re looking to impress in the business, so it’s best to find a competition where the people making the cuts actually know what they’re talking about. Well, at least as much as an agent knows what they’re talking about.
There are some competitions that list some impressive names as their final judges – but often those big names you recognize only read the top ten finalists and choose the winners from there. Look out for this bait and switch.
I don’t want to get in too much trouble here but the pay for contest reading is often extremely low. Add to that the fact that most contest submissions are rather weak, and you’ll quickly have an impatient reader who’s looking for a reason to pass on a script quickly so they can move on to the next script in the pile. This is especially common in the smaller contests – which is why I suggest not entering some of those.
If you enter a contest where all submissions are read by mangers, producers, agents and development executives. They might make note of you and contact you even if the judges in the later rounds pass on it. It’s a sneaky way to get your work in front of the people who can buy, sell or produce it.
Question 3 – “What claim, if any, do they have on your work?”
Don’t be a schmuck. Make sure you’re not giving away ownership of your script.
Question 4 – “Do they have any success stories?”
The competition website should trumpet any successes, whether it’s prior finalists being signed to an agent, selling a script, or producing a movie. If they don’t list such things – that means there aren’t any. Steer clear.
So remember those four questions. With the internet at your disposal, there’s no good reason you shouldn’t be able to research in depth.