I get asked a lot about which contests I recommend. As I’ve said many times, I’m extremely selective about which one’s I endorse. In general, I think that Fellowships are often a better bet than straight-up contests, but I see merits to both. If you win a Fellowship, they essentially pay you to write. It’s like having a real job and in some cases, the Fellowship arranges to get you a job.
Possibly the most famous screenwriting fellowship is the Nicholl Fellowship. They award up to 5 $35,000 Fellowships each year. During that year, the Finalists will be expected to complete one feature screenplay. A few of the Nicholl entry scripts have been produced, including Ehren Kruger’s Arlington Road, Mike Rich’s Finding Forrester. You can find more info at their website.
Another Fellowship worth a look is the Disney/ABC Television Writing Program. Winning writers are paid $50,000 over the course of a year. While in the program, writers work one-on-one with a current programming or development exec preparing spec scripts for shows currently on the air. The intent is to get the writers onto TV staffs and give them exposure to executives, producers and representation. To apply, you need to submit a spec script of a current broadcast or cable show. More information can be found at their site.
The WB Television Writer’s Workshop is similar to this. You’ll also need a spec of a current show in order to apply. Like the Disney/ABC program, it’s geared to getting its participants on staff. There are weekly lectures with entertainment professionals and participants also take part in a simulated writer’s room. At the end of the program, executives work to get those participants who pass the Writer’s Room get staffed on a Warner Bros show. Look it up here.
Another such program is the Nickelodeon Writing Program. It also offers a salaried position for up to one year and hands-on experience writing spec scripts and pitching story ideas in both live action and animation television. Writers work with creators, network execs, and show-runners and are assigned to an Executive in Charge of Production. To enter, you’ll need a spec for a half-hour TV show that’s currently on either broadcast or cable. Check out their site here.
You might also look into the NBC Writers on the Verge program and the CBS Writers Mentoring program. They’re similar to the others I’ve mentioned, though with the objective of increasing diversity. If you’re a minority of any kind, definitely check these out.