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5 Steps to Preparing for a Screenwriting Contest

March 9, 2023
4 min read time

Every year there’s a new wave of screenwriting contests that a writer can enter in the hopes of getting more eyes on their spec script. Some of these annual contests, like the Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest, show winning scripts to A-list management companies and it’s led to some screenwriters getting representation and launching a career. However, many of these contests attract writers from around the world, and there is some stiff competition. A writer should take the time to make sure their script is as “contest friendly” as possible before investing their money to enter one; this will increase their chances of placing in or winning the contest.

Below are 5 steps to preparing for a screenwriting contest:

Have Industry Standard Formatting

This might seem obvious to some people, but many aspiring screenwriters enter scripts into contests without the proper formatting. In fact, I’ve been told in many of the contests the first round is devoted to readers filtering out the scripts that aren’t formatted properly. Therefore if you want to make sure your script gets past the first round, make sure it has industry standard formatting. In addition to investing in screenwriting software (which automatically formats your script to industry standards), an aspiring screenwriter should take the time to read some recently produced scripts and study how they’re formatted. The more professional you can make your script look, the better its chances will be at getting a thorough and positive read.

Get Feedback Beforehand

Before entering your spec script into a contest, you should get some feedback beforehand. Whether it’s a friend, partner, or family member, you should give it to at least one person whose opinion you value (maybe even two or three people). After they read your script, be receptive to their feedback, and if they brought up issues that you agree with, give your script another pass. If you’re receiving feedback from multiple people and everyone had the same issue they thought needed addressing, give it serious consideration; if they all thought this way, others are likely to think the same way.

Work Within a Fixed Time Frame

Most contests have entry deadlines you need to meet or else you’ll have to wait until the following year. Because of this you should do research and find out exactly when the window for submissions opens and closes. The good thing about having a deadline is it gives you a fixed time frame to work in, and oftentimes this helps a writer to be productive. Every writer works at a different pace: some can finish a script in a couple months; others might need an entire year. Keeping this in mind, create a personal work routine for yourself that gives you enough time to write the script, rewrite it per any feedback you’ve received, and finally enough time to enter the contest.

Do a Technical Pass of Your Script

Okay. You’ve done all of the above steps and you’re ready to enter your spec script into a screenwriting contest… but hold on! Do one last proofread and technical pass of your script. Look for any spelling or grammatical errors or any formatting inconsistencies. Once again, it’s important to have your script look as professional as possible (and receive a better read as a result). You’ve invested a lot of time into this endeavor and soon you’ll be investing money to enter the contest: take the time to make sure your script is in the greatest shape it can be in before finally sending it off. 

Follow the Contest Rules

Every screenwriting contest is going to have its own set of rules and submissions guidelines. They’re usually available to read on the contest’s website you’ll be submitting to. Most screenwriting contests have different categories and subcategories to enter (for example the Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest has feature and television categories and then subcategories for different genres). Make sure you’re picking the right category before you submit your script and do some online research if you don’t know exactly what genre it falls under. In some cases it’ll be fairly obvious: if you wrote a Romantic Comedy submit your script into the Comedy/Rom-Com category; if you wrote a Science Fiction script, go with Sci-Fi/Fantasy; etc. 

However, some writers might have a script that’s genre-bending and it contains tropes or elements from various genres (e.g., a Horror-Comedy). In cases like this, it’s not always easy to decide how to submit your script. Generally speaking, think of the tone of your script and what genre elements are most pronounced; if your script is a Horror-Comedy and it’s a little funnier than it is scary, it might fare better in the Comedy/Rom-Com category. In most cases, contest readers are given the option to read the genres they prefer; because of this it’s likely that the person reading will be a fan of the genre you’ve selected when submitting. This is another reason why it’s extremely important to pick the right subcategory for your script: you want to make sure the people reading are fans of the type of script you wrote.

Most screenwriting contests allow people to enter into multiple categories and subcategories. Sometimes this can be a good tactic if you’re looking to get more eyes on your script and increase the law of averages of you placing or winning. Still, it’s not advisable if your script truly doesn’t fit into the subcategory you’re entering it into. Once again, fans of the genre will likely be reading the script and if it doesn’t truly represent the genre, they’ll probably pass on it.

And that’s it! 

You’ve done all of the necessary research, written and rewritten your script, and have decided on what category and subcategory you’ll be submitting it into. Regardless of the outcome, it’s an accomplishment to finish a script and sending it out to the world is an important first step to becoming a screenwriter.

Good luck and fingers crossed…!!

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