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Confessions of a Screenplay Contest Reader

April 10, 2023
5 min read time

After you click the final submit button when entering your screenplay into a contest, you might breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you’ve done everything to get your script ready for a reader to review, judge and provide feedback on your masterpiece.

But who is that reader tasked with judging your screenplay and determining whether or not it moves into placement? And why does their subjective opinion matter?

Final Draft interviewed one of Big Break’s contest readers to find out what they look for and how to make your story stand out.

Although this reader wishes to remain anonymous for the purposes of the article, we can share his qualifications, which include: a Master’s degree in Screenwriting, experience working in the script development department at several film and TV production companies in Hollywood and experience reading hundreds of screenplays in a variety of genres as a judge in many screenwriting contests. 

What readers are looking for...

His goal, he says, is to help writers which is why he speaks highly of contests like the Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest or those from Coverfly which aim to help writers improve their scripts and make them as good as possible.

He admits that a reader’s opinions are subjective. “You might have an excellent but super gory script that might turn off a reader. That’s the nature of how it goes, in general, in any aspect of the industry. There are options where you can request specific kinds of readers or enter contests tailored to certain genres.”

He also explains that different categories within contests can help screenwriters get their work in front of readers who prefer their genre. Often times the contest director asks the reader to review scripts in the genres they prefer. Coverfly, for example, has contests designated to several genres including True Story and Public Domain, Horror, Drama and others. Big Break also has categories that a screenplay can win before advancing to the best of the best.

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Make sure your screenplay is ready

There are several things a writer can do with their screenplays to help their story stand out in a sea of other content, he says.

He believes one of the most important things to do to your script is proofread. Although he won’t specifically eliminate scripts based on formatting but as a reader, when you open a script, and grammar and spelling is an issue, it will be something to consider during the evaluation. Spell check, read the screenplay thoroughly and fix any of these issues. Making the screenplay easier to read can only be helpful for advancing your script.

Read More: 5 Tips To Better Spelling and Grammar

He also emphasizes the importance of making sure your script is original.

He shares that, “If you have a cool concept, you want to convey it early and effectively. Having read so many scripts, there are so many similar stories. How can you elevate that?”

Hook the reader on the first few pages

“I love those moments when I open up a script and I’m reading those first few pages and think this is really cool. It’s fun and interesting and it makes our jobs easier when we want to engage with those scripts,” he shares.

Read More: 5 Tips To Cinematic Formatting

You also want to focus on the character and why we care about them. You can have a fun world and an amazing intro, but the reader won’t be invested in the story if they don’t care about the characters.

Confessions of a Screenplay Contest Reader

Don’t freak out if you don’t win

If you don’t place in a contest, it doesn’t mean you should quit and go to law school.

Our reader sympathizes with not placing. “It can be devasting. I’ve gotten rejections and it sucks,” he says. But you have to ask yourself if screenwriting is what you want to do and if you’re having fun doing it.

The next step is determining why the screenplay didn’t advance. With so many different services and contests, there are opportunities to order feedback, learn what’s not working and get an explanation as to why you may not have moved forward.

“No one nails it on the first try – no one wins their first contest. You have to write and rewrite. No path is the right path, you just have to commit.”

Readers are determining if each screenplay is something that should be in the top 5 percent and something that they want to present to a panel of industry judges.

Improving your screenplay by finding out why it didn’t advance only helps you and your career as a writer. You can get advice designed to turn your screenplay ready for the industry to embrace. While writers obviously want to get their script made into a movie, it’s also helpful to remember it can serve as so many other things, primarily as writing samples especially if you’re looking for representation.

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Let your passion shine through!

When a reader opens their twentieth script of the contest, they hope it will be a fun read. They’re hoping it’s original and exciting.

“There are so many scripts that there is no way it will get made but it is so cool and the voice is so clear and the concept is wild and every plot beat is surprising and new,” he exclaims. He recommends letting your passion for writing shine on the page.

If you have fun writing your script, it is something that will translate.

“You should have fun doing this. If not, why are you doing it? Remember that as you’re writing – it’s not a means to an end, it’s something that you love.”

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