Are Screenplay Competitions worth it?

 Screencapture of a Tom Clancy, Jack Ryan spec script written by Rolando Gómez

After years of producing, directing and writing documentaries, I recently entered my first feature length screenplay to contests. And I mean, my first. I do not have half-written feature projects littering my desk. I have shorts, and a screenplay in development, but as far as full length completed scripts go: This. Is. It.

I am limiting myself to competitions recommended by Script Angel and the like, and, ideally, those which are Oscar qualifying. Sure, there’s no way my first screenplay is likely to be in the running for an Oscar, but I believe in aiming high.

Of course, the process is expensive. Currently running at $390 and I have barely got started, so I was fascinated, even appalled, to read the post below from Rolando Gómez on the Scriptfella Talent Facebook page. Rolando opened the invitation to the world, by the way to write his post up into an article. I have done nothing but break up the text and correct a few typos. I have save my editorialising for here, above, and further thoughts and comments follow at the end:

From Rolando Gómez 2ND MAY 2022:

I recently came across a TOP 25 screenwriters list on a “pay to play” website, where all writers combined, had 203 placements from the quarterfinalists up to a grand prize winner in major contests—Nicholl, Austin FF, Page, Big Break, etc., and a few minor contests too. All in total, an average of 8.12 wins/placements per writer but only nine writers had representation. Let that sink in. Nine.

And that made think about when I asked a senior industry executive in charge of many literary managers a while back about his thoughts if I should enter a contest. His response, “Why?”

Well, like all writers fighting their demons and bored during the pandemic I entered my strongest pilot into contests, and it placed as a quarterfinalist in one small contest. I didn’t let that get to me because I understood in contests you must get past that first underpaid reader and their opinions are subjective. One reader may like your script and yet another may think it’s garbage.

So, I submitted that same pilot to three fellowships and secured a cohort selection in the 2021 National Hispanic Media Coalition Series Scriptwriters Program and the 2021 Writers Guild Foundation Veterans Program. Now I’m not one to use the “race card” much less my military veteran’s status, but that year, I said, “Screw it, I earned it.” You can see and read more about that on my website, https://rolandogomez.com.

Are contests worth it?

  • First, understand most contests are in business to make money and feed off your hope and insecurities.
  • Second, some people in this group who have entered contests and placed have experienced positive outcomes, but my research indicates most won’t.
  • Third, you’ll get more if you’re selected into a fellowship cohort seat, but they are more competitive than a contest because it’s an application process where the script is only one part of many to enter—the good news, most are free to enter, but you must put the time in just to meet their requirements.

Back to that list. Of Sixteen writers WHO didn’t have representation, one had won a “Best Drama Screenplay”, another was the “Category Winner” all in major contests entered. Yet another took first and third in one major contest.

These writers are all winners, yet they are not represented, which indicates how hard it is to get representation. Oh, and of the nine that were repped, one of which had won the “Grand Prize” of a major contest, the management firms for all the nine seemed like small potatoes, no major players.

Now, in comparison, my two fellowship cohort placements so far have garnered meetings with major networks and streamers, Emmy nominated producers, production companies, and I have two upcoming meetings this month with a network and streamer, plus a pitch event to television executives this month through the WGF fellowship. My one contest win, no one ever approached me, in fact, I don’t even list it on my IMDb or my professional website.

And that senior executive who asked me, “Why?”? He was the supervisor of my three-time Emmy award winning manager, Jonathan Groce, who passed away early last year.

I haven’t signed with anyone since, though this month I was invited to submit four original scripts to a manager from a top management firm I can’t name today.

There are no guarantees, but it’s an opportunity via a personal invitation I received through networking—and, yes, four original scripts, and thank goodness I have them ready, thanks to notes from some of the best to include the pilot I wrote, with notes from three WGA mentors via the WGF Veterans Program.

Wish me luck, better yet pray for me, I prefer being blessed than lucky. Thanks!

Rolando Gómez Ends. Back to Bunting:

My first thought on reading Rolando’s post was, OMG I only have one script! I understand the need for people to see more, but the prospect of another 4 – 6 years of writing before anyone takes me seriously, is more than a little daunting. Sure, you can write scripts quicker, but we want them to be good, too, right?

Years of writing aside, what are the take-home messages Rolando’s research:

  • Judge the worth of competitions by the introductions you might win, not the cash.
  • Cohort and Fellowship competitions are more productive.
  • Network, network, network.

Any my own recommendation, if you can afford it, pay for notes. The Austin Film Festival even offers the opportunity to get coverage before you enter the competition. It costs, of course, but I took this offer up for a short, last year, and the comments were terrifically useful. They stopped me wasting money on an entry and told me the story was worth developing further.

And that’s my next project, the one I begin this week.

Good Luck and Good Writing.

Judith Bunting

3rd May 2022

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