Are screenplay contests worth entering?

I’m pretty skeptical about script contests as a way to further your career. There are success stories but I think they’re the exception. So I was interested to read the view of Chad Gervich on the Script website. He says that winning a script rarely gives you the edge. He’s been a judge in script contests and says winning only shows your script was the best, but that the standard is generally atrocious.

How bad are these scripts? Out of 500 he estimates that ten to fifteen “have some semblance of real voice, character, or storytelling. That doesn’t mean they’re good…” On the one hand that’s good news because it means if you have a good script you have a reasonable chance of winning. On the other hand, if people in the business know that these contests have a low standard, they may not pay much attention to them.

Listen, having won a contest is better than nothing and there have been some successes, but it’s good to have a realistic view, especially when some contests have a hefty entry fee. Here are a few specific tips:

Look at the ratio of the entry fee to the prize–if it costs $50 to enter, and the prize is only $500, I figure somebody’s making money on this.

Of course it may be access to important people in Hollywood that you’re after, in which case you need to check whether the contest is specific about who will see the winning entries. Simply being told that “the winner will be sent to important Hollywood producers and agents and directors” isn’t good enough. First, who are these people? Second, have they actually agreed to look at the winners, or are they just going to get them sent to them and throw them away or hit the delete key?

Finally, does the contest list previous winners? If so, why not email a couple of them and ask them what their experience was–did it help them? If so, how? You should be able to Google them or find them on Facebook or you can write them a letter c/o the Writers Guild if they’re members.

Good luck!

(Jurgen Wolff offers screenwriting tips here every Tuesday as well as on his site, Also see his book, “Your Writing Coach,” available from Amazon and other online and offline booksellers.)


I wrote a screenplay, now what?

Movie Magic Screenwriter
Screenplay Image via Wikipedia

So you wrote a screenplay? Now what?

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from folks who just finished their first screenplay… And like many, they don’t know what to do next.

That brings back memories!

Almost 10 years ago, when I was a fat, beer drinking, cheeseburger eating appliance store salesman in Pennsylvania, I too had just finished my first screenplay. And like many first time screenwriters, I had no idea what to do next. Besides, I thought just finishing a screenplay was enough of an accomplishment to get Hollywood knocking at my door.

Boy was I wrong!

It wasn’t until some years later, when I worked for a producer in New York City that I was able to see the other side of the business. So today, I want to reveal some secrets and share a little bit about what I learned.

In short, we received…

  1. screenplays from agents that sucked.
  2. screenplays from friends that sucked.
  3. screenplays from known writers that sucked.
  4. screenplays from friends of friends that sucked.
  5. unsolicited screenplays that were written in hand.
  6. unsolicited screenplays with artwork and movie poster designs.
  7. unsolicited screenplays with long, drawn out cover letters.
  8. screenplays that had no plot.
  9. screenplays that had a plot, but no character development.
  10. screenplays that had a gazillion spelling and grammatical errors.

And every-so-often, we received a script that was so AWESOME that we jumped up and down in excitement.

So assuming you finished your first screenplay and you can’t wait to get it into the hands of Hollywood producers, here are my suggestions on what to do next:

  1. Enter the script in screenplay contests.
  2. Do you know anyone friendly with a Hollywood producers, agents or managers?
  3. If not,  I reccomend you print some business cards and then, learn how to produce.
  4. Do you have any friends who know up-and-coming Hollywood actors?
  5. Write another script.

That last piece of advice – write another script – that comes from experience.

Many writers put all of their focus on a current screenplay, that they fail to expand their body of work. Writing a stack of screenplays is like creating inventory for your store. The more products you have on the shelf, the more you can eventually sell.

Since agents and managers and producers make their living by finding good material, it is in your best interest to have some good material. Don’t send anything out, unless it it is amazing. Then assuming you capture the interest of a Hollywood Heavyweight, you’ll be ready to take your career to the next level.