Top 10 Screenplay Contests

We took a poll of several Hollywood executives to get their perspective on the best screenplay contests for discovering new writers. Below is a list of contests that were mentioned.

screenplay contests

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Top 10 Screenplay Contests

In no particular order, here are the best screenplay contests and events based on our recent talks with film and television executives, managers and agents.

1. Nicholl Fellowship – In terms of the best screenplay contests, the Nicholl Fellowship is probably the most famous competitions for screenwriting. The Nicholl is consequently one of the hardest to win. Over $35,000 worth of prizes are given each year.

Last year the Nicholl received over seven thousand entries!

A Sony Executive who wished to remain anonymous said, “The Nicholl is a real star maker. It’s still the contest we all turn to, demand coverage for, and track. If you win the Nicholl people will know your name.”

Submissions usually run from May through August with winners announced in November.

2. ScreenCraft - Last year all three of ScreenCraft’s Fellowship winners got representation from managers and agents, and this year so did both the ScreenCraft Comedy winners. ScreenCraft’s writers have sold projects to top production companies.

Jeff Portnoy, of Heretic Literary Management (and formerly Resolution Agency) had this to say: “ScreenCraft has, for me and many like me, become a dependable and invaluable resource for discovering talented screenwriters – It’s one of the best resources for writers who want to expose their work to the entertainment industry. I couldn’t recommend it more.”

Jen Grisanti, a television executive and acclaimed Story Consultant had this to say:

“I love collaborating with ScreenCraft because of their genuine passion to find new voices. I admire their commitment to the creative process by having programs like their Fellowship that offers an extended mentorship to writers and guides them toward making their dream a reality.”

ScreenCraft has several genre-specific screenplay contests as well as the annual ScreenCraft Fellowship (Applications due by December 15th) and the Family Friendly contest ends on December 30th.

3. The Black List Website – While not exactly fitting the category of screenplay contests, the Black List has been around for ten years. But the website is fairly new. Founder Franklin Leonard sought to create a web forum where industry execs, agents, and managers could log on to view scripts that had been vetted by top readers. Writers from the site have signed with every major agency. CAA, WME, Paradigm, Verve, APA, UTA. The site hit the ground running in 2012 and quickly built a devoted fan base among managers and agents with many writers gaining management along the way.

Adrian Garcia, a literary agent at Paradigm Talent Agency says, “the Black List makes it easy to make my weekend read each week with the selection for Feature and TV scripts.”

4. Story Expo - STORY EXPO 2015 is the world’s biggest convention of writers from all mediums – screenwriters, TV writers, novelists, filmmakers, gamers, journalists, graphic novelists, actors, business people, comic book writers and more. Featuring over 110 world-renowned speakers, 100+ classes and 30+ exhibitors, Story Expo covers all aspects of story and writing – from craft to business to pitching to career.

Spike Scarberry, an executive at Bad Hat Harry said, “Story Expo is easily my favorite pitchfest of the year. The people who run the event are great, extremely helpful and nice. I feel like it’s flown a little under the radar the past couple years but I don’t think it will be that way for long.”

The next Story Expo will be in September of 2015 – will you be there?

5. The Virtual Pitchfest - Membership is simple. Once you purchase a package, you can submit your query letter to different Industry Pros or you can submit multiple letters in any way that suits your needs. You are guaranteed a response and comments back from our Industry Pros within 5 days of your submissions!

Scott Stoops, a coordinator at Benderspink said, “One of my favorite services is VIRTUAL PITCH FEST, which allows users to submit pitches online to creative professionals in the community – reps, producers, etc. I find it really helpful because it keeps things short, sweet and manageable, and it is a great way to connect with filmmakers at any time. Honestly, when I do Skype pitch fests or other events, I tell writers to get on VPF a lot because it’s a way they can get in touch with me, pitch something, and then follow up, send me more material, etc. It’s been really great so far and I’ve found some great talent from it.”

6. Final Draft Big Break – The Big Break contest takes both television pilots and feature films scripts, awarding eleven prizes across different genres. Winners are flown to Los Angeles for industry meetings and an awards dinner. One Feature Grand Prize and one TV Grand Prize winner will be chosen from the 11 Feature Genre and TV Format award winners.

These two Grand Prize Award Winners are flown to Hollywood for the Final Draft Annual Awards Event where we honor the Big Break winners along with recipients of The Screenwriters Choice Awards and The Hall of Fame Award. They give out $15,000, an iPad, among other great prizes.

An anonymous executive at Fox says “Big Break is a contest designed for finding what kinds of scripts you want because they separate scripts into genre categories and you don’t have to waste your time sifting through ideas you’d never develop.”

Big Break runs in July and it is highly competitive.

7. Script Pipeline – In terms of winner pedigree Script Pipeline has a long list of winners who have gone on to do great things including series at Fox, SyFy, and feature film development deals. Their famous winners is Evan Daughtery, writer of Snow White and the Huntsman, won the 2008 Script Pipeline contest and it helped him gain agents and managers and eventually sell Snow White for $3.2 million. They offer television as well as feature contests and a student section that has become popular.

You’ll have to get your script together fast because the Pipeline feature deadline is December 31st 2014. But their other contests like the Great Idea, Student, and Television contests are open into the New Year.

8. The Great American Pitchfest - The Great American Screenwriting Conference & PitchFest is a two day conference, and one day pitchfest.  GAPF was created by writers, for writers.  If you need an agent or manager, are looking to option your material, or would like to be hired for writing assignments, you will find the connections you need for your career to move forward.

This one is one of the largest pitchfests in the country. Though many of the people who responded to the poll showed their disapproval of pitchfests but this one in particular was seen as one of the good ones though one unnamed exec said she was not happy with the fest “sharing email addresses and other information with the pitchers.”

This generally sells out, even with its high prices, and writers are encouraged to get their passes before April 1st of the new year. The competition takes place in June.

9. Scriptapalooza – Past winners have won Emmys, been signed by agents, managers, had their scripts optioned, and even made into movies. Scriptapalooza will promote, pitch, and push the Semifinalists and higher for a full year.

One Agent, who chooses to remain nameless, wasn’t a fan of their “1990’s style website,” but did think “they pull exciting scripts and have a good feedback team.”

The first deadline for this year’s contest is January 6th with the final deadline being April 29th 2015.

10. Austin Film Festival - One of the most fun and screenplay-driven festivals, Austin wears its heart on its sleeve when it comes to celebrating scripts. With panels headlines by John August, Richard Kelly, Cris Carter, Rob Thomas, Frank Daranbont, Shane Black, and other writer celebs, this has quickly become one of the best places to get your voice heard.

This years ScreenCraft Comedy Contest winner Jared Frieder also won the Austin contest. Jared “Loved Austin’s environment and being at a screenplay driven festival.”

This year’s deadline is April 30th.

So that’s our round-up of the best contests according to recent phone calls and emails with Hollywood executives. There are many more that have notable success stories. And there are many contests that don’t merit mentioning. What’s your favorite screenwriting contest or resource for aspiring writers?

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Jason Hellerman is a screenwriter making impressive inroads in the entertainment industry. Shortly after coming out to Los Angeles after graduating from Boston University, his script “Shovel Buddies” was voted onto the 2013 Black List by Hollywood industry insiders. He has worked for top producers and entertainment industry stars including producer Michael Costigan and actor Jonah Hill. You can follow him on Twitter at @JasonHellerman.

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.