Conquering The Contest Season- Part I: Prime Choices

Many of my fellow “Script-To-Screen Network” screenwriters have been asking questions about certain contests, specifically “Which are the good ones?” Screenwriters and screenwriting contests are like a Winnie The Pooh and the honey jar: no matter how many times they might get stung, the temptation of what they might get out of it is too strong to pass up. Others still will never go near them, no matter what the “honey jar” may yield.

Call me Pooh-bear then, because I “went for it”.

While I absolutely believe that each contest is so different, with such different levels of professionalism, different types of script readers, with different judging criteria, there are a few that stand out, at least in my mind.

1) The Nicholl Fellowship (http://www.oscars.org/awards/nicholl/index.html) is widely accepted as the premier screenwriting contest in the contest, and how can it not be? It is owned and operated by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the same people who bring us the Oscars each year. This is a career “game-changer”. The downside is that it is an International contest and will receive close to 7,000 entries. The odds are long, so unless you’ve received several “recommends” from various coverage companies, I’d think twice about entering, at least in the early stages of your career. Previous winning entries include “Arlington Road”, “Finding Forrester”, and “Akeelah and the Bee”.

2) Scriptapalooza- another international contest with a solid reputation, but probably half as many entries. Past winning entries include “L.A. Confidential”, “Dark Woods” and “The Break-Up Artist”. They offer substantial prize money, and include several levels of winning, as well as several different genres winners.

3) The PAGE Awards- This contest has been around nine years, and has garnered a lot of respectability in the contest world. They offer substantial cash awards over several different categories, and Jennifer Berg is a very hands-on contest director.

4) Story Pros- Now in it’s fifth season, they boast of having the same contest “grade”, provided by Creative Screenwriting Magazine, as The PAGE, Scriptapalooza, Slamdance and Warner Bros. They offer $30K in prizes, and have a unique system that gives you up to 16 chances to become a winner.

5) Script Pipeline (formerly Script P.I.M.P.)- another solid contest, which boasts 2010 winning entry “Snow White and The Hunstman”, released this year, as well as the 2008 winning script “Killing Season” which is to star Robert DeNiro. Pipeline is entering their tenth contest season.

You can review all of these and more at http://www.moviebytes.com.

I personally had the displeasure of getting involved with a contest and operation called “WILDsound” out of Toronto, Canada. Now, normally, I try to stay domestic, but they offer a “table read” of the winning entries, which I thought was an interesting gimmick. I requested script coverage, as well, as my last feature, “Banking on Betty”, was generating some nice interest.

In a surprisingly timely manner, I received my feedback, and among the many “pertinent” pieces of professional advice and information I received, I was told that I would “not be taken seriously by any producer of studio” if I did NOT include scene numbers in my spec script. Clearly, this information is absolutely wrong, and I told the CEO, Matthew Toffolo, about this. I requested a refund based on this ridiculous claim from his reader. Matthew offered a refund- of $5.00. He then went to great lengths to cover for and support his reader, while insulting me at the same time, with words as well as that refund offer. Eventually, he realized that the reader thought it was a “Television” entry, and “reviewed it as such, even though it WAS submitted as a feature film entry. He did end up refunding the full amount, and claims never to use that reader again, but I don’t necessarily believe it, and won’t be recommending this competition in the near future. They have had a history of bad reviews, which makes MovieBytes reviewing system all that more important.

Whichever contest you decide on, if any at all, best of luck in them. I’d rather lose to one of you than to anyone else!

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