Hey, Where Did My Screenwriting Contest Go?
Ever wander what happened to your favorite mid-size screenwriting contest? The one that got somewhere between 400 and 600 entries every year, and offered a direct line to a handful of reputable, mid-level executives, the ones with name credits under their belt, if not a direct connection to green-lighting power?
Ever wander what happened to your favorite mid-size screenwriting contest? The one that got somewhere between 400 and 600 entries every year, and offered a direct line to a handful of reputable, mid-level executives, the ones with name credits under their belt, if not a direct connection to green-lighting power? The sort of contest that would have never made your rich, but would have made others in the know show appreciation for the simple fact that you won or placed in it.
Sure, there is still a bushel of these types of contest holding strong year after year, but, considering my familiarity with the space for the past 8 years, I am tempted to say that as the middle class goes, so does the mid-level contest. Let’s face it, a contest is NOT a money making proposition for most any company. It takes a lot of work, a lot of hours, a lot of manpower to run administration alone, and there are always those writers who begrudge the job the contest people do.
The truth is that for most mid-level companies, contests are not about making big money. It’s about getting the company’s name and brand out in front of new writers. Staying relevant with a current audience. Contests are a fantastic tool through which a company can introduce itself to emerging writers, a seamless way to get its name out there without engaging in obvious marketing.
It goes without saying that a company holding a contest wants its contest winners to succeed. It needs its winners to succeed, to go on to get signed by representation or better yet option or sell a script in order to convince next year’s crop of writers looking to submit that their contest is above the rest, that there is real opportunity and tangible reward available within what their contest has to offer.
And that is exactly the thing that is causing a handful of mid-level contests to pack their bags in every year: Opportunity. Offering their entrants the sort of opportunities that would set their contest apart from the rest. That would make their contest that much more worthwhile to enter. Or the lack thereof, that is.
Winning a contest is all about putting a spotlight on your winning script and getting companies and executives wanting to read it, being able to say “I won XYZ contest” and having others immediately apply the appropriate weight to that. The problem is that there are so many contests these days, so many brands, that it is getting harder and harder for the mid-level contests to get their winner’s scripts read, let alone get their winners deals or representation.
Back in the day when I was still running ScriptShark, I sat down with a development executive friend who used to serve on the final selection board for our annual contest. The contest had shuttered a year before, and over lunch this executive friend asked me what it would take for me to start up a contest again. I told her I would do it if I could set the ScriptShark contest apart from the mid-level fare, if I could somehow hook an A-lister to take part in the award package. The friend said she would look into how she may be able to help. Suffice it to say, we never did talk about this topic again.
And that is exactly the problem these days. Too many mid-level contest are pretty much (if not identically) the same. It does not serve them to keep running the same contest without being able to break away from the pack, and there are too many of them now (many more than there were, say, 5 years ago), to make winning with them matter the same way it did then.
My advice to writers is this: Do your homework before you submit. Know why you are entering a particular contest. There is still value to Save the Cat, First Look, and a slew of others out there. Enjoy them now, because in a few years there will only be less of them. Bur no matter the contest size or the contest owner’s motivation, make sure that you have a vetted reward or a worthy executive appropriate for your script or your brand awaiting you on the winning end.