The Pros, Cons, and Tips about Screenplay Competitions

By Susan Kouguell · March 3, 2014

Whether your goal is to sell your script to Hollywood or to have your work considered for production by an independent film company, getting your screenplay read and into the right hands is just one step of the journey to seeing your vision on the silver screen.  There is no right or wrong way to embark on this voyage — it all depends on you as a writer (your style, your voice), your screenplay, perseverance and luck.  What is an absolute — and there are no shortcuts to this — you must only submit your screenplay when it is absolutely the best it can be.  Submitting a draft that is not truly ready to be considered is a sure way to get rejected. 

Winning or placing as a finalist in a screenplay competition is a good way to open the doors to the film industry.  Getting your writing recognized and drawing attention to you as a writer is imperative in this highly competitive field.  However — you must be realistic and examine the pros and cons of what you are (literally) about to enter. Some contest winners receive interest from the film industry, which has helped them to launch their careers, while others receive little or no attention from winning.  Sometimes it is just the luck of the draw, but you can take some control into your own hands.   

There are hundreds of script competitions — and it seems more and more each day — that offer a variety of enticements to attract screenwriters.

Be discriminating and do your research:

·      Submit to a contest that is respected by the industry and has been around for several years. The more established the contest, the more attention you’ll get if you win or place as a finalist.

·      Reputable script competitions must have judges who work in the film industry otherwise there is no point in entering.

·      Find out what types of prizes the contests are offering and make sure these are legitimate. These offerings can include agent representation, meetings with film industry folks, announcements in the trades, and prize money.  

In my experience as a screenplay competition judge and when I interviewed colleagues for my books (The Savvy Screenwriter and Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays!), the consensus is that judges are not necessarily looking for scripts that have the potential to be blockbusters or even have commercial appeal; they are looking for the best written screenplay. Specifically, judges look for scripts that are well-crafted and attention-grabbing, demonstrate a strong and unique voice and writing style, and a screenplay without formatting errors, typos, or grammatical mistakes.


1.     Always register your screenplay with the Writers Guild of America before submitting it to a contest.

2.     Submit to contests that are the right fit for your project, such as. genre and subject matter.

3.     Do not waste your time and money, (and the judges’ time), and most of all, your reputation — with scripts that are not truly ready to be considered for competition.

4.     Follow contest guidelines.  Mistakes will disqualify you.

5.     On the application form, accurately and succinctly describe your project and don’t invent genres.

6.     Enter early.  Scripts that arrive before the deadline are often read first, which means that a tired judge might not gloss over your work.

7.     Read the fine print so you thoroughly understand what you are committing to. This can include anything from signing your rights away to the project to agent representation.


·      Winners are often listed in trade publications, and this can grab industry folks’ attention.

·      A winning contest credit could give you the needed edge over other projects vying for industry attention.

·      Winning or placing as a finalist can be included in your query letter.

·      Getting your name out there.


·      “No Name” contests.  Contests that have no industry connections will not impress film executives or add too much credibility to your work.

·      The expense. Submission fees to contests can be expensive. This can add up quickly if you are submitting to multiple contests.

·      The waiting game. The submission deadline to the announcement of the finalists and winners can be months apart.

Your screenplay is your calling card.  Only submit your best work to contests.  The passion you have about your project must shine through onto the page – and this will grab a judge’s attention.


Susan Kouguell, award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, is the author of SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises and THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out!.   She is a regular contributor to many publications, including Indiewire/SydneysBuzz, a monthly Ask the Screenplay Doctor column in, Screenwriter’s Utopia, and NOW WRITE! Screenwriting: Exercises by Today's Best Screenwriters, Teachers and Consultants.  Kouguell teaches screenwriting and film at Tufts University, and presents international seminars. As chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990, Kouguell works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, executives and studios worldwide.  Her six short films are in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection and archives, and were included in the Whitney Museum’s Biennial.  Kouguell worked with director Louis Malle on his film And the Pursuit of Happiness, was a story analyst and story editor for many studios, wrote voice-over narrations for (Harvey Weinstein) Miramax and over a dozen feature assignments for independent companies.;