Are Screenwriting Contests a Waste of Time?

The internet is full of web pages and blogs recommending screenwriting contests to aspiring screenwriters as a practical way to improve your writing or get ahead in your career. However, many writers fail to achieve success after entering, leading them to wonder if screenwriting contests are worth all that time and effort they put in.

Screenwriting contests are not a waste of time, as breaking into the screenwriting industry is tough, and every little advantage can help. Many competitions provide valuable feedback, and in addition to prize money, can lead to mentorships and valuable introductions to people in the screen business.

Are you considering entering your work into a screenwriting contest and worried it might not be worth your time? This post explains what you need to know about screenwriting contests, including the potential benefits of entering and who benefits from them. I’ve also included a list of contests that aren’t a waste of time for you to consider. 

Why Some People Think Screenwriting Contests Can Be a Waste of Time

Some competitions feel a bit like a scam, don’t they? Competitions that charge very high entry fees but don’t offer prize money tend to raise eyebrows. If a comp charges you to enter – they should probably put aside some of that money to distribute to winners. This money is probably not going to pay the rent for very long, but it might help cover your expenses related to entering comps!

Sometimes people submit work that is not ready to be judged in a competition. This is when writing competitions really are a waste of time. Always make sure you get your entry up to the best level you possibly can in the time that you have. Then no matter what happens you’ve turned the experience into something valuable by bringing your work up to a high polish!

Benefits of Screenwriting Contests (and Who Typically Benefits From Them)

There’s no denying that screenwriting contests are beneficial. The real concern is who benefits from them. And at the end of the day, screenwriting contests are not a waste of time and can be hugely beneficial for the following groups:

  • The writers who win or place in the contests. While your chances of winning may be low, every contest does have a winner, if not multiple winners. And you won’t hear winners who just gained a few thousand dollars or signed a publishing deal saying screenwriting contests are a waste of time. 
  • Representatives who review, and occasionally sign, winners and finalists. Screenwriting contests are sometimes used by talent-seeking representatives. They will occasionally reach out to people who place highly in competitions, assuming that the judging process has produced some interesting scripts for them to consider.

Types of Screenwriting Contests

Plenty of advantages can be gained by entering screenwriting contests. The trick is to find the right type of contest for you. 

Screenwriting contests fall into three basic categories:

  • Regular contests: Prizes range the board in value, and you must assess each to determine whether it’s worth your time, effort, and entry fee. 
  • Retreat/Workshop contests: Usually sponsored by a film organization or festival, these contests reward winners with attendance to their workshops led by professional working screenwriters. For example, the Sundance Writers Lab Fellows receive a life-changing opportunity if recognized by the organization. 
  • Studio/Network fellowship: These contests are offered by studios/networks seeking potential employees. Compensation is usually provided, though it’s not much, as more value is received in numerous learning opportunities, mentorship, and interactions with others in the industry. However, these almost always require writers to be located in Los Angeles for the duration of the fellowship. 

Screenwriting Contest vs. Publishing Scam: How To Tell the Difference

A scam is when someone takes your money and fails to deliver on what they promised. By this reasoning, most screenwriting contests aren’t scams. Scripts are read and judged, and prizes are awarded. 

Sure, some contests may just collect your fees and disappear, but with some basic research online, you can hopefully expose and avoid these legit scams. 

Top Screenwriting Contests To Enter

Screenwriting contests are a dime a dozen and easy to find, but locating the good ones can be a challenge. To help save you some time in researching, here’s a list of screenwriting competitions that are probably worth taking the time to enter:

  • The Nicholl Fellowship (By The Academy)
  • Austin Film Festival Screenplay & Teleplay Contest
  • Shore Scripts Contests
  • PAGE International Screenwriting Awards
  • Script Pipeline
  • Tracking Board Launch Pad
  • The UCLA Extension Screenplay Competition
  • Cinestory Foundation Fellowship & Feature Retreat
  • Screencraft
  • Final Draft’s Big Break
  • Blue Cat
  • Scriptapalooza
  • Slamdance
  • Fox Entertainment Group Diversity Development
  • Sundance Screenwriters’ Lab
  • Zoetrope Screenplay Contest
  • ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship
  • Samuel Goldwyn Writing Awards
  • Warner Bros. Writer’s Workshop
  • Walt Disney Studios & ABC Entertainment Fellowship Program

Final Thoughts

Take the time to find competitions offering prizes that are beneficial to you, and challenge yourself to go big. It’s also important to be professional and follow all the contest guidelines properly. As long as you have confidence free from expectations, screenwriting contests can be worth your time.