WRITERS: STOP ENTERING SCREENPLAY CONTESTS!
WE’RE NOT “COMPETITORS”!
1. WRITERS SHOULD NOT BE COMPETING AGAINST WRITERS!!!
Competition happens all the time professionally. But to get to the professional level, the only person you compete against—is YOU.
It makes no sense to submit to a contest when your odds of winning, or placing highly, are preposterously low. Last year, Script Pipeline had many thousands of entries and elevated little more than several dozen scripts to their first round.
The Austin Film Festival—which uses unqualified, amateur readers and offers them admission to the festival in lieu of payment—had a fiasco of bad coverage and overlooked entries.
Most contests offer no transparency and there is no accountability. There is no real way to know if your script has even been read, let alone by a qualified reader. The judging is a black box. Has carelessness and sloppiness corrupted the process—let alone actual corruption?
Submitting to a contest takes your script out of your hands for weeks or months—time that you would better spend seeking feedback, doing rewrites and making progress with your craft.
2. THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN GET FROM THE CONTESTS THAT YOU CAN’T GET FROM THE EXACT SAME COMPANIES VIA COVERAGE (FEEDBACK/NOTES) & THEIR INDUSTRY INTROS.
The Black List is like a contest that operates year-round. If you score an 8, they promote you in their newsletter to industry professionals. I have my own quibbles with the vagaries of their rating and quality control, but they do what they say they will.
All of the major contest companies also offer coverage. Some of them offer it at the same time: if you pay extra for your contest submission, you’ll get coverage as well.
I am hardly trying to put these companies out of business! Rather, these companies need to retool to better serve writers.
The only way you get to be a better writer, and reach a professional level, is by FAILING: not at a contest, which takes months and gives you no explanation. No, by FAILING with an intelligent reader who gives you actionable FEEDBACK—so you can continue to write, learn and rewrite!
Contests are selling a dream, a fantasy—that your script is perfect and will “win,” to open the doors to Hollywood. Your script needs work—all scripts do, even pro ones! So do the work!
The companies should prioritize prompt, affordable and actionable coverage/notes, with the goal being the company’s endorsement of the script to their network of professionals—in other words, the same thing you get with a contest win!
3. A CONTEST WIN WON’T HELP YOU GET A MANAGER IF THE LOGLINE SUCKS.
With the exception of the Nicholl, which is well run and highly respected, most contests are not looked at with respect by the industry—which means a placement won’t matter.
The contests typically do only one major thing with their winners: They send out the loglines to their network of professionals and say, “Want to read any of this?”
The professionals naturally gravitate to loglines of commercial scripts they think they can monetize.
This means your contest success is only as good as your logline.
Get it, writers? People think the “win” is what gets professionals to read the scripts. It might…but only from the most elite contests (who actively coach their winners and set appointments).
But really—the LOGLINE is what gets the professionals to read your script!
And frankly, if you have an awesome logline, who needs a contest? You can just query a number of the managers and producers with it yourself, for free, right now!
4. CONTESTS BLEED MONEY FROM INEXPERIENCED WRITERS TO GIVE TO ADVANCED ONES.
It’s wrong! In lieu of prize money, the companies should establish programs to offer pro bono assistance to deserving writers who lack the means to afford typical coverage rates.
It is not fair that, I as a person of means, have an advantage over other writers who cannot afford the same goodies (like coverage and software).
For me, every other writer out there is a potential collaborator…not a competitor!
5. THE “HOPE INDUSTRY” CAN EXIST—BUT IT HAS TO BE MORE EFFICIENT AND MORE FAIR.
There are more “hope industry” companies than ever, operating a year-round series of contests. It’s a joke, attracting some good, honest business folk—but also hustlers and phonies.
Many of them even use the same reader pool! Did you know that? The conglomerate Industry Arts owns—ready for this?—Screencraft, The Script Lab, Launch Pad, Coverfly, Done Deal Pro, The Tracking Board and We Screenplay. It’s all the same company!
Coverfly is a free service which maintains “The Red List,” which elevates writers’ scripts based on how many contests they enter. The free listings are designed to get you to pay money for contests, to boost your script on a list—that nobody important actually checks!
Are we Pavlov’s dogs who just want shiny badges, rankings and bullshit?
Or are we storytellers, who want to hone our craft and get it to a professional level?
6. I AM A CAPITALIST!
Seriously, making money is great. The contest companies pride themselves on “curating” scripts and writers ready for professional introductions. They should keep doing that!
They just need to do it on a more efficient, productive and honest basis: with FEEDBACK, not contests that artificially pit writers against each other and don’t help anybody learn.
Think about how much money you could make if you were getting thousands of entries at $40–60 a pop, and only had to pay $25–35 (minimum wage or less) to a reader with minimal qualifications.
Frankly, you could just skim the scripts in-house to select only the competent ones for full reads—would anybody ever know?
Am I saying companies do that? Gee, I dunno. But there is very little transparency.
Is it any wonder these contests are proliferating like weeds? Follow the money! (Something Deep Throat never actually said—William Goldman made it up!)
It’s our prerogative, as writers/customers, to say—enough is enough.
I have never made more progress in my writing than after I decided to stop entering contests and focus solely on coverage (feedback).
You don’t improve through fantasy and hope, you improve by doing WORK. That includes getting frequent, tough, smart and actionable notes.
If these companies really do want to serve writers, they need to dispense with the phony competitive nature of contests and prioritize feedback that is useful and educational.
The only person a writer should be competing with is the writer’s own self!
To the people who launched careers from winning contests—I promise, you would have done just as well with the model I’m proposing: notes and elevation of worthy scripts.
I’m a writer, not a “mark”—a collaborator, not a competitor.
Please like and share if you agree!