READER QUESTION: Are screenwriting contests a waste of time?

Thanks to Elaine Luddy Kionicki for today’s question, which she asked in response to Sunday’s post about Scriptapalooza.  Elaine writes:

Hey Chad. Most screenwriting books say that contests are a waste of
time and money, and you’ve said in a previous post that contests rarely
pay off, but it sounds like you’re endorsing this one. Is
Scriptapalooza one of the exceptions? Either way, thanks for the info.

That’s a good question, Elaine, and to be honest, I don’t think most screenwriting contests are a great way to start a career.  Rarely– and I mean rarely— have I ever heard of someone winning a screenwriting contest that launches them as a working Hollywood screenwriter. 

Many contests, including Scriptapalooza, love to advertise how many scripts they’ve gotten in front of execs or agents or producers… and maybe they have.  But where are those screenwriters now?  Are they selling movies?  Writing on assignment?  It’s not hard for someone running a screenwriting contest to call some friends at production companies, agencies, studios, or wherever and ask  a favor– “Hey, we’re doing a screenwriting contest… we’d love to have you read the top five winners.  Would you do that?”  It doesn’t mean the exec will meet with the writers… it doesn’t mean they’ll produce the scripts… hell, it doesn’t even mean they’ll finish the script.  So as with all things in Hollywood, talk– especially from screenwriting contests– is cheap.

Having said that– I don’t think contests are necessarily value-less.  At the very least, winning something means somebody liked your writing!  And in a world where, as a writer, 99% of what you’ll hear is rejection– even when you’re an A-list screenwriter– that validation is nice.

And maybe you’ll be the exception, like Michael Martin, who wins a contest and DOES launch a career.

I just think that if you’re going to enter a contest, you should be aware of what contests do/don’t do for your career… and temper your expectations (and motivations for applying) accordingly.

Also, there are very few contests that I’ll actually post up here– because I usually DON’T think they’re worth their salt– and Scriptapalooza is one of the few reputable ones that Hollywood people know about.  It doesn’t mean agents/producers/execs necessarily give it a lot thought or credence; the truth is– I don’t know a single agent, producer, manager, or exec who pays a lot of attention to ANY screenwriting contest.  But at least Scriptapalooza isn’t “Joe’s Screenwriting Competition;” it’s an established, known entity, so I feel comfortable putting it up here for those who want to apply.

I would never post up here any info on a random screenwriting contest which didn’t have any history, reputation, etc.

So do I think screenwriting contests carry a lot of professional weight?  Not really.  Are they “a waste of time?”  Not if you understand their true value, and you’re comfortable with your own reasons and expectations when applying.  And if you’re going to apply, apply to the reputable ones– Scriptapalooza, the Nicholls, etc.

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One thought on “READER QUESTION: Are screenwriting contests a waste of time?

  1. Elaine Luddy Klonicki

    Thanks, Chad. I’ve been busy and didn’t get to see your response until today. Congrats on all your recent successes, from your books being selected as teaching tools, to the Wanda Sykes gig. You’re living it, man.

    I got to hang out with my favorite screenwriter this weekend, Earl Hamner, Jr., at a Waltons Fan Club reunion. Mr. Hamner is best known for creating The Waltons, but he also created Falcon Crest and wrote the screenplay for Charlotte’s Web, eight episodes of The Twilight Zone, and many books. Nothing like learning from the best!

    Elaine

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