The Best Screenwriting Contests for Filmmakers

May 1, 2014

The Best Screenwriting Contests for FilmmakersYou’ve finished that amazing screenplay, but now what do you do with it? Unless you already have representation, you’re probably looking for a way to get your spec script into the right hands. Script contests are one of the best ways to get discovered. There are hundreds of writing contests out there, so it can be hard to decide which ones are worth your time and entry fee. The following are a few of the best screenwriting contests you should be submitting your work to.

Academy Nicholl Fellowship

One of the most well-respected contests in the industry, the Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting is established in 1985 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a way to aid up-and-coming screenwriters. In addition to having the notoriety of the Nicholl name on their resume, winners are awarded a $35,000 year-long fellowship to complete a new screenplay. Nicholl fellows have gone on to write and sell several produced screenplays and have even garnered other major awards and nominations, such as Susannah Grant’s 1992 entry “Erin Brockovich,” which was nominated for an Academy Award.

Final Draft’s Big Break

Sponsored by the industry’s top screenwriting software, Final Draft’s Big Break is known for getting representation for winners and runners-up at top agencies such as the Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Many winners have also gone on to write for television shows such as HBO’s “The Newsroom,” while others option and sell their screenplays. Larry Brenner, who won third place in 2010, sold his script, “Bethlehem,” to Universal Studios. Prizes are awarded in both film and television categories for several genres, including a $15,000 grand prize winner in the feature film category.

Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship

The Disney Fellowship is easily one of the best screenwriting contests for aspiring television writers. In addition to being one of the most well-respected and long-running fellowship programs, it is also free to enter. Winners are awarded $50,000 to spend a year working closely with television development executives to craft a new spec script. The ultimate goal of this program is to get writers staffed on television series. Most fellows go on to gain representation and staff writing jobs on ABC shows and at other major networks.

AFF Screenplay and Teleplay Competition

For more than two decades, the Austin Film Festival has been the top festival and conference for emerging writers. With sponsors such as AMC Network and the Writers Guild of America, East, the AFF Screenplay and Teleplay competition is one of the most prestigious in the business. In addition to cash prizes, winners have the opportunity to attend the annual conference, which offers a wealth of panels and talks from notable guests. Past speakers have included Ron Howard, John Lasseter and Joel and Ethan Coen. Winners have gone on to option their screenplays, work for series such as “Justified” and “Heroes,” and sign with top agencies such as CAA and ICM Partners.

Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab

The goal of the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab is to help foster new voices in film. Fellows participate in an intensive five-day workshop in which they work one-on-one with creative advisers who help them hone their scripts and give them valuable insight. Past advisers have included John August, Christopher McQuarrie and Mike White. The lab is considered the point of entry into the career-making Sundance Feature Film Program. After the lab is over, fellows continue to be supported by the program’s resources, developing their screenplays, meeting funders and collaborators, and being considered for the program’s other invitation-only labs, such as the Director’s Lab and New Frontier Story Lab. Some of the program’s alumni have been successful screenwriters, such as Darren Aronofsky and Paul Thomas Anderson.

A win or placement in some of the best screenwriting contests doesn’t guarantee you immediate success, but it can get your work seen by those who can help build your career.

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