You want to be careful which contests you enter, as the application fees and time invested can add up quickly!
Below, you’ll find a breakdown of our top 5 screenwriting competitions of 2020. Note that this is nowhere near a comprehensive list—we know you’re busy, so we’ve vetted them for you and collected everything you need to know to decide if it’s right for you, including:
- Types of script accepted
- Cost and deadlines
- Grand prize
- Total applicants
- Who should apply
Without further ado, based on prestige within the film industry, the success of previous winners, organization of the contest, and quality of prizes, these are our favorite screenwriting competitions of 2020.
Austin Film Festival Screenplay and Teleplay Competition
The Austin Film Festival is one of the most esteemed film festivals for up-and-coming filmmakers in the country. The screenwriting competition is considered to be one of the most competitive—and impressive—contests around.
You can enter in drama or comedy with the option to submit to an additional category. These additional categories change from year to year (sci-fi, horror, family, etc.) and cost a small add-on fee, but are entirely worth it. In general, there are fewer applicants, but the prizes are just as good. If your script fits into an additional category, do it!
Types: Features, Shorts, Teleplays (original or spec).
Cost and Deadlines:
- Early Bird: March 27 (Feature $45, Short/Teleplay $35).
- Regular: April 17 (Feature $60, Short/Teleplay $50).
- Late: May 15 (Feature $70, Short/Teleplay $60).
Grand Prize: $5000 for feature winners, $1000 for TV or short winners, plus the full cost of attending Austin Film Festival, and a coveted bronze typewriter trophy.
Feedback: Yes, all applicants get reader’s notes for no additional fee. The further you make it in the competition, the more notes you’ll get.
Applicants: 11,917 (2019).
Who Should Enter: You cannot currently be making a living as a screenwriter, but everybody else should go for it!
Bottom Line: AFF is one of the most affordable, prestigious contests—plus, it guarantees feedback. And, win or lose, you can get money off the cost of admission to the Austin Film Festival in October, which is an excellent opportunity to get inspired, meet other writers, and learn about the craft.
Biggest Cash Prize
Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting
Yes, that Academy. The same organization that hosts the Oscars also hosts what is perhaps the most selective international screenwriting competition, ever. Every script is guaranteed at least two read-throughs by film professionals who are not members of the Academy.
It’s important to note that while they accept any genre under the sun, winners tend to be deeply moving, emotional dramas. If you have an animated family comedy film, you may do better with other competitions, though you still are allowed to submit.
Cost and Deadlines:
- Early Bird: March 6 ($48).
- Regular: April 9 ($63).
- Late: May 1 ($88).
Grand Prize: $35,000.
Obligations: You’ll be expected to write a new screenplay during the following year (including quarterly check-ins).
Feedback: You can pay an extra $40 to receive reader comments, but it’s not required.
Applicants: 7,302 (2019).
Who Should Enter: As long as you haven’t made $25,000 total in the industry, you can enter. If you have a drama and/or a script with a deeply emotional core, this is a great bet.
Bottom Line: This contest certainly has the brand recognition to get you through the door. And despite having no prizes for quarterfinalists, semifinalists, and finalists, it’s still a great credit to add to your screenwriting website.
Best for Finding Representation
ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship
We’ve selected the Screenwriting Fellowship program specifically, but ScreenCraft also has individual competitions for basically every possible genre (sci-fi/fantasy, public domain, horror, family, you name it).
This fellowship is entirely about helping new screenwriters secure representation and find mentors within the industry.
Types: Features, Teleplays (original only, no specs).
Costs and Deadlines:
- Early Bird: October 31 ($49).
- Regular: January 31 ($69).
- Late: February 29 ($79).
Grand Prize: All-expenses paid trip to LA to meet with 7 Hollywood manager mentors and attend meetings at 6 major Hollywood studios. Plus, 3 months of creative development with the ScreenCraft team.
Obligations: Trip to LA and 3-month mentorship.
Feedback: You can pay $69 to receive feedback but it’s not required.
Applicants: ~2,500 (2019).
Who Should Enter: You can’t have made $50,000 in the industry within the last year (excluding contest winnings). It’s great if you don’t yet have representation.
Bottom Line: With the many, many contests available through ScreenCraft, it’s easy to want to enter them all. Be selective and go for the ones with the best prizes. Since the specific meetings and managers change year to year, be sure to read it to check for anyone you love.
Best for Writers Seeking Mentorship
Sundance Screenwriters Intensive
For this prestigious program, you apply a year early—which means you can apply in 2020 to be at the program next year. Winners get to attend a 2-day intensive lab in Los Angeles where they’ll work one-on-one with established writers to get their script up to snuff and ready for production.
The Intensive is specifically for first-time writers from under-represented backgrounds and is focused on fostering community. They expect the script you enter to be a work-in-progress (but still, make it as good as you can—nothing sloppy).
Grand Prize: 2-day workshop in Los Angeles, including feedback sessions and one-on-ones.
Obligations: None, but you’re expected to pay your way to the LA Intensive (they do offer a “small stipend” for people from out of town).
Applicants: Unknown, but about 1,000 – 1,200 scripts make it to the second round within the Development Track (the Intensive is a sub-section of this).
Who Should Enter: This program is for writers from under-represented backgrounds (which they define as women, people of color, LGBTQI+, or writers with disabilities). International writers can apply, too.
Bottom Line: The Sundance Screenwriters Intensive is a very involved application since they’re really considering the entire writer—not just your script. So, the application is long and includes several short response questions. (If you are more experienced and have shorts or one feature under your belt, check out their Sundance Screenwriters Lab instead.)
Best for New or International Writers
BlueCat has been analyzing scripts for more than 20 years and has become a respected name within the film industry. They are an organization dedicated entirely to analyzing screenplays—no festivals, events, film production, etc.
It’s become a favorite among aspiring screenwriters since every single entrant automatically gets a free script analysis. Plus, they are incredibly supportive of international writers, automatically entering them to win an additional $2,500.
Types: Features, Teleplays, Shorts.
Costs and Deadlines: TBD, but here were the dates and costs for 2019 (winners announced in 2020).
- Early Bird: June 30 (Feature $50, Pilot $45, Short $35).
- Midsummer: August 4 (Feature $55, Pilot $50, Short $40).
- Regular: September 15 (Feature $60, Pilot $55, Short $45).
- Final: November 11 (Feature $65, Pilot $60, Short $50).
- Late: December 15 (Feature $70, Pilot $65, Short $55).
Feedback: Yes, a script analysis is included.
Grand Prize: $10,000 (for one winner across all categories), plus $5,000 for category winners.
Who Should Enter: Anyone can enter, as long as the script you’re submitting has not won anything before and you’ve never worked with Gordy Hoffman (founder of the contest). You don’t even have to be 18.
Bottom Line: BlueCat is an excellent contest to enter if you’re a first-time writer since everybody will receive a free analysis (which is a bargain at the price). International writers are eligible for an extra award, too!
Looking at Another Contest?
If you’re considering a contest that didn’t make our list, that doesn’t mean you should rule it out. There are tons of fantastic, high-quality competitions out there that are worth your time. For example, we also love:
- Humanitas New Voices
- Script Pipeline Screenwriting Contest
- Slamdance Screenplay Competition
- Middlebury Script Lab
- The Writers Lab
In order to determine if the contest you’re entering is a good one, be absolutely sure that you will retain the rights to your script. Beyond that, consider:
- Who is judging the contest? Is it anyone you admire?
- How much does it cost to enter? Anything more than about $75 is suspiciously expensive unless they’re offering extensive feedback.
- What do winners receive? Are there only grand-prize winners?
- What have their previous winners gone on to achieve?
- What do you hope to gain from the contest?
If you dig into all of those points and everything checks out, go for it!
Before You Submit . . .
After choosing a contest or two that you want to enter, be sure to triple-check the following:
- Do you meet all of the eligibility requirements?
- Is your screenplay in industry-standard format? If you are using Arc Studio Pro, that’s not a worry.
- Does your screenplay have any identifying information (name, address, contact information) and, if so, is that allowed?
- Have you gotten at least one other person to read it?
- Are you entering in the most-correct category for your script?
- Have you registered your script with the Writers Guild of America? (Not usually required, but highly recommended).
Remember, screenwriting contests are an excellent way to get feedback and put your name out there. But they also don’t singlehandedly determine what makes a script “good.” Some winners of major contests will peak there, while some scripts that got shut out from every contest will go on to win Oscars.
All that matters is that they motivate you to continue growing as a writer.
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