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5 Screenwriter Tips for Contest Season

Updated: Jan 5, 2022

It's that time of year again: Contest Season!

As a contest reader, I see a lot of mistakes that writers can easily avoid. I know firsthand how stressful it is to apply to contests as I have helped several clients do so, so I've taken it upon myself to help make contest season less stressful, hopefully.

The fact is, whether you're a novice or a seasoned pro, many of us come into contest season unprepared. Sure, you have the script written, but are you actually ready?

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you submit your scripts to various contests, film festivals, and fellowships.

1. Have Your Scripts Ready

This one is a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many people don't have them ready to go. And when I say "ready," I mean the writer hasn't written the script yet.

I've seen it countless times. All you're doing is stressing yourself out by not having your material ready. It doesn't have to be award-winning. It needs to be written.

2. Proofread. Then Proofread Again

When I attended a film festival last year, I got a solid tip from writer Ed Solomon: Don't proofread or edit your script in the same place you wrote it. You have the same emotional cues when you're editing as when you're writing.

This means that you won't catch the glaring typos or plot holes in your story. When I tell you some of the typos I've seen in scripts, especially if it's a script that needs a lot of development work, typos make the script suffer.

I recommend doing two proofreading passes on your script: One for typos and one for formatting. Any of your friends who are writers can catch the typos, but find someone who knows how a script should look. (It doesn't have to be a script consultant, but seeking one out certainly doesn't hurt).

I can tell you firsthand as a contest reader that badly formatted scripts distract from the reading experience and determine whether or not the script advances to the next round.

3. Check Submission Requirements Carefully

OK. You've written your masterpiece. You've registered the script with the WGA. You're getting ready to submit it to the contest(s)/fellowship(s) of your choice. Look at the submission requirements.

For example, some contests will ask you to submit everything as one PDF file. If you're submitting images for a bio or for a pitch deck, you will need to ensure your file isn't over the size limit.

Many - not all - contests will ask you to remove all identifying information, including the WGA number from the cover page of your script. This is because contests want their readers to remain as unbiased as possible. All names, addresses, and any information about the writer should not be present on the title page.

For the contests I read for, I don't believe it disqualifies your script, but it does for many contests and fellowships.

4. Choose Your Spec Scripts Ahead of Time

If you're new here or not a screenwriter, a spec script is a speculative screenplay. The easiest way for me to explain a spec script? Think fanfiction for TV shows and movies.

The point of a spec script is to demonstrate that you can write in that show's style. It's much harder than it looks.

Like the Warner Bros. Television Writing Workshop, some fellowships require their applicants to write a spec script as part of the submission process. Warner Bros. has a list of accepted shows that writers can choose to create a spec script for.

My advice? Look at the Accepted Shows list and pick which show you want to spec ASAP. The idea is to pick a show you know inside and out and go from there.

5. Format Your Script Correctly

For those of you new to screenwriting: you cannot submit a script that you wrote in Microsoft Word as a Word document. Scripts require special formatting, and when it's not formatted correctly, it is challenging to read.

Microsoft Word has a script template, but you'll need to invest in screenwriting software if you plan to write scripts regularly. (Sidenote: I wouldn't rely on the script template in Word to write your script. As a former publishing professional who frequently uses Word, I can tell you that Word is fickle.)

Final Draft is the industry standard, but it can be expensive. There are other relatively inexpensive options that you can peruse at your leisure here. (Sidenote: Shonda Rhimes uses Movie Magic; Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin, the original writers of the live-action Mulan, exclusively use WriterDuet).

I hope you find these tips helpful and happy contest season!

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