Save the Cat: The best screenwriting competitions to enter in 2019
So ya wanna be a screenwriter? You know all the risks: ink-stained fingers, RSI, demon directors, and a cutthroat industry – and it doesn’t phase you. You’ve spent hours toiling over that fantastic feature, sensational short, or perfect TV pilot and you’re thinking:
“What next? How do I go from undiscovered brokeass scribe to the next Ava DuVernay with a tasty, hundred-million-dollar deal in my back pocket?” The long answer is more than we’ve got time for today – but the short answer is: enter a reputable screenwriting contest, stat.
Screenwriting competitions are an amazing way for both emerging and established writers to knock on studio doors and get their work in front of industry pros. Contests can also help you find readers, fans, funding, and production partners.
We’re always here to lend a guiding hand, so we sifted through the filler to bring you this killer list of the top ten screenwriting contests, competitions, and fellowships you should spend your time and money on in 2019.
Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting
Okay, we know it makes us look like basic bitches, but come on, you can’t argue with Oscar gold. The Academy Nicholl Fellowship is one of the most prestigious contests on our list. The grand dame of international screenwriting competitions is established and run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship
Aspiring screenwriters, listen up! ScreenCraft’s Screenwriting Fellowship is now open for its 2019 edition. The storied screenwriting contest is dedicated to discovering fresh talent and connecting them with producers, agents, and managers.
We rank this contest so high on our list because it has a history of creating real results for its winners. The 2017 winner, Anna Klassen, signed with WME and earned a spot on The Black List.
Past winners have been hired by producers, optioned their projects to studios, and signed with top representatives at CAA, WME, 3 Arts Entertainment, United Talent Agency, Anonymous Content, Paradigm Talent Agency, Untitled, ICM, Bellevue Productions, Plattform and more. (You can read up about many of the past success stories here).
– No Film School declared, “This is a damn good opportunity.”
– THR advised, “Aspiring screenwriters, take note.”
– IndieWire recommended you “Jumpstart your writing career!”
– and we at Film Daily described this contest as “one of the most prestigious screenwriting competitions in the industry”.
To enter, just submit your feature film script or original television script over at ScreenCraft.
Over the past three decades, the fellowship has helped cultivate fresh writing talent and each year awards five lucky writers $35,000 fellowships. Fellowship winners also get to mingle at awards week ceremonies and generally brag for the rest of their life that they won an Oscar (sort of). The awards will open again in 2019, and we suggest you subscribe to their Facebook page for updates.
HBOAccess Writing Fellowship
What writer wouldn’t want to get their work in front of HBO executives? While we can’t promise you’ll become the next Lisa Joy, we do think it’s a good idea to enter the HBOAccess Writing Fellowship. The fellowship was “designed to give emerging, diverse writers the opportunity to develop a half-hour or hour script suitable for HBO or Cinemax.”
The program will be picking eight writers from a variety of diverse backgrounds to join masterclasses over at the HBO campus in Santa Monica come June 2019. Winners will get the chance to chew the fat with HBO execs, chill with HBO showrunners, and be given the space to “focus on the craft of writing including structure, story, and character as well as the business aspects of securing an agent and effective networking.”
Now let’s be real – we marked down this opportunity because, even though the prize is nice (a 10-month mentorship program + the possibility of seeing your script get produced), a lot of writers we know be broke and most other contests are offering dollar dollar bills as prizes. Still, this program could be life-changing for some. It opens on Feb. 6th, 2019 and you can enter over at FilmFreeway here.
WeScreenplay might be Hollywood’s #1 script coverage service, offering five pages of feedback on your screenplay, TV pilot, or short for a recession-busting $69. Their screenwriting contests are not to be sniffed at, either. Our favorite is the Diverse Voices competition, which encourages stories told from perspectives often underrepresented in Hollywood.
Writers of color, LGBTQI writers, writers with disabilities, female writers, and writers over the age of 40 are all encouraged to apply. Winners get cash prizes and the opportunity to participate in an intensive screenwriting lab.
Their flagship contest is the WeScreenplay Feature contest, currently open for submissions. This contest provides valuable written feedback for every entrant plus $20,000 in cash prizes for the winners. The most valuable part of the prize package in our minds is winners having their scripts distributed around a network of industry professionals.
We absolutely love WeScreenplay’s script coverage and think you could do a lot worse than entering any of their contests just to get your hands on their helpful notes.
Austin Film Festival Teleplay & Screenplay Contest
The Austin Film Festival aims to kick open the doors to Hollywood with their screenwriting contest by creating a community for new screenwriters. Folks absolutely love this screenwriting contest – it’s one of the highest rated on FilmFreeway (RIP Withoutabox).
The competition creates opportunities for entrants to develop their careers in the film & TV world by taking advantage of this growing network. AFF is closed at the moment, but last year they distributed cash prizes from $500 to $2500. Like many other awards, they boast panels of judges from storied entertainment companies like Focus Features, Lightstorm Entertainment, CAA, and more.
The contest was open from March to May in 2018, so make sure you bookmark their webpage to take advantage of their early bird entry fees.
Sundance Screenwriters Lab
The Sundance Screenwriters Lab is probably the most famous of all screenwriting labs. This contest gives winners a way for writers to get their foot in the door of the Sundance Film Festival, and maybe even get a shot at the Director’s Lab and other Sundance grants.
The lab is a five-day writer’s workshop that gives indie screenwriters the chance to work on their feature film scripts with the support of a mentor network of established writers in an environment that focuses on the art and craft of screenwriting and creative risk-taking. The 2019 lab is closed, but the 2020 applications will open soon. Make sure you sign up for their newsletters so you can be one of the first to apply.
Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest
Final Draft is one of the biggest brands in screenwriting, and whether you love or loathe their software, chances are you’ve probably heard of them. This annual, global screenwriting contest is designed to act as a launchpad for the careers of aspiring writers.
You can enter in seven feature categories and four TV categories. The Big Break Screenwriting Contest winners share a whopping $80,000 in cash and prizes, also getting the VIP treatment by being flown to LA LA land to meet with managers, producers, and executives.
The Tracking Board Launch Pad
The Tracking Board’s Launch Pad screenwriting competitions boast a strong track record of helping the winners and finalists break into the industry. According to their statistics, they’ve created a platform that’s helped more than 254 writers launch their careers to press.
Utilizing their three competitions – pilots, features, and manuscripts – as well as their coverage services, The Tracking Board Launch Pad provides a hub that reaches beyond a simple prize with your name listed on a site. The Launch Pad is a community of writers, executives, agents, managers, and producers working together with one focus in mind: writing and distributing great content. If you want to further your craft, this is the perfect contest for you.
Slamdance Screenplay Competition
The Slamdance Screenplay Competition opens in February 2019 and is one to mark in your calendar. The festival started for fun in 1995 has since become one of the biggest and most respected names in the business (despite the satirical name).
Slamdance’s screenplay contest is dedicated to discovering emerging writing talent and has established a very strong track record over the years. Submit work in every genre, on any topic, from anywhere on this earth. You’ll get basic feedback, or you can pay more for in-depth coverage services.
Last year’s regular contest ran until June 11. If the dog always eats your homework, you’ll be pleased to hear late entries are accepted until July 23. Last year, Slamdance handed out a respectable $16 grand in cash prizes. The Grand Prize winner gets an $8000 production budget in his or her hot little hands so they can see their written work up on the silver screen (eventually).
PAGE International Screenwriting Awards
2019 marks PAGE International Screenwriting Awards contest’s 16th anniversary. Submissions open on December 1st 2018, and if last year is anything to go by, you’ll have until around May 2019 to enter.
The PAGE rewards are ?, with a tidy $50,000 being handed out in cash and prizes. The veteran contest boasts the industry’s most influential producers, agents, managers, and development executives as judges. Previous winners have gone on to all types of success, writing movies like Maggie and The Judge, and have joined heady writers rooms of shows like The Walking Dead, Bates Motel, and Sleepy Hollow.
If you’re looking for other competitions, fellowships, and labs to get your screenplay out there, we want to encourage you to hit the ground running. We absolutely recommend you check out Coverfly. It’s a screenplay submission platform that curates the best screenwriting talent discovery programs, all in one place. Using it will cut down your research time in a big way.