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SimplyScripts Screenwriting Discussion Board  /  Contests - Screenwriting and Filmmaking  /  2017 Screenplay Competition Experiment
Posted by: pauljwilliams9, December 14th, 2017, 11:18pm
Hi, I've been a member here for several years, check in several times a week, but never posted much in the forums. I'd like to share this with you:

So, I hadn’t entered any screenplay contests in several years and wanted to give it another go. With this in mind, I decided to try to answer the age-old questions of novice screenwriters: “Are screenplay contests worth it?” and “Which ones should I submit to?” I decided to conduct a simple and as-scientific-as-possible experiment for 2017: Submit the same draft of three different scripts to seven different contests; some you’ve heard of, others maybe not. The results were interesting.


A quick breakdown of the three scripts:

-Script 1 (Ironbound): A polished police-crime-drama originally written/re-written between 2008 and 2010, that’s previously placed in several contests, including ones I entered for this experiment. Violence, foul language, no nudity/sex.

-Script 2 (Rolling Dark): A second draft of an urban crime-drama that’s more drama than crime, and only entered into a couple contests in the past. Foul language; very light on any violence for this genre; no nudity/sex.

-Script 3 (Pray For Me): A first draft crime/horror “documentary”, much like the true-crime documentaries that have become popular over the past few years, that has never been entered into any contests. Admittedly niche and not for everyone; it’s very violent, but no foul language or nudity/sex.


In random order, here are the contests entered and the results:

-Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition: None advanced to the Quarterfinals; $150 in entry fees

-PAGE International Screenwriting Awards (“Ironbound” was a Quarterfinalist in 2008): None advanced to Quarterfinals; $120 in entry fees

-Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting: “Rolling Dark” advanced to the Quarterfinals (Top 361 out of 7,102 entries); other two scripts did not advance; $135 in entry fees

-Scriptapalooza International Screenplay Competition (“Ironbound" was a Semifinalist in 2008): None advance to the Quarterfinals; $150 in entry fees

*-BlueCat Screenplay Competition: “Ironbound” not eligible; the other two scripts did not advance to the Quarterfinals; $90 in entry fees

-Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition: “Pray For Me” advanced to the Semifinals; other two scripts did not advance; $135 in entry fees

-Slamdance Screenplay Competition: None advanced to the Quarterfinals; $165 in entry fees


*BlueCat was the most unique and frustrating experience out of all the competitions. First, “Ironbound” was ineligible to be submitted because BlueCat has the proviso: “Screenplays that have been submitted to any competition or contest prior to February 1, 2015 are not eligible.” That one was new to me. Second, while they provide fairly lengthy reader’s comments for each entry, the comments I received were, how to say it scientifically,…horseshit.

Examples from “Rolling Dark”: “How far into the future are we?” The reader thought this story takes place in some future post-apocalyptic setting, yet there are many present-day references to 2008, the Iraq War, the Great Recession, even fuckin’ Oprah Winfrey. Then he/she concludes with: “Eddie [the protagonist] is a notorious criminal who they’ve [the police] been chasing for one reason or another throughout the whole story. Now that they have him, he just gets to go free?” The reader is referencing a joke the top-cop makes to a subordinate about letting Eddie go. Four pages later, Eddie is in federal custody and deported back to his native Guyana.

Examples from “Pray For Me”: “Was Alex lying about her father beforehand? This is not clear, and leads to further confusion.” Yes, Alex is on death-row and the story is first told by her, only later to be revealed to be all lies. And this oldie but goodie from all screenplay gurus: “Give us a character with a mission and set them rolling down the path.” The movie is about a documentary film-maker doing a story about crimes in the town she grew up in, and dies in the process.


Quick Analysis:

-I only advanced in the two contests that are, arguably, the most significant.
-Total amount spent on entry fees: $945.00.
-Those two “significant” contests have the cheapest entry fees.
-Three of these contests provide reader’s comments as part of their entry fee (Austin, BlueCat, and Slamdance).
-My two newer scripts fared better than the “polished” and proven script.


So, make of these results what you will. To me, some of it seems fairly obvious. I’d love to know what you think. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Happy Holidays,

Paul
Posted by: Marty, December 14th, 2017, 11:43pm; Reply: 1
Paul,

That was a pretty neat experiment you did there. Thank you for sharing it with us.

I think it goes to show that screenplays are subjective and dependent on the individuals reviewing them.

Congratulations on the advancement in the Nicholls and Austin competitions. That's a great accomplishment there.

All the best,
Marty
Posted by: Dustin, December 15th, 2017, 3:07am; Reply: 2
I figured this out a while ago. I could tell from the feedback that the person providing it wasn't very bright. They often don't write very well - with no voice and poor grammar. Back in 2014, I was a BBC Writer's Room finalist and a Shore Scripts semi-finalist... and this is the feedback to which I refer. It was wholly positive... however, quite inept.

So, you see, it's not because I'm bitter, I genuinely found the feedback unsatisfactory and this prevented me from entering more. Now, instead of crossing my toes in the hope some comp is going to get me through the door, I put the work in myself.
Posted by: Scar Tissue Films, December 15th, 2017, 3:23am; Reply: 3
The feedback from festivals is variable at best.

Potentially sexist comment of the day: The women who provide feedback (even though it's anonymous you can tell by the use of language) tend to be a million times better than the men, who don't seem to understand basic things.

The feedback I got from Nicholls from a female reader was way beyond the call of duty, she analysed the  whole script trying to suggest improvements because she said she loved it and it was almost there just something was missing.

The guy who 'read' it didn't have a clue, to put it kindly. I got about three lines and two of them seemed to be based on something he'd imagined was in there, but wasn't.

I noticed the same in the Blue Cat.

My sample size is obviously small, so pretty prone to error, but I get the impression that the lads just something them whilst watching TV, miss all the subtext and everything else, make up any bollocks and move on as quickly as they can to get the money in.

Still, as imperfect as they are... They're something.
Posted by: _ghostwriters, December 15th, 2017, 6:41am; Reply: 4
@ the OP,

Reading is very subjective.   Most readers for contests are not professionals and are average writers themselves.   Some might have been produced, most not.  So take the advice that you feel works and disregard the other stuff.

Ghostie
Posted by: pauljwilliams9, December 15th, 2017, 6:17pm; Reply: 5
Thanks, Marty, I appreciate your kind words.

I received six (I believe) readers' comments from Nicholls. They were excellent, even the ones that overall passed on the script.

Yeah, in the end, of course it's all completely subjective. You have no idea what reader you'll get, who they are, what they've done, haven't done, education, experience, mood they're in, etc.  That's the X factor to this whole equation.
Posted by: eldave1, December 15th, 2017, 8:10pm; Reply: 6
Starting with BlueCat.  Will never do another entry with them. They're either idiots or they don't care. A few years ago they added a requirement that any script that was posted on-line anywhere was ineligible. I corresponded with them regarding the lunacy of that requirement given the plethora of sites - like this one - where amateurs (the very clients they are trying to lure) post their scripts. They didn't give a crap. I see now that this requirement has been removed.

Not to rest on their laurels - they added an equally ridiculous requirement.  This:

If a submitted script becomes optioned, produced or purchased between the time of submission and the end of the judging period, that script will no longer be eligible.


WTF? Are you kidding? Who would enter a contest with this requirement and what effing sense does it make to even have it.

I have been long done with these guys and will never enter.

The contests I like our PAGE, Nicholls, Shore, TrackingB and Scriptapoolza. I never buy notes as I don't know who the reader is and if it don't advance - then I know there were problems.

I have the same experience as you do in terms of consistency. In 2017 I submitted three scripts to PAGE and three to Nicholls. All three made at least the quarters in PAGE. Two made the semis and one finished 2nd in it's category. None of these made the Nicholls quarters. I have no idea what the reason for the different level of success is.
Posted by: pauljwilliams9, December 15th, 2017, 8:30pm; Reply: 7
Yeah, I never had any success with BlueCat. I have personal friends with similar stories regarding their readers' comments, and a look around some screenwriting forums displays many writers unsatisfied with Gordy and his contest.

I also have a friend who was a BlueCat finalist in 2007, so her experience, obviously, has been different.

Either way, I think my BlueCat days are behind me.
Posted by: eldave1, December 15th, 2017, 8:31pm; Reply: 8

Quoted from pauljwilliams9
Yeah, I never had any success with BlueCat. I have personal friends with similar stories regarding their readers' comments, and a look around some screenwriting forums displays many writers unsatisfied with Gordy and his contest.

I also have a friend who was a BlueCat finalist in 2007, so her experience, obviously, has been different.

Either way, I think my BlueCat days are behind me.


I think that it wise
Posted by: Anon, December 16th, 2017, 5:28pm; Reply: 9
After coming second in a lesser known comp quickly realized most were pointless. Only entered the Nicholl after that - as their mantra is 'it's all about the writing fuck how commercial it is'. I'm paraphrasing but that's about it. They're basically looking for good writers - end of.

I'll not be entering any more contests but in my limited experience the Nicholl was the only one about talent rather than making money.
Posted by: pauljwilliams9, December 16th, 2017, 10:28pm; Reply: 10

Quoted from Anon
After coming second in a lesser known comp quickly realized most were pointless. Only entered the Nicholl after that - as their mantra is 'it's all about the writing fuck how commercial it is'. I'm paraphrasing but that's about it. They're basically looking for good writers - end of.

I'll not be entering any more contests but in my limited experience the Nicholl was the only one about talent rather than making money.


Yeah, my Nicholl's comments were excellent. As I said earlier, even the readers in the Semifinal round, that ultimately passed on the script advancing further, provided great notes. Very helpful.

With that said, speaking of contests in general, I have a friend who was a Nicholl's finalist and nothing happened with him or the script. Granted this was seventeen years ago and the world is completely different now, so that could be the difference.
Posted by: MarkRenshaw, December 18th, 2017, 3:11am; Reply: 11
Thanks for doing this experiment Paul and for posting your notes. This very much clarifies what I already suspected, that these competitions are very much a lottery. Just like the lottery, it's run like a business to make money. It's a pity there isn't a non-profit organisation out there who genuinely want to encourage creativity.

I never pay for coverage notes but if they come free, I will gladly accept. I've noticed with my BlueCat entries so far, the feedback is brief and they try to put a nice spin on things but I've not found anything they've mentioned particularly useful.  

Oh, and just thought I'd mention this. At the London Screenwriting festival I attended last year there was a session with a bunch of agents. They admitted the only writers they check out from competitions are the winners/finalists of the Nicholl Fellowship.
Posted by: eldave1, December 18th, 2017, 11:25am; Reply: 12

Quoted from MarkRenshaw
Thanks for doing this experiment Paul and for posting your notes. This very much clarifies what I already suspected, that these competitions are very much a lottery. Just like the lottery, it's run like a business to make money. It's a pity there isn't a non-profit organisation out there who genuinely want to encourage creativity.

I never pay for coverage notes but if they come free, I will gladly accept. I've noticed with my BlueCat entries so far, the feedback is brief and they try to put a nice spin on things but I've not found anything they've mentioned particularly useful.  

Oh, and just thought I'd mention this. At the London Screenwriting festival I attended last year there was a session with a bunch of agents. They admitted the only writers they check out from competitions are the winners/finalists of the Nicholl Fellowship.


There is some truth to this - I got far more queries from a quarter finalist finish in Nicholls then anything else - have got hits from PAGE - but not until I placed.
Posted by: khamanna, December 18th, 2017, 12:47pm; Reply: 13
Nicholls says on their site that only 5 percent of all entries reach the quarters with just 2 the semis. And I've heard that for Page it's 10 percent but not sure. Don't know about the others.

I also always thought that Nicholls had the lowest fee of all. The starting fee used to be $35 which is pretty low. Austin has good fees as well.

Interestingly they all receive a similar number of entries. Nicholls doesn't have more in than say BlueCat. Maybe in the past, it did, but now it evened out more or less.
Posted by: Shakey, December 18th, 2017, 1:47pm; Reply: 14
That is really interesting - thanks for sharing.

I had a conversation with a friend (IRL) about this. He said the same is true of films, let alone scripts.

The filtering process by which the work is judged is far weaker than the work itself.

That is, there's some great films out there that never got distribution even after getting through to a first edit. Lots of reasons... not the right actors attached, director without known credentials, production entity loses focus, out of money, etc., etc., etc.

Withnail & I, for instance, could have been ditched early on. Now a cult classic.

Sigh. Do good things float to the surface? I mean, I know that *some* things always float to the surface. Just not sure if they're always the good things.

Hard work is still the only way... obvs. Oh, and nepotism.

... and some other stuff. Possibly.
Posted by: Dustin, December 18th, 2017, 2:02pm; Reply: 15

Quoted from Shakey

I mean, I know that *some* things always float to the surface. Just not sure if they're always the good things.


I can tell you for a fact that they're not always the good things. We need only look at some of the ultra low budget British gangster films that gain distribution. A lot of the time it's down to who you know... well, that and your ability to make people's lives very unpleasant if they don't do as you've politely asked them to.
Posted by: JohnI, December 18th, 2017, 2:16pm; Reply: 16
gonna apply to page and nicholls - want two others - what would you suggest?
Posted by: eldave1, December 18th, 2017, 2:43pm; Reply: 17
Shore, Scriptapoolza, Austin are fine IMO
Posted by: Don, December 18th, 2017, 3:56pm; Reply: 18
Paul,

This is resource gold.  Thank you for posting this information.  I get a lot of requests to promote contests, but I don't get much feedback on the efficacy of them.

John,

Also, one can look up reviews of the contests at MovieBytes: https://moviebytes.com/directory.cfm

Very good resource.

Don


Posted by: Rimgaudas, December 18th, 2017, 4:19pm; Reply: 19
Very interesting experiment.
And what about sending query letters to hundreds of produces?
Posted by: MarkRenshaw, December 19th, 2017, 4:40am; Reply: 20
Posted by: Colkurtz8, December 24th, 2017, 9:45am; Reply: 21
I've only entered Bluecat and Reel. The former offered some semi decent notes while the latter had so many pedantic rules and regulations, mainly related to formatting, that I didn't make much headway.

Has anyone ever entered Reel? I would be interested to hear other testimonials.
Posted by: pauljwilliams9, December 30th, 2017, 6:39pm; Reply: 22

Quoted from MarkRenshaw
Thanks for doing this experiment Paul and for posting your notes. This very much clarifies what I already suspected, that these competitions are very much a lottery. Just like the lottery, it's run like a business to make money. It's a pity there isn't a non-profit organisation out there who genuinely want to encourage creativity.

I never pay for coverage notes but if they come free, I will gladly accept. I've noticed with my BlueCat entries so far, the feedback is brief and they try to put a nice spin on things but I've not found anything they've mentioned particularly useful.  

Oh, and just thought I'd mention this. At the London Screenwriting festival I attended last year there was a session with a bunch of agents. They admitted the only writers they check out from competitions are the winners/finalists of the Nicholl Fellowship.


I'm sure the agents in London are representative of most: they'll only check out winners or finalists in the top three, maybe five, competitions. But, I have a friend who was a Nicholl finalist years ago that didn't result in anything, and friend of a friend was a winner several years ago and nothing became of that either.
Posted by: pauljwilliams9, December 30th, 2017, 6:44pm; Reply: 23

Quoted from khamanna
Nicholls says on their site that only 5 percent of all entries reach the quarters with just 2 the semis. And I've heard that for Page it's 10 percent but not sure. Don't know about the others.

I also always thought that Nicholls had the lowest fee of all. The starting fee used to be $35 which is pretty low. Austin has good fees as well.

Interestingly they all receive a similar number of entries. Nicholls doesn't have more in than say BlueCat. Maybe in the past, it did, but now it evened out more or less.


Each year, it seems, more and more scripts are registered, and contest entries always increase. I found it interesting that Nicholl and Austin charged the lowest fees.
Posted by: pauljwilliams9, December 30th, 2017, 6:48pm; Reply: 24

Quoted from Shakey
That is really interesting - thanks for sharing.

I had a conversation with a friend (IRL) about this. He said the same is true of films, let alone scripts.

The filtering process by which the work is judged is far weaker than the work itself.

That is, there's some great films out there that never got distribution even after getting through to a first edit. Lots of reasons... not the right actors attached, director without known credentials, production entity loses focus, out of money, etc., etc., etc.

Withnail & I, for instance, could have been ditched early on. Now a cult classic.

Sigh. Do good things float to the surface? I mean, I know that *some* things always float to the surface. Just not sure if they're always the good things.

Hard work is still the only way... obvs. Oh, and nepotism.

... and some other stuff. Possibly.


Yeah, I've heard this, too: films are getting produced, most with high production and story quality, but can't find any distribution outlets. Even if they're screened at festivals, still no interest. Sign of the times, I suppose.
Posted by: pauljwilliams9, December 30th, 2017, 6:50pm; Reply: 25

Quoted from JohnI
gonna apply to page and nicholls - want two others - what would you suggest?


Austin Film Festival, definitely. Whether you advance or not, making the trip to Austin is worth it, too. But, truth be told, I was a semifinalist there this year and not much has become of it.
Posted by: pauljwilliams9, December 30th, 2017, 6:53pm; Reply: 26

Quoted from Don
Paul,

This is resource gold.  Thank you for posting this information.  I get a lot of requests to promote contests, but I don't get much feedback on the efficacy of them.

John,

Also, one can look up reviews of the contests at MovieBytes: https://moviebytes.com/directory.cfm

Very good resource.

Don





Thanks, Don, and you're welcome. I had the privilege of meeting Frederick Mensch, who runs MovieBytes and is a screenwriter himself, at Austin Film Festival this year. He was a humble, helpful guy.

If you have any questions about this "experiment", please let me know.
Posted by: pauljwilliams9, December 30th, 2017, 6:57pm; Reply: 27

Quoted from Rimgaudas
Very interesting experiment.
And what about sending query letters to hundreds of produces?


I did the query letter thing (literally with envelopes and stamps) years ago and nothing became of it. I might send out a query email to a company that accepts unsolicited material every now and again, but not too often. I attended a panel with agents and managers at Austin Film Festival this year, and all said they won't consider any new writers unless introduced by a current client.
Posted by: pauljwilliams9, December 30th, 2017, 6:58pm; Reply: 28

Quoted from Colkurtz8
I've only entered Bluecat and Reel. The former offered some semi decent notes while the latter had so many pedantic rules and regulations, mainly related to formatting, that I didn't make much headway.

Has anyone ever entered Reel? I would be interested to hear other testimonials.


I'm not familiar with Reel, but I'm very familiar with BlueCat.
Posted by: MarkRenshaw, December 31st, 2017, 7:23am; Reply: 29

Quoted from Colkurtz8
I've only entered Bluecat and Reel. The former offered some semi decent notes while the latter had so many pedantic rules and regulations, mainly related to formatting, that I didn't make much headway.

Has anyone ever entered Reel? I would be interested to hear other testimonials.


I got to the Finals of Reel in 2015 for a short script and ended up with a Top Pick award. The organisers contacted me to say they would be sending my script out to 100 production companies. I asked them to send me a copy of the cover letter so I'd have a template I could use for my own queries, which they agreed to but they never did and I didn't get a single query email from anyone. I don't know if this means they didn't do it or the 100 production companies all passed on my script but I've not entered since.

Posted by: Colkurtz8, December 31st, 2017, 1:51pm; Reply: 30

Quoted from MarkRenshaw


I got to the Finals of Reel in 2015 for a short script and ended up with a Top Pick award. The organisers contacted me to say they would be sending my script out to 100 production companies. I asked them to send me a copy of the cover letter so I'd have a template I could use for my own queries, which they agreed to but they never did and I didn't get a single query email from anyone. I don't know if this means they didn't do it or the 100 production companies all passed on my script but I've not entered since.



- Yeah, I remember they deducted points for not using FADE IN: at the beginning. I knew then I'd backed the wrong horse, so to speak. That is pretty demoralising no one got back to you. Lets hope, in a way, they didn't send it out  ;) Annoying they wouldn't share their the cover letter template either, if it did exist. Anyway, congrats on getting where you did in the comp. Is the script on here?
Posted by: MarkRenshaw, December 31st, 2017, 3:04pm; Reply: 31

Quoted from Colkurtz8


- Yeah, I remember they deducted points for not using FADE IN: at the beginning. I knew then I'd backed the wrong horse, so to speak. That is pretty demoralising no one got back to you. Lets hope, in a way, they didn't send it out  ;) Annoying they wouldn't share their the cover letter template either, if it did exist. Anyway, congrats on getting where you did in the comp. Is the script on here?


Surprisingly yes there is! It's an old draft but valid enough:

http://www.simplyscripts.com/scripts/AutomaticDrive.pdf

I've since updated it and incorporated it into a one hour pilot episode for a TV series I'm developing which I've just started entering into competitions. It reached the semi-finals of Cinequest so I'm hoping it will do well.
Posted by: Colkurtz8, January 1st, 2018, 9:21am; Reply: 32

Quoted from MarkRenshaw


Surprisingly yes there is! It's an old draft but valid enough:

http://www.simplyscripts.com/scripts/AutomaticDrive.pdf

I've since updated it and incorporated it into a one hour pilot episode for a TV series I'm developing which I've just started entering into competitions. It reached the semi-finals of Cinequest so I'm hoping it will do well.


- Yep, I remember reading that and liking it, clever idea. I think I said it could only be realised as an animation, live action would be infeasible. I can see how it would do good in competitions though, going primarily on concept. It could well be the future too, scary.
Posted by: Anon, January 2nd, 2018, 2:37pm; Reply: 33
Reel is definitely a joke. Although the reader notes seem genuine enough my first feature got second place and the prize money was only just over the entry fee.
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