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Monday, January 9, 2012

Screenwriting Contest Do’s and Don’ts for 2012

2012 means another year of screenwriting contests. Is yours ready to be submitted?

Contests remain a great way for screenwriters to hone their craft and get attention from agents, managers and producers. The biggest contests have incredible cash prizes. The PAGE Awards grand prize is up to $20,000. And the field isn’t as crowded as one might think. But is your script ready to be judged?

DO get your screenplay proofed before sending it in. My biggest pet peeve as a script judge is a script littered with typos followed closely by one that’s full of formatting errors. This is basic. Failure to do this waves a big flag that says “I don’t care.” If a writer doesn’t care about the appearance of his script, what are the chances he cared enough with the content? That may sound unfair but there are now there are dozens of services that will professionally proofread and check your script for formatting. Speaking of which…

DON’T go another day without some kind of formatting software. Final Draft is the industry standard. Don’t have the money? Pick up a used version on eBay or download one of the free software packages from the net. Stop trying to make a properly formatted script in Word. Either you have the word processing skills to do that, in which case you should be able to afford Final Draft, or you do not have the skills and your script is going to look like a hot mess. Again this is basic. Contest fees alone will run you more than a copy of Final Draft. It’s another way, fair or unfair, that we judge who is taking this seriously and who isn’t.

DO look for a contest with multiple genre categories. I’m happy to say more and more major contests are becoming like PAGE or the Hollywood Screenplay Contest. It’s no longer one category fits all. This is great for genre writers. And here’s a tip, if you can, ask somebody at the contest which genre needs more entries. I guarantee there will be at least a few categories that are low. I’ve judged contests where some categories had entries numbered in the single digits. Can you say, improved odds of winning?

DON’T get hung up on one screenplay. It’s a new year. You should have a new script. You should have a bunch of new scripts. You want to be a screenwriter, not some guy who wrote ONE screenplay. Writing more screenplays is the only way a writer can improve.

DO start your story off quickly. The first act isn’t a pass to be dull and boring. A story starts with page one, word one. To win you have to be great from start to finish. But you’ll never get past the first round if you don’t grab the reader’s attention on the first page. Also make sure your mid point and ending are pretty good too!

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