The Top Ten Screenwriting Contests To Enter In 2016

To learn how to become a screenwriter, screenwriting contests are a great way to get started.

Top screenwriting contests are one of the best ways to get noticed by agents and managers (especially if you don’t have many Hollywood connections).

Screenwriting Contests Overview

In my opinion, only a small number of screenplay competitions are worth entering.

Rather than entering all of the screenwriting competitions you can, I recommend that you focus on entering only the top screenwriting contests to which industry executives pay attention.

The following ten screenwriting contests are a viable avenue for getting representation and breaking in (especially for those who are outside LA).

First I’ll list the top screenwriting contests, then I’ll give you my strategy for entering them.

The Top Screenwriting Contests

The Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting and Austin Screenwriting Competition are the best screenwriting contests because many agents and executives read the winning scripts.

There is a proven track record of writers who have sold scripts, gotten representation, and launched their careers based on winning these screenwriting contests.

Academy Nicholl Fellowship

Deadlines for 2016:

  • Early Entry: March 7 ($40)
  • Regular Entry: April 18 ($55)
  • Late Entry: May 2 ($75)

Odds of winning (based on 2014 entries) 5 winners out of 7511 entries= .0006656

Austin Screenwriting Competition

Deadlines for 2016:

  • Feature Screenplay Regular: April 20 ($40)
  • Feature Screenplay Late: May 20  ($50)
  • Short Screenplay Regular: April 20 ($30)
  • Short Screenplay Late: May 20 ($40)
  • Teleplay Regular: April 20 ($30)
  • Teleplay Late: May 20 ($40)
  • Digital Series Regular: April 20 ($30)
  • Digital Series Late: May 20 ($40)

Odds of winning (based on 2014 entries) 10 winners out of 6764 entries= .0014784

Screenwriting Contests To Consider

BlueCat Screenplay Competition

Deadlines for 2016:

  • Early Entry: September 1 ($40)
  • Regular Entry: October 15 ($50)
  • Final Deadline: November 15 ($70)
  • Resubmissions: December 15 ($50)

PAGE International Screenwriting Awards

Deadlines for 2016:

  • Early Entry: January 15 ($39)
  • Regular Entry: February 15 ($49)
  • Late Entry: March 15 ($59)
  • Last Minute: April 15 ($69)

Scriptapalooza

Deadlines for 2016:

  • Early Entry: January 4 ($45)
  • First Entry: February 1 ($50)
  • Regular Entry: March 10 ($55)
  • Late Entry: April 15 ($60)
  • Final Entry: April 29 ($65)

Script Pipeline Screenwriting Contest

Deadlines for 2016:

  • Early Entry: March 1 ($50)
  • Final Entry: May 1 ($55)
  • Extended Entry: May 15 ($65)

Slamdance Screenplay Competition

Deadlines for 2016:

  • Early Entry: Mid-Feb to early April ($50)
  • Regular Entry: Mid-April to early June ($60)
  • Late Entry: Early June to Mid July ($70)
  • Withoutabox Extended Deadline: Late July

Sundance Screenwriters Lab

Deadlines for 2016:

  • Regular Entry: May 1 ($40)

TrackingB Feature Script Contest

Deadlines for 2016:

  • TV Script Regular Entry: March 27 ($85)

Tracking Board’s Launch Pad Competition

Deadlines for 2016:

  • Pilots Early Entry: January 15-31 ($65)
  • Pilots Regular Entry: February 1-29 ($75)
  • Pilots Late Entry: March 1-31 ($85)
  • Pilots Last Minute Entry: April 1-7 ($95)
  • Feature Early Entry: June 1-15 ($65)
  • Feature Regular Entry: July 16-August 15 ($75)
  • Feature Late Entry: July 16- August 15 ($85)
  • Feature Last Minute Entry: August 16- August 23 ($95)

Screenwriting contests

Why Enter Screenwriting Contests?

Screenwriting competitions are FANTASTIC motivators because of their rigid deadlines.

Lots of writers struggle with procrastination (do you?) and committing to even just one screenwriting contest deadline can be a big boost to your productivity.

“Because of the anticipated surge in submissions, we cannot guarantee access to the online application form during the last six hours before the entry deadline. –Submission Rules, Academy Nicholl Fellowship

Many people wait to submit until the final six hours of a screenwriting contest that happens once a year, so you aren’t alone struggling to get projects written and submitted.

Another reason to enter the top screenwriting contests is to stay motivated. Making it to a quarterfinal or semifinal or top 25% (or however they whittle down the standings) can prove to an aspiring writer that they’re doing something right.

My Advice On Screenwriting Contests

Choose a screenwriting contest and a deadline. Then, submit at least one script.

If the script gets recognized in any way (i.e., it doesn’t win but it makes the second round, or top 10%, etc), revise it and submit to three different screenwriting contests.

If the script doesn’t get recognized, put it on the back burner, and write something else.

Screenwriting Contest Strategy

The advice I just gave you is based on this strategy:

Instead of submitting multiple projects to several contests, you only make multiple submissions when you have objective evidence that your work is good enough to have a chance to win, and you spend more of your valuable time writing new material.

That’s plenty of work, I know. And it doesn’t take into account the aspects of how to be a professional writer that aren’t about writing.

But over time, if you write and submit at least one script every year to one of the best screenplay contests, you will get better, your material will get better, and your chances of success go up.

What Screenplay Contests Have You Entered?

Writing down a goal increases that chances that you’ll complete it. Who wants to commit to entering one of these screenwriting contests? Tell me in the comments which of these screenwriting competitions you are entering.

Do You Know the #1 Screenwriting Obstacle that is Holding You Back?

Screenwriting Breakthrough Quiz

Almost Every Screenwriter Struggles with 1 of 3 Common Obstacles. Take the Quiz to Find Out Yours.


Take 1 Min Quiz

Discussion About The Top Ten Screenwriting Contests To Enter In 2016

  1. Paul Wong

    To be honest for a while I was receiving emails from you and I was just filtering them thinking they were spam. But since I’ve been actively writing the last couple months, I realised those emails led to your blog about screenwriting. Some of the best hands on advice I’ve come across, very informative. I was originally planning on finishing this script by end of Feb, and looks like that will time right with some of these competitions.. guess I should enter them ;-).

  2. Betty

    My experience from asking all I pitch to and my writer friends.
    1. Nichols Fellowship
    2. Sundance Film Lab
    3. NBC Writers on the Verge
    and any network or channel contest
    4. Disney/ABC
    5. HBO now has one
    Check Jen Grisanti’s page for other TV
    6. Austin FF
    7. Happy Writers see Stage 32 over 400 executives follow I won and met lots of execs
    8. Trackingb Launchpad and their other script contest has executives watching
    9. Blacklist all watch this
    10. Final Draft (execs don’t mention but I have to believe they have big prize and guaranteed representation.
    11. LA Film Independent Screenwriting Lab
    Screencraft maybe
    Script Pipeline maybe
    Bluecat maybe
    Coverage In maybe
    Agents ask for scripts on the Tracking Board all the time. Try to get your script in circulation there.

    Best Pitching Places
    1. Happy Writers on Stage32.com
    2. Virtual Pitchfest
    3. Great American Pitchfest
    4. Inktip newsletter and event

    Others listed don’t hear about much

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Terrific comment, Betty. I didn’t include the fellowships and labs in this article, but you make a great point. Fellowships and labs are different from contests, in that they are designed to nurture and mentor writers to help them get professional work and they occur over a period of weeks or months. Some contests have a component of mentoring and meetings, but none are as in-depth as the fellowships or labs. In a list including all the fellowships, labs, and contests, I would put the major labs and fellowships (that you’ve mentioned here) above Nicholl, Austin, and the other contests.

  3. Alice

    Hi Stephanie!
    This article is a great resource and an inspiration for me to continue on with my writing. Being a new writer, I was a bit hesitant and I had a lot of questions in my head like, “How many drafts do I need to do before I enter my screenplay in a contest?”…and…”Gosh…so many writers out there…” and “…will my first ten pages hold the reader long enough?” and on and on. As my doubts crept in, I began to lose my confidence. (Not your problem, I know…)

    Then I happened to scroll down the replies and as synchronicity would have it, I happened to land on Craig James’ reply, which for myself, made a lot of sense to me and gave me a boost to keep going in small, incremental steps. Something doable and practical to satisfy my mind without feeling overwhelmed from the competition.

    I guess it just depends on each person – where they are at with themselves and how willing one is to go through the fire. It’s a good experience to learn from. Knowing that the odds are high, I still feel inspired to finish my work and submit it in a contest or whatever best comes forward for me to do as a next step.

    Your blogs serve as a point of grounded reference for me. You’re writing is straight forward with the facts yet is reader-friendly enough to keep me inspired regardless of the odds. The replies from other readers serves as a reminder for me to keep my eyes on my own work.

    With that, I hope one day to share with you that ecstatic excitement of receiving an offer for my screenplay and to thank you for inspiring all of us to continue perfecting our craft.

    Cheers,
    Alice

  4. Pertinax

    This is cool. News that you can use. Ditto to the practical advice too.

  5. Shari

    Stephanie,
    Thank you for this very helpful guide!!! Not only did you give some valuable info, but your many respondents have added much more. It’s a real gift to scriptwriters to put this all in one place, and prompt so may additional tips and comments.

  6. Liz

    Hi, Stephanie. Most of these contests are run by US-based companies. Can, let’s say, a UK-oriented script do well in such competitions?

  7. Nick Savides

    Hi Stephanie,

    Thanks for this. Shared it with the screenwriting group I help to organize. (We’re the Screenwriters Down South, in Baton Rouge.)

    I’ve been wary of contests in the past because I don’t think winning most of them always correlates with career success, but you make a valid point about motivation. Had the opportunity to visit the Austin Film Festival last year, which I enjoyed quite a bit, so I wrote down the deadline for that one. If nothing else, it might give me an excuse to visit again.

    -Nick

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Thanks, Nick. I agree that winning doesn’t always correlate with career success. I really enjoyed the Austin Film Festival too and highly recommend it for screenwriters.

  8. Ramman Gautam

    Hi,
    I live in England, may i still enter scripts or are foreign entries not allowed?

    Please do advise

    Kindest Regards
    Ramman Gautam

  9. Brian J. Atkins

    Hi Stephanie,
    really trying to move up to the current century anywho, would like to know what you think about the Industry Insider competition. It’s from the Writer Store and it’s the one where you submit a spec script based of a logline of their choosing. It has to be 15 pgs. I have been in at least three with no success. Do you think it’s a valid competition or reputable thanks again .

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I like the Writer’s Store and I think the Industry Insider competition is a fun idea. If I were running a graduate screenwriting program, I would use this technique to find students or as a part of the curriculum. As an film executive, though, when I was looking for new writers to hire, I much preferred reading original completed screenplays, rather than a script based on someone else’s idea. When looking for an original voice, scripts based on books, articles, TV shows, suggested prompts from a competition or other ancillary materials aren’t as strong a showcase as something that originated completely from one writer. There is always that question of, “How much of this script is good because the original work was good and how much is contributed by the writer who is adapting or interpreting the idea?”

  10. Derek

    After submission, am I allowed to go off and start my own independent production of the film whilst the contest runs? I am sure there are probably some specific competitions which do not allow it, but in general, is this something one can do? Or, for the most part, do you have let that script sit unproduced for a year?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      As far as I know, yes you can. Submitting it to a contest does’t mean that you can’t do anything with it while it is being considered. But as always, check with the rules and regulations of each competition.

  11. Keith Davidson

    Hi Stephanie,

    I’ve been quite successful with contests, but other than the Disney Fellowship they haven’t really advanced my career. Do you have some advice on how best to capitalize on contest wins?

    I’m currently hunting for a manager, and would like to use my winning the StoryPros contest a few weeks ago (Grand Prize winner from 977 entries) to persuade managers to read the script. Should I put “StoryPros Contest winner seeking representation” in the subject line of my email queries? Or do you have better suggestions on how to attract a manager? Any advice will be greatly appreciated!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  12. Patrick Gamble

    Hi

    I read your article and one thing I’m not in favor of is entering a script into one contest and only revising that script if it advances.

    Problem is it’s quite common for scripts to win one contest but not fair at all in others. Its not uncommon for a script to make the finals in one contest but not even make the quarters in another. I always fair well with scripts in some contests and not even make the first round in others. Why ? – not sure – I think some contests have different emphasis and different readers and although talent really counts having some bad luck getting a reader who’s inexperienced or not a fan of your genre or style could make or break your chances. So you’re right, you can’t enter every one of your scripts in the same contest – not with the current @##$#$ exchange rate – but you might have to play a waiting game and instead of entering your three or four current scripts into contests over the next three months maybe enter them over the next twelve months at least three times and also try and enter them in contests that favor your genre or page count etc. That way you can at least have three attempts before putting that script to bed.

  13. James

    Hello Stephanie, thanks for the information. Have you head anything about the Jameson First Shot Competition? http://www.jamesonfirstshot.com/ ? It looks like a great opportunity to put a first project on the resume. Is it common for contest winners to be required to sign over all rights? If I no longer own the rights would I not be able to submit the completed film to festivals or film contests? I have also heard that when someone sends over a release there is the ability to counter with a contract of my own. Is something like that acceptable or taboo?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi James. Yes, I have heard of Jameson First Shot and it is worth considering for those who have a short film script that meets the requirements. No, it is not common to sign over all rights for a screenwriting contest, but this the opportunity to have a short script made and that is different than the contests included on my list above.

      If you no longer own the rights, you would not be able to submit the film to festivals or contests. Expect that they will be able to make all decisions regarding the work and you will not have any power. They will want to make it successful (as this is what makes them look good), but it is unlikely to be how you would make the short film.

      Yes, it is possible to counter with a contract of your own in a negotiation, but for something like this, it’s very unlikely they would be willing to negotiate on their terms. Good for you for reading the small print! With the clear understanding of what you are signing away for the potential opportunity, you can decide if the terms work for you or if you’d rather not work within those parameters.

  14. Keith

    Asides from any tangible prizes, is there any benefit to entering such competitions if you already have an agent and/or manager?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Good question, Keith. If you win a major contest like the Nicholl or Austin, this can be a boost for your awareness with the press releases and executives do pay attention to the announcements of the winners. Often, agents and managers who represent the winners of the major contests will be able to schedule a bunch of meetings based on the “heat” of winning of a contest so they like it. In your case, I suggest asking your representation if they recommended you submit as you want to make sure you have a coordinated career launch strategy.

  15. Bryan Dick

    Writers might also want to consider submitting for the CineStory Feature Retreat, a nonprofit screenwriting organization.

    If you haven’t heard of us, we are smaller than some of the great organizations listed above but we are a passionate group who believes in what we do: nurturing emerging screenwriters through one-on-one time with industry mentors at the Retreat. Also, one writer is selected to be our Fellow where, along with some prize money, she/he is paired with 2 mentors who help navigate their careers over the next year.

    Two years ago, we discovered the script CAKE, written by our Fellowship winner that year Patrick Tobin, and another past Fellowship winner Daniel Barnz produced and directed the film which starred Jennifer Aniston. We just celebrated our 20th Anniversary and our Board Members include writer/producer Meg LeFauve (and to brag a little, that she’s up for an Academy Award this year for INSIDE OUT), writer Mark Fergus (IRON MAN, THE EXPANSE) and Susan Cartsonis (THE DUFF).

    Not only do you writers develop relationships with their mentors at the Retreat, they also have the chance to make great friendships with other writers from around the globe. Almost every year, we have a writer from the United Kingdom and Australia. In the past, attendees have hailed from Sweden, Japan and South Africa.

    To learn more about us, please visit our website: http://www.cinestory.org

  16. Rob Hestand

    Great list – I was a runner-up at Scriptapalooza and they’ve done a great job at getting my script out there and keeping in touch.

    And adding to the comments below, I was also a screenwriter having applied for the CineStory Fellowship, and was lucky enough to be selected to attend their Retreat in Idyllwild a few years back. The experience was unbelievable – it was like going to summer camp exclusive to amazing screenwriters, managers, agents and producers. You quickly develop a strong sense of community and support with the writers and mentors. I’ve been telling everyone about it ever since. I have writer friends and industry contacts that I still keep in touch with to this day – and it’s landed me writing gigs I would have never had access to before. That Retreat undoubtedly changed my entire professional life.

  17. Sara Mira

    Hi! I’m from europe and I want to ask you if I can enter in the Austin Film Festival by submiting a short screenplay.

  18. zahida

    Hi, Stephanie, does Final draft Big Break screenplay competition take entries outside of the US, Canada or UK. I live in Trinidad in the Caribbeand and wish to enter but i haven’t seen any info online. Please help, Stephanie. Thanks

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Zahida, I believe they do accept International entries, however, you should contact Final Draft Big Break directly to confirm before you submit your script.

  19. J.J. Maxwell

    Hi Stephanie. Being new to this I was interested in reading about these contests and plan to develop my script to enter either 2017 or 2018. I live in the UK so having access to the USA via such contests is a revelation.

  20. Randy O'Brien

    I’ve been at this a long time…four agents, a sf with the Nicholl and while I seem to be a good, maybe great writer, I don’t seem to write commercial scripts or novels. I’ve tried to do genre stuff, but they always ring false. Tried queries and websites…Blacklist and such…and relationships, but still stymied. Any other ideas?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Randy. Without knowing more specifics, it sounds like the issue is either the commercial viability of your material or the quality of relationships isn’t as strong as needed. Either of these factors can be a dealbreaker that can impede any potential sales. I appreciate your persistence and that is a key part of the puzzle that you have well in hand. Think about which of these two factors you think is more of the issue and start focusing there. Don’t give up yet, I can tell you have committed so much.