Screenwriting contests are a great way for screenwriters to break into the business. As contests and festivals pop up all over the country, amateur screenwriters now have many more opportunities to get their work noticed. However, before you enter any contest, be sure to follow a few simple guidelines.
Read the Fine Print
Before entering any contest, make sure you read the entire contest agreement. By submitting to the contest you are legally bound by these rules, and some of them may surprise you.
Some contests have clauses in their rules, similar to contracts, stating that if you should sell your script as a result of exposure from the contest either directly or indirectly, the contest providers are entitled to a portion of the sale. In one contest, the portion is 7% of the sale price if this amount is over $3,000.
“We Make Your Film” Contests
Many short script contests offer to make your film as their grand prize. While this may seem like a good offer, there are often strings attached. Some short script contests will make your film, but you will not direct it. This may not be a big deal for some, but it would come as a rude shock to others. In addition, some contests will let you direct if you win; however, the contest serves as producer of the film. This may give the contest the legal right to represent your film. In other words, the contest controls where you send your film and what contests you may enter. Still other contests will let you direct your film, but the contest is entitled to keep all money’s generated by your film.
Most screenwriting contests will not refund the application fee under any circumstances, so make sure you follow their submission guide to the letter. Otherwise, you may make a mistake in the submission process, eliminate your screenplay’s chances of success and still be out the submission fee.
The rule of thumb with screenwriting contests is to read the rules as though they are a contract. Make sure you have protected yourself and understand just exactly what you are getting into before submitting your script.
Protect Your Work
This should go without saying, but be sure to either copyright your screenplay or register it with the writer’s guild before entering the contest. Although copyright law indicates that a work is copyrighted when you write it, registering your copyright provides a legal record of authorship. Registering with the WGA is not as strong as registration with the Library of Congress, but it does offer some legal means to establish date of authorship. Remember that registering with the guild only lasts for five years for WGAw and ten with WGAe before you will have to update your registration.
Intellectual property theft doesn’t happen often with screenplay contests, but one look around the internet will indicate just how easy it is to steal intellectual property.
Keep a Contest Log
Be sure to keep a log of which contests you entered and what screenplay(s) you sent. A great way to organize your contest submissions is through withoutabox.com. This online company provides online tracking of your submissions and features listings of nearly every contest and festival throughout the world. The basic service is free. You can check them out by clicking HERE.
Research the Contest
Look online for information about the contest. Screenwriting contests come and go quickly. Usually you can find out how often a contest has existed. The older, more established contests are the best bets. They offer more stability and greater name recognition. Obviously the competition is greater, but so are the rewards. A contest win at a major contest carries much more weight than winning the 1st Annual Podunk Screenwriting Contest.
The bottom line with screenwriting contests is to protect yourself and your work. As a screenwriter those are the only two things you have to sell.