You’re tempted to approach an agent, enter screenplay contests, or even self-fund… but is your screenplay ready?
At first, learning the screenwriting craft can feel pretty simple. In a few web searches you can learn how to save the cat, approach the inmost cave, and return with the elixir. Maybe all you need to know is a few keywords, like ‘change’, ‘conflict’, ‘resolution’, and before you know it, you and your first screenplay are ready for the industry. You think about approaching an agent, production company, entering screenplay contests, or applying to a film fund. But like most professions, screenwriting is a journey. There are constant setbacks, obstacles, and you likely need guidance to overcome them.
Who are you competing against when you enter Screenplay Contests?
If you feel ready to approach an agency, bear in mind that you’ll be competing with writers who are already working, graduates who have studied the craft for years, and writers who have acquired some industry buzz, either through a reputable film festival or screenplay contests. You may push on regardless, but there is the risk that you won’t stand out from the pack. You need to drop jaws, break hearts, and bring tears of laughter to the eyes of hardened agents.
Otherwise, it could be a no.
You may feel ready to enter a screenplay contest instead. You do your research and aim high, making sure that previous winners found success and a strong foothold in the industry.
However, like approaching an agency, or entering a high-tier film festival, the competition
remains tough. You may be up against writers who have just polished the fifteenth draft of their passion project. Depending on the contest, you’re potentially competing with writers who already have agents and broadcast credits too.
But why get permission from an agency when you can carve your own path? The idea of fundraising or producing your own material can be a thrilling, emboldening prospect, and it can work. Your finished film could qualify for high-tier festivals and give you the exposure and prestige you deserve. Or perhaps you will find a loyal audience by submitting to a VOD service, or going viral.
And yet, no matter which path you take, you will always be competing against the writers who are constantly working on their craft. The writers who have worked on multiple drafts of multiple scripts. The writers who have read countless pages of feedback that frustrated them, humbled them, and brought them back to the page time and time again. The writers who, through this process have become great.
Who wins Screenplay Contests?
We’ve all heard the story of the new writer who penned their first screenplay on a whim, sent it to screenplay contests or development schemes and skyrocketed to success. However, these stories are only popular and widespread because they are so unusual. We want to believe we are the exception, the hero who already has the elixir. But for most of us, the journey to completing that mind-blowing, zeitgeist-grabbing screenplay will be arduous. So before you knock on a reputable agent’s door, self-fund, or enter screenplay contests, ask yourself with brutal honesty: Is my screenplay ready? Am I ready?
There are people who can help you answer these questions. There are plenty of intensive and long-term courses taught by industry professionals. They may tell you what you think you already know, but what is obvious isn’t necessarily easy. As writers, we need to achieve elusive goals, like finding our voice, or writing a story that no one has seen before, but still feels familiar. These goals are rarely achieved overnight, and so there is nothing more valuable than mentors who can challenge you and guide you on a long, rewarding journey.
These courses do cost time and money, so alternatively, you could invest in professional feedback from coverage services and industry readers. One of the benefits of professional feedback is that you can slowly gather a pool of readers that understand you and push you in the right direction. You may receive feedback that is illuminating, or disheartening but providing you can hear hard truths and stand your ground when necessary, you should grow through this process and interaction.
Being ready requires patience, practice, and guidance. With hard work and a little luck, you should one day find yourself with a screenplay that wins the hearts of your readers. With the elixir in hand, you should be able to approach that agent, submit to those top screenplay contests, self-fund, and feel truly ready.