There are many screenplay contests available to the aspiring screenwriter. These contests can be a good avenue to getting one's work noticed and/or make a sale. So, it's important to make certain that you have written your screenplay to the best of your ability and according to industry standards.
The most important thing to do for any aspiring screenwriter is to first learn the basic techniques of screenwriting before sitting down to write one. I come across many hopeful writers who think that all it takes to write a script is a good story idea and a lot of explosive special effects. While a good story is important, with or without the special effects, writing that story using proper industry standards is equally important.
There are specific techniques to the craft of screenwriting involving everything from act structure to proper screenplay format, which must be followed. It's difficult to write engaging characters, focused plots and entertaining screenplays without having a solid framework in which to bring it all to life.
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Before any money is spent submitting your work to a screenwriting contest, it would behoove the writer to first educate himself in the "tools of the trade". There are many, many screenwriting books available as well as workshops and seminars, both online and in live classroom situations.
My advice is to take advantage of them.
Then, armed with the basics, write, write and then write some more.
Then before submitting your work to any screenplay competition have it copyrighted and WGA registered.
Advice and Suggestions
I am a judge for many contests and as such, have read thousands of TV scripts and screenplays. I can assure you that the winners are chosen because their screenplays or TV scripts contain great stories and are written to industry standards. Therefore, putting your best foot forward is a must. Below are some pointers to keep in mind before you submit your screenplay.
If your purpose is to "break into the business", make certain that the script contest you enter offers meetings with agents and/or producers as part of the prize for winning and not just cash prizes. Of course, if it is just the extra cash you're after, then go for it!
Make certain, before you write that entry fee check and send in your material, that the screenplay contest or TV script competition is a reputable one and indeed has, in the past, delivered to its winners what it promised in its promotion.
Presentation of your screenplay does count so make certain your screenplay follows the accepted industry standards. This not only includes using the proper screenplay format but also such things as a typo-free screenplay and the correct binding.
Keep in mind that the industry professionals who sponsor some of these film and TV competitions do so in order to find good producible material, hopefully for lower rather than higher budgets. Therefore, entering a screenplay in a genre with a story that screams "high budget" lessens the writer's chances of winning. This means that
Sci-fi special effects stories taking place on purple planets populated with giant, paisley-skinned, seven-armed, Plasmanian Wooglegorps who magically float through the air using anti-gravity belts or a 1920's Period Piece necessitating Model-T's, Zoot suits and flappers or an action/adventure story that has the bad guys blown to smithereens, along with their Lear jet, over the ocean, followed by a high-tech nuclear submarine underwater search and rescue mission while the oil slicked water burns out of control, may not be the best way to go.
Make certain that your story is told visually. Film is a visual medium.
sure you don't have "on the nose" dialogue or too much dialogue and that all the dialogue sounds natural.
Check to make sure that your characters are interesting, engaging and have good character arcs. Nothing worse than having an unlikable hero, a wishy-washy bad guy, or a protagonist who starts out angry at the world and by the end of the story is still angry at the world having learned and changed nothing in his nature.
Once you've gone through your screenplay and are satisfied with it, have it read by someone else. After all, your story is intended for a movie-going audience so honest opinions from friends and family members will give you a feel for that audience reaction.
Then do yourself a favor and have your screenplay read by an industry professional that has experience and good credentials in the area of script analysis. A writer can become too close to his work and not be able to "see the forest for the trees". It is to your advantage to have any possible format, story, character, dialogue and structure flaws found and corrected before it is submitted to a movie or TV script contest.
While there is never any guarantee your screenplay or TV script will be a winner, writing one to the best of your ability and which meets industry standards is a must, as the competition is fierce.
I wish you great success in your present and future story-telling adventures.