Monday, July 17, 2006

Call me what you will...just don't call me listless.

(Photo of me, my brothers, and my aunt on our family's green chair once upon a time. It's the inspiration behind my website's name: Green Chair Pictures. This is the first of many pictures taken on that indomitable green chair that connects the dots as we grew up and added to our own families over the years.)

New York Screenwriter Online once listed industry recognized competitions, until they were purchased by Creative Screenwriting. No word yet if CS plans to continue the tradition.

Therefore, by popular request, I have typed up my last known NY Screenwriter list. Use it as a guide when evaluating any competition. My students at the University of New Hampshire and I have counted on the list as a great place to start, but we have ventured off list when entering the occasional short script competition or a local contest…always referring to the criteria below as we evaluate whether or not the contest entry fee is a wise investment.

The following criteria were used in establishing the list:
1. Industry recognition (just that: people in the biz take notice when the winners are announced, or if your query arrives noting that you won the such-and-such competition, which obviously means you know your craft; these competitions can launch a career)
2. Verifiable winners (Not dead people or random names from the telephone book)
3. Industry recognized judges (agents, producers, development execs)
4. Substantial award or benefits (not just cash awards of $1000 or more, but publication of winners, workshops or writing labs, exposure to the industry, all of which leads to production--and distribution!--for at least some of the winners or runner-ups; all-expense paid trips to pitch to/meet with studio execs is deemed especially good)
5. Verifiable contact information (no PO boxes of hack-operations, phones and e-mail addresses that work…)
6. Sponsorship by an industry recognized organization (Joe’s Film Emporium* probably wouldn’t count, nor would Green Chair Pictures; however an established film festival, a studio, a large company is good. *JFE is supposed to be a fictitious example, no offense to Joe(s) if his(their) emporium(s) really exists….)
7. Reasonable entry fee (usually below $50, however if the contest includes script coverage—which can cost about $200 to $300—then a bit over $50 is acceptable)

The Approved contests were then rated based on how well they met the criteria:

**** - Premiere Competition – meets or exceeds all criteria
*** - Top Competition – meets all the criteria
** - Featured Competition – meets most of the criteria
* - Recommended Competition – meets enough of the criteria to qualify

Unfortunately, the ratings were embedded in the contest descriptions, which one would have to click to from the list. I printed a few of them to share with my students as examples, so I’ve noted those below. Each description also included due dates, prizes, entry fees, and...a website. For the list below, you’ll have to Google the ones you’re interested in learning about (sorry).

The list:

Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship
American Cinema Foundation Screenwriting Competition
American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest
Asian American International Film Festival Screenplay Competition
Austin Heart of Film Screenplay Competition – 4 stars
Austin Film Festival Prime Time Television Competition
Chesterfield Film Company Writer’s Film Project – 4 stars
Cinequest San Jose Film Festival Screenplay Competition
Cinestory Screenwriting Awards
Cynosure Screenwriting Awards – 2 stars
Film in Arizona Screenwriting Competition
Gordon Parks Independent Film Awards
IFP/Chicago Production Fund
IFP/LA Screenwriters Lab
IFP Market – Emerging Narrative Section
IFP MSP/McKnight Artist Fellowship for Screenwriters
IFP Screenwriting Award
International Family Film Festival Screenplay Competition
Mania Fest Screenplay Competition
Monterey County Film Commission Screenplay Competition
Nantucket Film Festival Screenplay Competition
Nevada Film Office Screenwriting Competition
New York Foundation for the Arts Artists’ Fellowships
Nickelodean Productions Fellowship Program – 4 stars
Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting – 4 stars
Project Greenlight
Rhode Island International Film Festival Screenplay Competition
Set in Philadelphia Screenwriting Competition
Slamdance Screenplay Competition
SLAM FI Sci Fi Screenplay Competition
Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab – 4 stars
Tribeca All Access
Tribeca/Sloan Film Program
Variety “Pitch Me” Competition
The Walt Disney Studios and ABC Entertainment Writing Fellowship Program – 4 stars
Warner Bros. Comedy Writers Workshop
Warner Bros. Drama Writers Workshop – 4 stars
Washington State Screenplay Competition

The list was always evolving. For example, at one time the Breckenridge Festival of Film was included, but it fell off the list soon after I won the Children/Family category. While the festival generously put us winning scribes up for the duration of the four-day festival and hosted a panel discussion, even if it was at the unsaintly hour of 9 a.m. (who watches films and parties all night, then gets up to listen to a panel of screenwriters the next morning? An arts high school class of aspiring filmmakers, bless their hearts!)…and they gave us each a nifty framed certificate announcing our achievement, plus an all access festival pass. But what we really needed--and did not receive--was industry promotion.

Fortunately for me, about the same time I became a First Prize winner of the Rhode Island International Film Festival, which launched my career. An listing was among the prizes. That listing led to my first Hollywood meetings, which led to my first option, that gained me my first agent, and resulted in one hell of a ride that fizzled when the money men pulled out, collapsing the small studio and dashing the dreams of the producers and the five writers they had signed.

But my script is now optioned with another studio where it sits in queue awaiting…you guessed it: production funds.

Becoming a second round finisher in Austin’s Heart of Film Screenplay Competition helped score me my adjunct position at UNH where the documentary/production professor, with his master’s from U Austin, recognized the kind of kudos that making it that far in the competition meant.

Anyone who has evidence of another competition that made a later NY Screenwriter listing, please feel free to post in remarks or e-mail it over to me. And anyone representing a competition who wants to get their appropriate star rating listed, please e-mail me evidence of the NY Screenwriter stars granted, and I will be happy to update the list.

Others, please feel free to add regional, smaller, or any other competitions that you have had success with over the years in the comments.

As for short script competitions, I can attest to the Bulldog Productions competition at Yale and the Rhode Island International Film Festival’s ScriptBiz Screenwriters’ Seminar Short Script Competition (which I happened to be somewhat involved with as its director; now my grad school schedule demands that I take on the less demanding role as consultant).

Good luck and thanks for stopping by.


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