Hollywood Screenplay, Fresh Voices, ScreenCraft, American Zoetrope and the Rest
Creative Screenwriting columnist Melissa Maroff's screenwriting contest survey and commentary
by Melissa Maroff
Deadline: 8/10 extended deadline
Grand Jury Prize: $10,100 worth of post production services at Greenhouse Studios and a pitch mentoring meeting. Grand Prize Winner of the Best Short Screenplay will receive $4,800 worth of post production services at Greenhouse Studios and a pitch mentoring meeting
Entry Fee: $55
Now in its third year, in addition to awarding a Grand Jury Prize for overall best screenplay, this contest offers writers a chance to compete for a Grand Prize, Gold, Silver, and Bronze in each of 15 categories: Action Adventure, Thriller, Comedy, Horror, Drama, Short Screenplay, Family Film, Treatment, Television Drama, Biography/Historical, Television Sitcom, Television Spec Script, Science Fiction, Reality TV Concept, and Stage Play.
“We’re one of the few live, real-world competitions that host the winners for dinner; we make a whole night of it and present them onstage in a formal ceremony,” states Contest Director John Vincent, who estimates they will receive about 1,000 entries in 2013. According to Vincent, the contest has brought significant new sponsors on board this year—Script Pipeline and ReadThrough—plus advisory meetings for several of the winners with Unique Features, New Line Cinema and acclaimed producer/neurocinema pioneer Peter Katz.
Last year’s Grand Prize Winner in Action Adventure, Robin Harris, a writer living in the Detroit area, was elated to find out she won for her screenplay Besieged, as she was already prepared to submit it again.
Having grown up enchanted with Westerns and Kung Fu movies, Harris is well aware she’s one of few women who write in the action genre, and feels a sense of accomplishment in taking the top prize. “A lot of females write family comedies and love stories, and there’s not anything wrong with that,” she says, but my husband and I have this joke: if something doesn’t explode, or someone doesn’t get killed in the first 15 minutes, it’s probably not the movie for me.”
As an African American, she observes a good showing of African Americans in comedy and drama, yet a void in actions, and welcomes the chance to help fill it. “I would like to see more creative people coming out and not staying within these narrow bands,” says Harris. “For me, it’s sometimes sci-fi, sometimes horror, but always action.”
“A lot of contests I don’t want to say are scamish, but are expensive and don’t end up following through; this was inexpensive and followed through with the prizes,” says Jon Durham, 2012 Grand Jury Prize Winner of the Hollywood Screenplay Contest.
His winning script The Family Haywood (which Durham admits is loosely based on his own family) centers on a documentary filmmaker, who in his last-ditch effort to succeed, turns the cameras on his estranged redneck family, and all the exploitation that ensues.
Durham, who says he’s only been penning screenplays for a couple of years, currently has two scripts in development with producer William Gilmore (The Player, A Few Good Men). From Philadelphia, he had been tentatively planning a move to Los Angeles, but winning the contest sparked him to do it sooner.
“The biggest thing a contest like this can give for someone new, and especially from the East Coast, and not New York, with nobody in your circle with knowledge, is real feedback and knowing where you rank. It was a huge mental boost,” Durham says. “Being a writer is an all-or-nothing thing… you need confidence along the way. Having a Grand Jury Prize never hurts on your resume.”
Deadline: 8/13 early deadline, 11/7 final deadline
Grand Prize: $3,000 plus industry reads and meetings, lunch with Director Joel Schumacher, personal meeting with a Literary Manager, 1-on-1 with a CAA Talent Agent and Screenplay/Career Consultation
Entry Fee: Early Deadline: $55 Feature, $50 Teleplay, $40 Shorts; Final Deadline: $70 Feature, $65 Teleplay, $55 Shorts
Started in 2010, Fresh Voices is gaining momentum and boasts a power judge lineup, among them director Joel Schumacher and literary manager Evan Cavic. Founded by Joel Mendoza (formerly of the Motion Picture Literary Dept. at CAA) and his company Attraction Entertainment, the goal in his words is, “to discover new writers, develop material, and get writers to where they want to be.”
Mendoza notes that Bill Balas, a 2010 contest finalist in Action, was able to quit his day job when he was offered a staff writing job on the TV series Bates Motel, and that his winning script Already Gone was subsequently optioned by Principato Young and stars Shawn Ashmore (X:Men movies) and Harry Shum Jr. (Glee).
Additionally, last year’s Fresh Voices winner in Science-Fiction/Fantasy, Saudi Arabia-based Moutaz Jad, signed with MPower pictures to produce his winning script Megalopolis, and set off from the Middle East for a Hollywood career.
“Each year it gets more and more competitive, but you’ve got far better chances with us than winning the Nicholl Fellowship,” Mendoza muses, while also noting that he sees tons of drama, action, and comedies, so encourages submissions of family films, which he finds to be lacking in numbers and the least competitive.
Deadline: 10/1 final deadline
Grand Prize: $1,000 plus a phone consultation with a literary manager
Entry Fee: $49
ScreenCraft is a brand-new kid on the block this year and the brainchild of Cameron Cubbison and John Rhodes, both industry veterans. Cubbison, a former reader and story analyst for the studios and Rhodes, a creative executive, joined forces in 2011 to form the boutique writing consultancy, ScreenCraft.
“We started the contests so that we could cast a wider net and meet more writers. As consultants we can only take on a handful of scripts at a time; contests are cheaper for writers and cheaper for us, so our team gets a wider volume of scripts to read and assess, says Cubbison, who adds, “We like the idea of being able to celebrate the writers that move forward through the rounds and establish a dialogue with them and highlight their achievements on our site. It’s our attempt at building a sense of community, which is really important for screenwriters.”
The judging panel for the comedy contest includes development executives from Lionsgate, Paramount and Sony, and in addition to the cash, the grand prize winner gets a phone consultation with a comedy lit manager at Mosaic Media Group, which represents such clients as Jim Carrey, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Will Ferrell.
According to Cubbison, they chose comedy as one of their first contest genres (having just completed their first horror contest) because it’s such a broad and all-encompassing category that’s easy to pitch and get read. They do multiple screenwriting contests each cycle, and focus on one genre at a time so that they can tailor the prize packages accordingly.
“A one-genre focus also ensures that no writer’s script is going to face genre bias; a horror script isn’t going to lose out to a drama script or vice versa. It’s our attempt at leveling the playing field,” Cubbison explains.
He says they would love to see more diverse comedy scripts with cross-cultural elements that can play to universal audiences, since comedy tends to be culturally specific and doesn’t always translate well. “It’s exciting for us when we come across a script that isn’t distinctly American or distinctly British or distinctly anything to the point that it won’t play well for audiences from other cultures,” he says.
Cubbison also says hat his team is noticing a strong resurgence in comedy hybrids… action comedies, horror comedies, comedy-thrillers, fantasy comedies. “It seems that blending is ‘in’ again,” says Cubbison. “And this is, of course, a trend that our studio contacts are encouraging because they’re often very marketable.”
As always, he notes the colossal audience out there for female-centric comedies (or female-centric any genre, for that matter), and offers that writerswho can provide them, automatically have a strong leg up on the competition.
Deadline: 9/1 final deadline
Grand Prize: $5,000 plus possible representation
Entry Fee: $50
Then there’s the prestigious American Zoetrope contest, now in its 11th year, and judged by Francis Ford Coppola himself, who along with members of his American Zoetrope staff will select the winner from 11 finalists.
The GrandPrize Winner receives $5,000, but more importantly, the chance along with the 10 finalists to be considered for representation by biggies like William Morris, Endeavor, CAA, The Gersh Agency, Exile Entertainment, and ICM. Their scripts will be considered for film option and development by the likes of American Zoetrope, Samuel Goldwyn Films, Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics, IFC Entertainment, Paramount Classics and Lionsgate.
The contest’s stated aim is to seek out and encourage compelling film narratives (with the best story and execution—regardless of genre and budget requirements), and to introduce the next generation of great screenwriters to today’s leading production companies and agencies.
Deadline: 8/15 final deadline
Grand Prize: $1,000
Entry Fee: $70
Now in its 6th year (of beating the others for catchiest name by having the “Ef” word its title), this competition flies their grand prize winner to L.A. for three nights of free accommodation, spending money, industry meetings, read requests, and lunch with an A-list writer; this year it’s Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down). Last year’s Grand PrizeWinner, Matthew Morgan, signed with ICM shortly after.
Deadline: 8/20 extended deadline
Grand Jury Prize: Edit Suite—4 weeks free, HD Color Correction—16 hours free, Graphics Package—Free poster design and storyboards, Consulting—1 hour free and a meeting or conference call with Head of Development or Head of Business Development to mentor filmmaker on script development or film branding/distribution
Entry Fee: https://newyorkscreenplaycontest.com/$50
This global contest awards over $15,000 in cash and prizes to the winners and finalists, plus meetings with top industry professionals. Categories include: Action/Adventure, Biographical/Historical, Comedy, Drama, Family Film, Horror/Sci-Fi, Thriller, Short Screenplay, Stage Play, Treatment, Television Concept, Television Pilot – Drama, Television Pilot – Sitcom, Television Spec Script.
Deadline: 9/1 early deadline, 11/15 final deadline
Grand Prize: $15,000
Entry Fee: Early: $60 Feature, $40 Shorts; Final: $70 Feature, $60 Shorts
Founded by Writer/Director Gordy Hoffman in 1998, this contest doles out a not-too-shabby $43,000 in awards for short and feature screenplays, in addition to two written analyses from industry professionals for every entry. Winners have gone on to sign with CAA, UTA, etc. and sold their work to major studios. Hoffman is a past winner, himself, of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance for his quirky tragicomedy, Love Liza, starring his brother Phillip Seymour (sometimes nepotism is justified).
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