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What We’ve Got Here Is . . .

For an aspiring screenwriter, one way to get some notice and buzz around your work is to enter screenwriting contests and submit to film festivals that have screenwriting awards. I’ve been pretty fortunate to have won one such contest and placed well in others, and to have been a semi-finalist in a film festival as well. But I’ve noticed one problem that seems to stretch across all these contests and festivals: A lack of communication.

Most places have you submit via Withoutabox. It’s awesomely easy. But it also feels like you’re dumping your script into a black hole. Although Withoutabox tells you when you should hear back from the contest or festival—that is, it gives a “notification date”—it has no power to ensure you do hear by then. If ever.

My general sense is that a lot of these contests and festivals are mismanaged, the festivals perhaps more than the contests. Maybe that’s because the festivals require a lot more work and are focused on the films more than the scripts. But please, don’t offer a screenwriting award if you aren’t prepared to have people read the work and decide by the deadline you chose. It is painful enough for any writer (or artist) to sit and wait and wonder and hope. I know we’re supposed to be working, and we do, but as a deadline for notification comes . . . then goes . . . our productivity grinds to a crawl.

And no news, we have all learned, is never good news.

As for the contests, some are very streamlined. Almost too much so in that they have armies of people reading and one can’t help wondering who is reading that first round and what qualifications they may have. Because when you get almost 10,000 scripts, you can no longer be picky about your readers. You just need to shovel them through. And the readers are tired and overworked, too. So it doesn’t help much to be a “big” contest.

And then again, smaller contests are often disorganized in their own rights. And so either way a writer is again left wondering and waiting. And a deadline is almost always passed without comment from the contest in question. Instead the writer ends up on some mailing list that sends out news of other contests but no word on the one to which they submitted. It is very frustrating.

As a writer, all I really ask is that (a) you keep me apprised of progress; (b) you have readers who are qualified to evaluate the work (and I know whether they like it will be subjective, but let them at least be from the industry) and also not so overwhelmed they cannot give every script due attention—and if that means putting a cap on your contest, do; and (c) you send out notifications when you say you will. I think, based on the entry fees for so many of these, that’s not so much to ask.



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