Screenwriting Competitions, are they worth it? - Raindance
If you’re a writer eager to get your work out into the world, screenwriting competitions can be an effective way to do that. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Randall C Willis, screenwriter, novelist and Raindance Toronto’s Screenwriting Foundation instructor. We talked about what it takes for writers to get noticed and he had some great advice for new writers including what to consider when submitting your script to screenwriting competitions.

M: Tell us a bit about yourself.

R: I’m a writer, that’s probably the simplest way to put it. I write everything I possibly can, it doesn’t really matter to me what the medium is. I write for magazines and science publications. I write screenplays and novels and some days a good tweet is all I accomplish and I’m okay with that. A well-crafted tweet is very important.

M: How did you get into screenwriting?

R: I’ve always considered myself a bit of a comedy writer so years ago I started taking improv classes at Second City here in Toronto and from there I got into sketch comedy writing. So I learned really well how to write for five minutes and thought there no way I could ever write a screenplay that’s like an hour and a half or two hours until I took a workshop with a group call Film Lab. It was a weekend workshop with a guy named Randy Pearlstein who I curse to this day — he’s a very nice guy, very funny writer — and he explained to me that really a screenplay was little more than 15-25 sketches on the same subject. That made screenwriting possible in my head. It was the idea of just creating longer story arcs, of really exploring characters beyond a simple bad pun. Though the first screenplay I ever wrote was in 1977 and it was a sequel to Star Wars. I saw the movie and was blown away, as most 13-year-olds were, and come home and, unlike most 13-year-olds, I wrote the sequel. George Lucas went a very different way. We can debate whose story was better.

M: What advice would you have for someone just getting into screenwriting?

R: The biggest piece of advice I give to new writers is, follow the passion because your passion is going to create the best writing. It may not be the best technically but the best stories come from a seed of passion. The other thing I would say is, don’t be afraid to show people your work. A lot of people are worried someone’s going to steal their idea. In reality, there are so many parallel lines of creativity, you know 12 movies about the same subject can come out in the same year purely out of the zeitgeist. So don’t worry about that, the only way you’re going to get better is if you get feedback from other people because they see it with different eyes.

M: Can you talk a little bit about screenwriting competitions?

R: Yeah, there are two schools of thought on competitions. One of them is that they’re nothing but a money grab and I get that, there are a lot of them out there and no doubt some of them are money grabs, picking on writers who are desperate to put their stuff out there. I’m actually a strong believer that they’re a great way to gauge where you are as a writer and to challenge yourself. The price of the competitions can vary from $25 – $100, and sometimes the reader notes cost extra, however, if you place they sometimes send you notes as part of your victory. The early round readers are often film students, former film students, and junior writers so take the feedback with a grain of salt but read it, understand it, and incorporate it when appropriate.

M: What advice would you have for someone entering a competition?

R: The most important thing you want to consider is whether or not your screenplay is actually ready. Also, if you can afford it, pay for the notes. Look for opportunities to win. The competitions with smaller categories are very important, they’re opportunities for you to only compete with people who are writing the same genre. And, lastly, if your screenplay does nothing in the competition (and most of them don’t) don’t assume that means you have a bad screenplay. It may just mean it’s going to take some time to find its audience 

As a writer just starting out myself, it was great to get the chance to talk with Randall about the industry and the challenges that come with being a screenwriter.

If you’re a writer looking to take your craft to the next level, a screenwriting competition might be the right place to start. Here’s a link to a list of some of the better-known screenwriting competitions out there. Happy writing.