Alternatively - Why They Can Work for You
Competitions can help you in several ways. There are the obvious ways, where you are a winner or place highly in the competition and it brings financial reward or more importantly, access to the industry through an agent, manager or producer contacts.
But what if you aren’t a winner? Alternatively, you may do well in a competition that is relatively obscure or it is a festival far from Tinseltown. What use is it then? Also, what if you don’t place? Does this mean you’re a terrible writer?
There are several ways you can use competitions to your advantage if you have a purpose and a strategy.
One way is by applying to local competitions and festivals that you can actually be a part of and don’t require you to travel. These festivals are often looking to support local writers and filmmakers and may provide you the opportunity to meet people who have experience in the industry, can become a support network or are simply like minded. Events like this may lead to writers groups or a sharing of information. You might be surprised by the number of people who have left the industry and now work to foster independent writers and filmmakers in their own communities. Some of the best advice I received was at one of these local festivals before I left my hometown and picked up and moved to LA. Many of these people have contacts in the industry and are eager to help those seeking to break in. Almost all of us start off this way if we weren’t born in Beverly Hills, and who knows what great advice or support you may find at these events.
Another way to use competitions to your advantage is as beta readers. Test your material on the smaller, reputable competitions before applying to the huge ones. Are you making the quarterfinals, semifinals or placing? If so, go back to your script and figure out what may be holding it back before applying to the larger competitions. If not then save the money of applying to competitions and either use it for notes, screenwriting books that may help you with your craft, or classes. Sure, you can’t just take one rejection as a final rejection of your script, but figure out a strategy and find the right competitions to test your material on. Some of these competitions may even provide feedback as part of their entry fee that you can use to prep your script for the larger competitions.
This brings us to another way competitions can be useful. All feedback can be helpful, but you must be careful how you take feedback. Many of these are blind reads, so you won’t know or meet the person giving you the feedback and they won’t know you. However, you could enter three small competitions with feedback and search for the common notes from each. If the same issues keep coming up, then you know that it is something you might have to address. This type of feedback may also reveal parts of your script that you were blind to because you have the story so well rehearsed in your mind. Dealing with notes is a difficult skill to master and a whole other topic that we will address in another post. But using competitions as a means of feedback and blind reads could be part of your strategy.
There is something else many of us writers seem to need every now and then. We need confidence in our material and craft. We are with it so much on our own that, at times, every writer gives in to doubts about what they are writing. A few placements in a competition or a win may be what some writers need to keep pushing ahead. There’s nothing wrong with needing that little boost of confidence now and then. Being a writer can be a solitary path where we are stuck in our own heads for long periods of time. Having someone you don’t know read your work and reward you for it may be what some of us need to keep slogging away at our craft.
Finally, besides testing your material and getting notes you may use the smaller contest as a barometer for whether or not you are ready to go for the large competitions. Remember, in many of these large competitions you are up against thousands and sometimes into the tens of thousands of writers. You may be competing for ten spots against thousands of writers who have been at it for years. Why not test your material at the smaller competitions and help prepare it before throwing money after what is essentially a lottery for most. Get your writing to the level it needs to be before you apply to the big competitions.
All of us here at Page Turner have spent thousands of dollars on competitions over the years hoping for that big break. Had we been more strategic like mentioned above, we all would have saved ourselves a load of cash and a lot of time, both of which most writers desperately need. We all learned the hard way, so hopefully you won’t have to.
Be smart. Have a strategy when you enter competitions. Then execute that strategy to save yourself time and money to help you improve your craft.