It’s no secret that the odds against succeeding as a screenwriter are long. Many thousands of feature scripts are written annually that will never be optioned, much less produced and distributed. The gates of Hollywood are well guarded by keepers who tend to make entry through the front doors quite difficult. Here are five ways in which festivals and script competitions might offer an alternative approach to advancing your screenwriting career.
1. Filmmakers Attend Film Festivals
Frequenting film festivals or volunteering at festivals provides great networking opportunities for writers, and is also a lot of fun. It makes sense to build your attendance strategy around festivals that take place in film towns like Los Angeles, New York, or Atlanta. These festivals are attended not only by filmmakers who travel for their screenings but also by the numerous directors and producers who reside in the given town.
Your job is to mingle, possibly pick up the tab on a few drinks, and convince some of these upstart directors that they need to work with a writer like you on their next project. They need a script from a talented writer to take their producing or directing careers to the next level, and you are that writer. You will deliver a high concept script that can be produced for a sane budget.
When you can’t attend events and schmooze, one backup option is to advertise yourself as a screenwriter in the festival program or via whatever advertising options the festival offers.
2. Celebrities and Other Film Insiders Host and Attend Festivals
Festivals are often attended by important people in the industry who serve as hosts, panelists, and judges. I had the opportunity to meet legendary producer Roger Corman at a festival and hand him some of my work (a life goal of mine to be sure). At another festival, I got to sit down for brunch with George Lindsey of Andy Griffith Show fame. He was one of the funniest people I’ve ever spoken with. His comedic timing was definitely still intact.
At the same festival, I received a first place award for a film I wrote and co-directed, along with the best round of applause of my life. I have also made connections with panelists that may still lead to worthwhile opportunities in the future.
3. Competitions Are Cheaper Than Making a Film
If you lack the desire, financing, or wherewithal to make your own film or trailer (or to make said trailer or film look darn slick), consider promoting your work through script competitions .
You don’t have to be a Finalist for an Academy Nicholl Fellowship to tip the scales in favor of a producer or director reading a specific script. Being a finalist or placing in any reputable competition can elevate your script to a higher position in the slush pile. Anything that makes your screenplay or pitch stand out in the stack of materials that producers and agents are sorting through on a daily basis is helpful. Script competitions can certainly provide this distinction, and they sometimes offer free or inexpensive coverage of your script as well.
4. A Trailer Can Provide Positive Exposure
If you can get something on film, even just a slick looking trailer, lots of festivals will screen trailers before other films or in a filmmakers’ lounge of some kind. You might even be able to pay a minimal fee to have the trailer screened between films or featured on the festival website or social media page depending on their policies. If you can do something like this as well as attending festival events to network with producers, you are creating even more opportunities for success.
5. Good Karma Goes a Long Way
If you do decide to take the proverbial plunge and produce your own script, nothing goes further toward making a good film on a limited budget than volunteering at festivals and or to help with other peoples’ films. When you need skilled people to work for food or at least at a reduced rate, they will remember when you did the same for them.
Making your own film is a major undertaking, but keep the benefit of script control in mind. At least your work won’t be rewritten in a wholesale fashion by someone looking to get his or her name in the credits. It’s entirely possible that as the writer, you may carry the project to its full potential when others might have failed to give it the effort it deserved.
There are no guarantees in the business of film, not even at semi-pro levels, except for the guarantee that if you attempt nothing, you will accomplish nothing. Good luck and remember to enjoy the process!