A lot of you have asked if scriptwriting contests are worth the time and entry fees. Before I've theorized yes and no - and it seems to be the case again. I had drinks with an assistant the other day who had WON Best Comedy in the Austin Film Festival Teleplay contest a couple years ago. And it got him an agent - but an agent at a small agency who ultimately passed him on to someone who didn't really know what she was doing. I don't know the entire story, but it didn't work out, so he discharged them. And he's still an assistant. Overall, the contest worked for him in the way I said you should use contests: to get representation. But did it launch his TV writing career? No.
Reader Matthew wrote in and shared his experience about becoming a finalist in the Slamdance Teleplay Competition: Finishing in the top three at Slamdance definitely didn't hurt. It's helped get a few assistants at agencies to read my work, so that was valuable. All in all I think their film contest is much more helpful as they focus on that more and do an in-town awards ceremony to hype the top 10 finalists. The last winner of the film program has already been signed and had his film go into production. TV seems to be more of an afterthought for Slamdance but it's one of the few places that allows pilots to be submitted. They do give you a few contacts at Fox21.
One of the best parts about Slamdance is that all of the other filmmakers and writers are at about the same point in their careers so getting to meet everyone at the festival in Park City was a great way to network. And if any writers have short or feature length films, Slamdance is a great place to show them. Since it's held during the same time as Sundance you can get easy exposure to a lot of distributors. Most of the films I saw at Slamdance had distribution deals in place by the end of the festival.
Matthew identifies one of the things I've noticed about contests and festivals: they're often very feature-oriented, so you have to assess whether they're going to help your TV aspirations. Along the same lines, I'm on the Inktip email newsletter, but I rarely see any mentions of TV scripts being sold or TV writers obtaining representation through them.
Candice also commented about another contest through The Scriptwriters Network - she says she found it useful because they actually give you feedback about your work. The fact that they're a nonprofit organization seems encouraging, but I'm a little skeptical about what you get if you win (this is straight from their site): a gift certificate to the Writer's Store, and the two runners-up (if there are any,) will receive a year's subscript to scr(i)pt magazine. For those scripts that are selected, the writer(s) will meet with a member of the CSMTOP committee to develop a list of showrunners and producers, as well as network and studio development executives, whom the Network can contact on the writer's behalf. The timing may be such that any obtained reads could occur prior to the staffing season, to offer the best opportunity to translating the recommendation into a job. If the writer has an agent, it will be important for us to know that as most shows today require it, however it's not a requirement to enter the program. Since this is a very busy time for the industry, the exact timing is impossible to predict.
Hmm. They're basically saying, if you don't have an agent, there's really not much we can do for you. So I'm not sure I want to pay $40 for a chance to get some magazines and have some useless cold-calling done on my behalf. That being said, The Scriptwriters Network is hosting a panel on one-hour TV on June 14 with Dawn DeKeyser, Jane Espenson, Melody Fox, Amy Berg and Jeanette Collins that sounds pretty cool. Girl power!