Don’t put all your shelf puppies in one basket…

By Caroline Farrell

Caroline FarrellIt’s a fact folks that writing screenplays is a time-consuming, arduous and lonely process. Unless you are going to make your own movies, or are lucky enough to establish that all-important writer/director/producer relationship and collaborate to create great movies together, the opportunities to sell you scripts are few and far between. Once you know this and you still, like me, find the time to write every day and get excited when a new plot finally begins to take shape, then blessings on your head, and read on!

Also, like me, you have probably gone through the polite and proper process of contacting producers with your initial letter of inquiry, to be told, absolutely, yes, send on your script… and you do… and you wait… and you give them a little nudge… and you wait… and you nudge them again and you hear absolutely zero. Or, you get a quick scribble of an email informing you that they are too busy… that old standard “don’t call us, we’ll call you” vibe. Yeah, we’ve all been there, right?

No matter, we still continue to be true to our craft and creativity with the hope that some day we will see our characters come to life before a rapturous audience. So, once we have polished our screenplays to a state that we feel is presentable to the world, just what exactly are those elusive things we call opportunities? How do we get our scripts out there?

On a national level there are well-established routes to pursue:

In partnership with RTÉ offer twice-yearly short script awards. You must become a member and pay an annual fee to be eligible to enter.

The Galway Film Centre
Also in partnership with RTÉ, offer an annual competition. You must become a member and pay an annual fee to be eligible, and you must also have a director and producer attached.

The Waterford Film Festival
Runs an annual Short Script Competition and the entry fee is quite reasonable.

The Irish Film Board
The board offers other funding opportunities and short script awards. This can be a successful route for many, though if you’re thinking of submitting for a writer only, first draft loan, I say go for it, but in the event of your submission being rejected, be strong, learn from the experience and don’t take it personally!

And here’s the thing… your project is not dead in the water if it is rejected by a producer, or indeed, by any of the above. There are other options to get your work out there, to get feedback, gain confidence and to ensure that your name and reputation becomes synonymous with serious script writing.

One of those other options is entering international screenwriting competitions.

I can hear the questioning silence. Is that it? Is that all she’s got? Okay, so not all screenwriting competitions are worth bothering with, especially when most of them require an entry fee and often seem to be a well-calculated marketing ploy to sell script consultation services. Who among us can afford to hit the PayPal path continuously anyway? Not me, that’s for sure. So the key issues that concern me when considering entering a competition are:

  • What are the credentials of the organisers?
  • How much will it cost me?
  • What will I gain if I am placed?

To avoid wasting time about the pros and cons of each one I have researched, I shall only list my top five, and in no particular order:

Nicholl Fellowships
This is a prestigious award. Up to five $30,000 fellowships are awarded each year to promising new screenwriters. From the program’s inception in 1986 through 2009, over $2.8 million have been awarded to 121 writers.

PAGE Awards
Great opportunities may present if you are placed in this competition, including the chance to get your script read by industry professionals, raise your writing profile and there is a generous cash prize for the overall winner!

KAOS Films
An opportunity to get your short or feature script made, and this one is judged by a group of extremely high-calibre professionals.

Initial feedback is included in your entry fee. For a further, discounted price, you also have the opportunity to re-write and re-submit your work after receiving the initial feedback. I decided not to avail of this service, but still reached the semi-finals in 2010.

Run by Francis Ford Coppola, part of the prize is to be considered for representation by the William Morris Agency. Also, the website offers opportunities to engage online with the international writing community and is a good source of feedback.

Writer/Director Shane McCabe’s recent success stories confirm what can be achieved by taking the competition route. Shane’s feature script Probable Cause was placed third at the 24th Annual Write Movies International Competition, and the script has also recently been short-listed as a Semi Finalist at the Austin Film Festival, giving Shane priority access to all meetings, round table discussions, luncheons and screenings.

In 2009, another of Shane’s scripts, The Base, scooped the top prize at the Back in the Box Screenwriting Competition. As a result, it will go into production next year with Shane attached to direct. Shane explains the benefits: “Following the victory at the Write Movies event, the festival organizers will now actively pitch the winning scripts to all the major studios, as well as many production companies. A good few doors will now start to open for me. I’ve been knocking on them for so long it’s so nice to have them open finally.”

In 2009, screenwriter Eilis Mernagh won a place on a screenwriting workshop at the Bristol Encounters Short Film Festival. As part of her prize, she got a free pass to the whole festival, as well as the chance to see some professional actors and a Bafta-winning director do a reading of her script.

Eilis reckons that there are three main advantages to winning competitions, “I put a short script into the Darklight festival last year and they produced it as part of the Hotel Darklight. This was huge as it gave me my first screen credit. I now have a CV with a produced credit and that’s really helped when talking to producers etc. The Darklight experience also introduced me to a lot of people, some of whom were also good enough to work on a short I produced in April this year. Lastly, there’s the kudos from winning, or placing, in a competition. I mention any small gains like these in my CV and it helps to grease the wheels. I won’t stop until I’ve won the PAGE Awards grand prize!”

Dublin-based screenwriter Eoin Rogers has been writing screenplays for four years, and in that time, has entered nearly twenty competitions. Eoin says, “As someone who finds the discipline of regular writing and rewriting difficult, competitions provide me with an external deadline as well as judgement (and sometimes validation) by independent professionals.”

Eoin’s script Red Flag recently won 1st Prize in the Action category of the StoryPros Screenwriting Awards. He adds, “Each time I have applied to competitions, I have seen my scripts rise higher and higher until finally placing and eventually winning an international category.  That particular script is now being read by Paramount and I might be sending it out wide to try to get an agent, and ideally an option or sale.  Competitions are definitely one way to get read by local and international agents and producers.  If a script has already been objectively approved, everyone else suddenly becomes more likely to read it.”

Eoin was also the third prize winner in the family category of the PAGE Screenwriting Awards with his script, Alice beneath the Waves.

So there you have it my fellow scribes, success stories that prove it can be done. In terms of opportunities to get your work out there the world is your oyster, so get cracking! The competitions listed in this article are by no means a definitive list. There are good websites, such as, which list all the major competitions, and include entry fees, deadlines, ratings and feedback which is helpful when making a decision as to whether to enter or not.

So no excuses now, dust off those shelf puppies, do your research – and re-writes if necessary – and who knows, perhaps we’ll see more familiar names in the 2011 finals. The very best of luck!

Caroline Farrell has been writing scripts for a little over three years. She is currently a finalist in the Waterford Film Festival Short Script Award with ‘In Ribbons’, and is also a finalist in the PAGE Awards with her feature script, Pixer Knows, a fantastical children’s adventure. Her script, Lady Beth, a dark drama, is currently in the semi-finals of the Kaos British Feature Screenplay Awards. Email: