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Top 7 Screenplay Contests to Jumpstart Your Screenwriting Career in 2024

Aspiring screenwriters know that winning or placing as a finalist in a reputable screenwriting competition can provide that crucial early validation of your talent. It’s also often a key stepping stone to breaking into the industry and getting your script sold or produced.

With competition recognition on your resume, you instantly get elevated out of the slush pile when querying producers, agents, and managers. Doors start opening once you have that accolade behind your script.

But not all contests carry equal influence within Hollywood circles. The range of entry fees, submission requirements, eligibility rules, and other factors vary tremendously. Deciding where to focus your time, money, and creative efforts requires thoughtful analysis.

We examined the landscape of over 50 domestic and international script competitions to rank what we consider the crème de la crème and help guide your decisions about where to direct those precious submissions.

How We Ranked the Best Screenwriting Competitions

In developing our rankings, we used the following methodology and criteria to compare the leading screenplay contests:

  • Reputation and Industry Recognition – The highest tier competitions like Austin and Sundance should be instantly recognized within the industry and hold weight when included on your script, bio or query letters to agents. Mid-tier competitions may offer value as well, but likely influence a narrower set of eyes.
  • Quality of Judges, Sponsors and Industry Connections – The best contests source judges, sponsors and partners across high levels including studio execs, agencies, management companies, producers and top tier writers and directors. Strong connections increase the odds your script ends up on influential desks.
  • Entry Fee Costs and Prizes Offered – Higher entry fees can signal a more reputable, lucrative competition but also create barriers for undiscovered talent on tight budgets. Comparing fees to the potential payout of prizes, particularly the production and promotion packages of grand prizes, offers helpful context.
  • Production Rates for Winning/Finalist Screenplays – While not a perfect metric, examining the rate at which competition finalists get signed by reps and production companies or succeed at getting their scripts made into films offers a useful perspective into real-world results.
  • Longevity and History in Advancing Screenwriting Careers – Legacy competitions with long histories of spotlighting talented, unknown screenwriters who go on to secure representation and production deals after their contest recognition hold extra validity and relationships.

Key Ranking Factors that Define the “Best” Screenwriting Competitions

Based on the ranking criteria described above, we developed a framework of factors that signal an elite screenplay competition capable of truly advancing your writing career. These elements provide a lens for a closer examination of the leading contests:

  • Allure of Grand Prizes and Value of Overall Contest Packages – The very best competitions showcase enticing grand prizes which include guaranteed or potential production involvement, extensive professional mentoring and review, and opportunities for promotion directly to influential industry members. Runners-up also benefit from introductions to reps, producers, and managers that stem from placement.
  • Panel of Judges With Real Industry Influence, Not Just Credits – An “A-list” of working, connected judges from studios, agencies, production companies, and marquee indie banners holds tremendous influence. They have the clout to directly buy, produce or represent exceptional scripts when discovered through contests.
  • Solid Rates of Production Success for Contest Finalists – While luck always factors in, strong contests yield higher rates of production outcomes for winners and finalists compared to just securing representation. Track records matter when weighing the ROI of your entry fee versus advancing your movie’s path forward.
  • Entry Fees Commensurate With Reputation and Prize Offerings – High contest entry fees above $80 USD often deter newbie scribes and filter submissions to more polished works. But fees reaching $100+ should come with commensurate recognition, Judge panels, cash prizes, and industry access.
  • Unique Feedback Opportunities, Networking, and Visibility Potential – Leading competitions build-in mechanisms for contestants to directly interface with judging panels and industry pros attached to the contest through live pitching events, guaranteed notes/coverage on submissions or video review access.

Our Top 7 Picks for Screenwriting Competitions in 2023

Using our evaluation criteria spanning reputation, judge quality, success rates, entry fee/prize balance, and other factors that contribute to a contest’s legitimacy, we ranked these screenplay competitions as the best of 2023.

  1. Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition

The AFF maintains its premier status as one of the best U.S. screenwriting competitions going thanks to an equilibrium of credibility, strong industry judges and production outcomes for past finalists. The live pitch component creates a path for talent discovery missing from contests conducted solely on paper.


  • One of the largest live pitch events embedded into a competition. Past participants landed manager and producer deals based on live reads.
  • Impressive 21% production rate for winning scripts
  • Entry fee ($55 early), cash prizes, software awards
  • Judge panel evenly split between influential writers/directors/producers

Cons: Grand prize lacks guaranteed production component that would seal its stature.

  1. Page International Screenwriting Awards

With cash and production guarantees attached to their grand prize and an exclusive focus on feature film scripts, the Page Awards hold gravitas coming off their 25th anniversary in 2022. $58 million+ in Page script deals signals success translating to real-world results.


  • Guaranteed meetings with at least 3 production companies for the grand prize winner
  • $25,000 USD cash to the winner – highest of legit U.S. contests
  • Past winners secured elite representation even without a grand prize
  • Accepts features only – seen as a specialization advantage

Cons: Lacks visibility benefits of pitch events that get industry eyes directly on writers

  1. The Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting

Perhaps the most prestigious domestic competition outside of elite studio writing labs, the Nicholl consistently funnels talented scribes into representation, writing gigs, option deals, and paid assignments off the credibility of quarterfinalist/semifinalist placements alone. But fellowships and grand prizes enhance the odds further.


  • Rolodex of high-caliber judges, producers, and sponsors attached
  • 134 Nicholl scripts produced since the 1990 launch (19% rate)
  • 2021 Fellow earned 7-figure script sale to MGM post-win
  • Academy Nicholl Fellowship added in 2022 offers cash + mentoring

Cons: No live pitching or guaranteed meetings components that guarantee critical exposure

  1. Final Draft’s Big Break Contest

While this contest carries minor name confusion with the tracking board’sLaunch Pad competition, it retains merit particularly for television writers thanks to the categorial focus and grand/runner-up prizes geared towards staffing opportunities.


  • All finalist scripts submitted to over 100+ execs, producers, agents
  • Grand Prize includes intro to showrunner looking to staff a writers room
  • Studio executives and TV literary agents judge early rounds

Cons: Film focus is secondary to formative television focus

  1. Screencraft Screenwriting Competitions

While an emerging brand, their diverse range of niche contests spanning genres like Thriller, Horror, and Action/Adventure allows targeting best-fit categories to surface unique scripts. $5 million in script, writer, and filmmaker success stories bank credibility.


  • Genre-specific contests aid visibility and discovery
  • $50 million+ in script deals and $500k+ in cash to alumni
  • Annual screenwriter success stories who sign with elite managers/agents

Cons: Production outcomes remain relatively modest to total number of winners/finalists

  1. Sundance Screenwriters Lab

Arguably the pinnacle domestic opportunity combines a live workshop intensive with high visibility circulation to top tier agencies, financiers and production banners. More modest cash prizes are offset by lucrative script options. Difficult to directly “target” given preset application parameters and selectivity.


  • Unmatched visibility – Lab fellowship circulated to 200 financers, buyers, reps
  • Vetted submission process yields polished featured scripts
  • Lab intensity over 5 days in Sundance offers unrivaled mentoring

Cons: Extended workshop format creates high barrier to entry through prep/travel

  1. Tracking Board Launch Pad Competition

While lagging in legacy, the Launch Pad offers a compelling combo of dynamic scripts spotlighted, guaranteed circulation to an array of producers/managers, and the tracking board platform leveraged to ID emerging talent. Sweetens credibility through script deals for grads.


  • Circulates top scripts to 75+ vetted production cos, agencies, managers
  • Tracking board itself aids discovering new quality material
  • $1 million in script deals for competition finalists since 2015

Cons: Grand Prize lacks production guarantee or financial component that secures career boost

Honorable Mentions Worth Targeting

The following screenwriting contests also offer compelling benefits and results worth factoring into your submission strategy should budgets allow for multiple entry fees:

  • We Screenplay Diverse Voices Lab
  • Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition
  • Bluecat Screenplay Competition
  • TrackB Script Competition

Which are the “Best Bang for Buck” Screenwriting Competitions?

Taking a short cost-benefit analysis view, Austin and Page offer the strongest equilibrium of entry fee cost, prize potential and benefits relative to their strong industry positioning and potential payouts at the upper contest tiers.

Tracking Board punches above its weight as an emerging option as well if seeking to cast the widest exposure net possible to managers, producers and young companies.

The Bottom Line

Success in any creative field contains innate subjectivity and a dose of luck no formula can master. But contend for enough contests packing the credible judge panels, cash prizes, and industry circulation channels discussed here and the odds should ultimately play in your favor.

Even placement as a Nicholl quarterfinalist or Screencraft finalist can supplement your calling card for when queries start going out.

Stay disciplined in your writing craft, find your unique voice, carve your distinct path forward, and let the top screenplay competitions serve as tailwinds whenever possible to accelerate your progression from emerging talent to produced screenwriter.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most reputable screenwriting competition?

Based on its history, judge quality, industry circulation, and outcomes for past winners, the most reputable screenwriting competition is widely considered to be the Academy Nicholl Fellowships. Placing as a quarterfinalist or higher instantly elevates a writer’s reputation.

Is the Golden script competition worth it?

Yes, the Golden Script competition offers legitimacy thanks to cash prizes up to $10,000 and its steady record facilitating script and writer deals over the past decade. It’s worth considering, especially in the early phase of one’s career.

Is the big break screenwriting contest legit?

Yes, Final Draft’s Big Break screenwriting contest is considered very legitimate. With over $100 million in script and writer deals related to the competition and real opportunities introduced through its TV writing-focused prize packages, it holds merit mainly for television scribes.

Are screenplay contests legit?

Reputable screenplay competitions like Nicholl, Austin Film Festival, and Page Awards certainly offer legitimacy. But lesser-known contests should be examined for evidence of real industry connections and outcomes for past finalists before assuming credibility.

What screenplay contests are worth it?

The Nicholl, Austin Film Festival, Page Awards, Tracking Board Launch Pad, Script Pipeline, and BlueCat screenplay contests are consistently viewed as “worth” the entry fees when weighing visibility benefits and career-advancing opportunities conferred on winners/finalists.

What are the odds of making it as a screenwriter?

The odds are quite long, often estimated to be around 1-in-15,000 that any aspiring screenwriter “makes it” to having a produced feature film from one of the major studios. But focusing on smaller indie productions, and secured representation through contests/fellowships and TV writing opportunities can enhance overall odds.

How hard is it to win a screenplay competition?

Winning any major screenplay competition is exceedingly difficult, with many touting acceptance rates around just 1%. Excellent, polished writing is typically required but a unique premise, strong characters, and commercial appeal all contribute to a script standing out. Significant persistence across contests is vital but quality matters most.

How much does it cost to enter a screenplay contest?

Entry fees range widely from free (rare) up to several hundred dollars for the top competitions like Nicholl and Austin. Most reputable contests fall in the $40-$80 dollar early entry fee range. Overall costs can quickly accumulate when submitting to multiple contests in a year.

What is the $100,000 writing contest?

One of the most lucrative U.S. writing contests is The McKnight Screenwriting Fellowship which awards a grand prize of $100,000 to an exceptional, undiscovered screenwriter, including a guaranteed review from agency Gersh and other benefits.

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