If you dream of selling your screenplay to Hollywood, attending a screenwriting conference can be one of the most valuable steps you can take towards making that dream a reality. But what exactly are these industry events, and how can they launch your screenwriting career?
Let’s start with the basics – a screenwriting conference is an event centered around the art, craft, and business of writing for film and television.
Top conferences attract hundreds of aspiring screenwriters every year who come to learn from successful writers, pitch their work to industry insiders, receive feedback on their scripts, and make potentially career-changing connections.
While the landscape of major screenwriting conferences tends to be dominated by events in Los Angeles and Austin, you can now find smaller regional conferences and workshops happening all across the country throughout the year. Even virtual conferences have risen in popularity in recent times.
So if you’re looking to dive into the world of screenwriting conferences as a newcomer, this guide will serve as your complete orientation, breaking down all the different types of conferences, key activities and programming, tangible benefits for participants, and tips to make the most of these extraordinary industry events.
Types of Screenwriting Conferences
Screenwriting conferences come in all different shapes and sizes depending on factors like location, price, programming, and attendee makeup. Here are some of the main types you’ll encounter:
Large Annual Conferences
The heavy hitters of the screenwriting conference circuit tend to be large annual affairs attracting thousands of attendees for a multi-day agenda packed with workshops, panels, competitions, and networking.
The Austin Film Festival, held every fall, is considered one of the top destinations for aspiring screenwriters from around the world.
The conference sets aside time every day for conference participants to do “Screenplay and Teleplay Competitions,” where they can get live reads and receive instant feedback from judges.
There are also excellent panel discussions featuring well-known and successful screenwriters sharing their experiences about the industry.
Stage 32’s Writer’s Summit is another major conference that brings together writers, producers, and executives for a series of workshops, demonstrations, and networking events over 4 days.
One standout activity is the Fast Track Fellowship, where talented writers are selected to have their scripts reviewed by industry professionals who can help propel projects forward.
Smaller Regional Conferences
If you don’t have the means to attend one of the major national screenwriting conferences, there are still plenty of smaller regional conferences happening nationwide that deliver immense value at a fraction of the cost.
The Carolina Screenwriters Conference hosted annually in Charlotte provides focused workshops and peer-to-peer feedback for aspiring film and TV writers in North Carolina and surrounding states. Events like this provide more intimate networking and learning opportunities.
Chicago offers some stellar conferences too, like the Great Lakes International Screenwriting Conference which features guest speakers from the TV world, and the Chicago Screenwriters Network Conference with interactive sessions designed to develop better writing habits. Search for conferences near you and chances are you’ll find hidden gems like these.
Some screenwriting conferences cater to specific genres or formats of film/TV writing with tailored panels and activities. These niche events let you dive deeper into your specific writing interests.
The Killers of the Flower Moon Screenwriting Conference sponsored by the Cherokee Nation Film Office focuses on indigenous cinema and content creators.
ThrillerFest offers everything from hands-on workshops to “Master CraftFest” sessions with famous authors for aspiring writers of thrillers and mysteries.
One of the most established genre conferences is the Screamfest Horror Film Festival, which has been providing an outlet for horror writers and filmmakers to engage with enthusiasts and industry veterans for over 20 years. Identifying a conference centered around your preferred genre can provide fantastic focused learning.
Every screenwriting conference seems to incorporate some element of pitching your work to professionals, but some events are specifically designed around providing pitch sessions with influential industry members as their central activity.
The Great American PitchFest allows participants to pitch their scripts, books, and films directly to over 100 Hollywood players in 10-minute one-on-one meetings.
The San Francisco Writers Conference also facilitates pitch sessions with agents looking for new clients alongside intensive story-editing workshops.
The internet has opened up even more opportunities to tap into screenwriting conferences without stepping foot outside your home.
While not quite the same as in-person networking and activities, online conferences can still be hugely educational and convenient for on-demand learning.
The ISA Fast Track Fellowship runs an excellent Online Writers Conference with access to webinars, Q&As with producers and showrunners, peer reviews, pitching practice, and more. And Stage 32 offers a yearly online conference as well in addition to their live event.
Some other reputable virtual conferences to look out for are Script Summit from Final Draft and Writer’s Digest Annual Online Conference with big-name keynote speakers and panels. Distance is no longer a barrier with today’s options.
Conference Activities & Programming
Now that you have a sense of the diverse lineup of screenwriting conferences out there, let’s examine some of the common programming and activities you can expect to engage in as an attendee:
Panels & Sessions
Educating writers on the craft and business sides of the industry is the driving purpose behind most reputable screenwriting conferences.
This happens primarily through panel discussions and workshop sessions led by some combination of accomplished screenwriters, agents, managers, producers, and development executives.
At the Austin Film Festival for example, you might have a 1-hour panel called “Rewriting Your Script” featuring a veteran screenwriter and story editor sharing best practices on the revision process. Or “Creating Compelling Characters” led by a producer experienced in developing scripts for TV.
These sessions give you direct access to insider perspectives you’d rarely get elsewhere. And the information you’ll learn is indispensable for improving your writing skills as well as understanding how to effectively work within the studio system.
Networking & Pitching
Equally if not more important than the formal sessions at conferences are the opportunities to network and pitch your work directly to industry decision-makers.
The cocktails mixers, lunch meetings, and opening/closing receptions allow you to interact with fellow participants, featured speakers, and other conference VIPs in a more casual environment.
Nearly all conferences also facilitate pitch sessions which let you book timeslots to verbally pitch your scripts to agents, managers, and producers who can truly move the needle if they love your story.
This face time is invaluable and pitching well is an art itself – so be sure to come prepared to succinctly sell your concept.
Table Reads & Live Performances
Seeing your scripts come to life before your eyes through table reads and live performances can be exhilarating…while also highlighting areas for improvement. Many screenwriting conferences incorporate staged readings of participant scripts for this very purpose.
At the Austin Film Festival, you might have actors read your scene on stage followed by feedback from a panel of judges.
The ScreenCraft Writers Summit has actors perform short scenes as well, while the Great American PitchFest casts its best pitches each day for live readings. Observing your dialogue spoken aloud is a gift.
Competitions & Contests
Contests and competitions go hand in hand with top screenwriting conferences, providing opportunities for huge exposure and career jumps.
Austin Film Festival’s prestigious Screenplay and Teleplay Competition sees entries from over 7,000 writers worldwide in hopes of winning over $15,000 in cash prizes.
The tracking board word is that competition winners and finalists announced at conferences instantly land on industry radars.
So if you have an exceptionally strong, polished screenplay it pays to submit to reputable conference contests. Just be wary of scammy competitions with exorbitant entry fees.
Between the big panels, you’ll also find more intimate mentoring opportunities at many screenwriting conferences.
This could involve getting to pick the brain of a mentor over breakfast, signing up for a small-group class run by an instructor, or booking a paid consultation for script notes from an experienced advisor.
If you want concentrated feedback from a pro to help develop your writing, don’t be shy about taking advantage of these mentorship offerings. And the relationships built can blossom into long-term guidance.
Screenings & Premieres
What better way to study great writing than seeing films and TV shows on the big screen?
The top screenwriting conferences tend to feature advanced previews of upcoming movies and shows, screening series of old classics, plus competitions and awards spotlighting impressive new projects.
Austin Film Festival has world premiere screenings scheduled daily along with conversations with the creators. The LA Screenplay Conference shows some of the best scripts from their competition.
The Writers Guild Foundation shows movies with discussions afterward analyzing key writing techniques. As a writer, always be watching.
Benefits of Attending Screenwriting Conferences
Conferences involve a serious time and financial commitment but are well worth the investment for aspiring screenwriters based on all the tangible benefits you can gain as an attendee. Here are some of the biggest:
Making Connections & Growing Your Network
It takes the right connections to make it in Hollywood, and screenwriting conferences allow you to organically nurture those relationships from scratch.
Whether chatting in line for coffee or following up after a pitch session, you never know which encounter could lead to a career-making introduction. But you have to put yourself out there.
The producers, agents, and managers who participate in these events are actively looking for fresh new voices. The friendships you build with fellow writers could also lead to fruitful collaborations. Having a robust Rolodex is indispensable in this industry.
Practice Pitching Your Work
As a screenwriter, being able to pitch your scripts verbally in a clear and compelling manner is an essential skill, yet one rarely taught.
Screenwriting conferences give you the ideal environment to practice delivering your elevator pitch and handling Q&As smoothly under pressure from industry execs and professionals.
The more pitches you deliver and the more constructive feedback on your pitching style you incorporate, the more naturally you’ll be able to captivate execs should you get that once-in-a-lifetime meeting with a buyer. Consider the pitching practice as valuable as the formal workshops.
Learning from Experienced Industry Veterans
Where else can you pick the brains of A-list screenwriters, producers, and development executives in an intimate setting?
The sheer concentration of talent and wisdom assembled at major screenwriting conferences creates an extraordinary educational opportunity.
You can absorb tricks of the trade from the best in the business through their panels, workshops, and one-on-one interactions.
Plus connect with fellow writers at all different career stages to exchange knowledge and learn from each other’s journeys. This direct line to insider expertise is priceless.
Getting Script Feedback and Advice
Script feedback from experienced readers and advisors can be prohibitively expensive typically. But it’s one of the most valuable ways to improve your writing.
Screenwriting conferences provide affordable access to notes from top-notch writers, instructors, and judges who can evaluate your strengths and weaknesses.
From live table reads to small group classes to paid consultations and contests, there are plentiful options to choose from in getting your scripts assessed. Implementing this feedback can elevate your craft substantially. Even general sessions offer broader lessons to absorb.
Discovering New Writing Partners & Collaborators
Screenwriting can often feel like a lonely endeavor. Conferences provide a welcoming sense of community and opportunities to explore creative partnerships you may not discover otherwise.
Meeting fellow writers who share your same passions, interests, and sensibilities can spark rewarding long-term collaborations.
Maybe you meet a director looking for scripts, or another writer who excels at a skillset you lack. Or a writing team that could use help breaking story. There are compatibilities waiting to be discovered. But you have to engage sincerely with your peers.
Gaining Inspiration, Motivation & Confidence
Lastly, the simple act of surrounding yourself with hundreds of like-minded creatives can have an enormously inspiring effect.
Attending panel talks and watching others bravely pitch their projects instills motivation. You’ll leave feeling you’re part of a real movement.
Having your own work celebrated through a table read or contest can also do wonders for your confidence. And hearing how other writers broke into the industry gives hope your dreams aren’t so farfetched. Absorbing this infectious energy will keep you feeling creatively fulfilled for months afterward.
Tips for Making the Most of Screenwriting Conferences
To ensure you maximize the opportunities from any screenwriting conference you attend, keep these proven tips in mind:
Come Prepared with Pitches & Loglines
Whether or not the event has scheduled pitch sessions, you should have polished pitches and loglines for at least 2 of your scripts memorized.
You never know when you might get an impromptu opportunity to pitch, or find yourself in casual conversation with an influential executive willing to hear your concept. So you need to be ready to impress them.
Bring Lots of Business Cards
Having professional-looking business cards with your name, contact info, and any relevant credits demonstrates you mean business.
Be sure to collect cards from anyone you build rapport with – following up is critical. Simple tools like having a memorable icon or headshot on your card can also keep your name recognizable.
Follow Up Promptly & Politely
Speaking of follow up, this is one of the most vital yet overlooked steps. You must reach out to the contacts you click with right after meeting them to solidify the connection in their minds.
A friendly personalized email reminding them where you met and touching on something you discussed goes a long way. Just don’t pest
Research Speakers & Panelists Beforehand
Get the most insight from your time attending workshops and sessions by researching who the panelists are beforehand.
Read their bios and if possible watch interviews with them or film/TV credits they worked on. This allows you to craft better questions and make more meaningful connections.
Have Some Prepared Questions Ready
To build efficiently off the above tip, develop a list of smart, thoughtful questions related to each session topic that you can pose to the speakers during Q&As.
Show you did your homework and aren’t wasting their time with newbie queries. Pick their brains for true insider perspectives.
Be Professional Yet Personable
Conferences thrive on congeniality. While you must look and act professionally at all times, don’t be afraid to let your true personality shine too when appropriate. Be the writer people remember for being competent yet approachable, enthusiastic, and fun to be around. Sincerity goes a long way.
Bring Your A-Game Wardrobe
In line with professionalism, elevate your typical wardrobe for conferences. Business casual is a safe bet, but adding some stylish flair or accessories demonstrates you have that Hollywood sense.
You’ll instantly feel more confident and self-assured. And be sure your conference badge is visible at all times.
Attending a screenwriting conference is one of the smartest investments you can make during the early years of your writing career.
Surrounding yourself with like-minded creatives, gaining advice straight from industry veterans, receiving script feedback from professionals, and making authentic connections – these invaluable benefits will pay dividends for years to come.
Of course, not every conference experience will be transformative. The more research, preparation, and follow up you put in as an attendee, the greater your odds of catalyzing that career-elevating breakthrough. Approach each event with focus, passion, patience, and perseverance.
If COVID has put in-person conferences on hold, don’t hesitate to explore the growing roster of reputable virtual conferences filling the gap. While digital networking proves more challenging, the learning opportunities remain top-notch.
So explore the many excellent conferences across genres happening each year nationwide. And commit to regularly putting yourself in rooms where careers get launched and dreams come true. The stage lights await you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of a writing conference?
The main purposes of a writing conference are to provide education through workshops and panels, facilitate networking with industry professionals, allow writers to pitch their work for feedback and potential opportunities, inspire writers through the community, and help advance writing careers through competitions, mentorships, and exposure.
What is a script conference?
A script conference is a type of screenwriting conference focused specifically on script development, whereby writers can receive notes on their scripts through activities like table reads, pitch sessions, and script consulting services with development executives and/or professional script analysts.
How hard is it to get into screenwriting?
Getting into professional screenwriting is extremely competitive. Though anyone can write scripts on their own, selling a spec script or getting hired to write for film/TV often requires exceptional talent, training, industry connections, perseverance through rejections, and a fair amount of luck. Attending screenwriting conferences and contests can help.
What is the difference between writing and screenwriting?
The main differences between writing and screenwriting include: screenwriting formats scenes visually and uses screen direction, screenplays have less emphasis on internal thoughts/exposition, screenwriting aims to create a blueprint for a visual medium, scripts need to consider budget/production limitations, and screenplays follow rigid structural conventions.
What to expect at a writers conference?
At most writers’ conferences, you can expect panel talks/workshops with authors, agents, and editors, pitch sessions and query letter reviews, genre-focused breakout groups, craft classes/workshops, keynote speeches, social mixers and readings, contests and awards events, and opportunities to receive manuscript feedback.
What happens at a writers conference?
Some key things that tend to happen are educational sessions about craft and the publishing business, pitch sessions with agents/editors to sell your book concept, critique meetings for manuscript feedback, contests and awards recognizing top writing, structured networking time to connect with industry professionals and fellow writers, and deals being made between breakout writers and publishing houses.
Should I go to a writers conference?
If you are actively trying to improve your writing skills, make connections in the publishing industry, pitch your work to potential agents/editors, or receive professional feedback, attending a reputable writers’ conference can be very beneficial in helping you achieve your writing goals and advance your career. Just be prepared to make the most of the experience.
What are the 3 types of scripts?
The 3 main types of scripts in screenwriting are spec scripts (written on speculation to sell), assignment scripts (written after being hired by a studio), and shooting scripts (produced scripts used during filming). Spec scripts aim to showcase writing talent.
What are the three stages of script writing?
The three core stages of script writing are:
- Outlining – Developing the story, characters, structure, scenes, and major plot points.
- Writing – Producing a first draft and completing subsequent revisions and rewrites.
- Polishing – Refining the writing through final passes, copy edits, formatting, and proofreading.