Occasionally I'll meet new writers he blow hundreds (thousands?) on screenwriting contests and ... go nowhere. Don't place. Booted out early. Nothing to show for their entry fee if they didn't pay for notes.
Before spending money on contests or hiring professional readers, consider joining and becoming active on FREE screenplay peer review websites.
Reading scripts -- pro scripts, amateur scripts, anything you can get your hands on -- makes you a better writer. That's the idea behind peer review websites: Learn by reading scripts from other writers. You give notes and, in exchange, receive notes. Much cheaper than paying consultants for early drafts.
You can network with a community of writers. Form friendships and a circle of trusted readers. Invaluable and free feedback. These writers will move up with you through the ranks and you can form your own long-distance screenwriters group.
There are producers associated with or trolling the sites. One may find your script and want to make it. Or a young filmmaker may want to make your short and enter it in festivals. Your work it out there -- and if it's good, things can happen.
There is a danger of receiving notes that send you in the wrong direction. Another amateur writer may not give you notes that are helpful and you may be too new and 'chase notes' -- rewriting your script where it becomes something you don't want.
Does take hours to review script after script. That's time that you could have spent writing.
The reviews on several sites are public. I suggest you get your notes and take down that draft. Repost the script and repeat the process. Don't want old versions of your script out there on public websites.
Some of the reviewers are obnoxious jerks. Welcome to the writing world. However, most are extremely helpful to new screenwriters and give great notes. It's a mixed bag -- just like the quality of scripts you'll review on the sites.
Many new writers are worried someone will 'steal their idea.' Chances are that idea has already been written by many other writers. It comes down to the execution: Did you nail the script? If it's a comedy, is it funny? Horror, did it scare me?
If you do have a million dollar high concept that's great but never been done, yes, keep that under wraps. Pay some consultants for feedback instead. But you can't copyright and IDEA. You have to have a great script to back up the concept these days. Much of the paranoia of new writers is wasted energy. You're selling your ability to write a script more than a 'great idea.' You have to get your work out there eventually to sell it.
How do you get started?
Go to the websites. Sign up for free. Visit the boards. Click on "GET ASSIGNMENT" and start doing reviews. Download the script, read through it making notes in a separate word processor document, and then cut and paste it onto the site. Circalit doesn't require posted reviews to participate but the more active and respected members give notes.
What's the best that could happen?
Your script could make it to the top on the site and, like in any contest, be read by a producer or director who wants to make it. Could lead to an option, sale, or assignment on another project.
I've been active on a few and here's what I've found:
1. TriggerStreet.com. Notes on your script are open for members to read. There are 'Daily Favorites' -- recently reviewed top 10. Through that process a Screenplay of the Month is nominated (3 finalists) and one chosen.
The good: Some excellent reviewers on the site. Experienced writers that take time and care to give notes. Many pro writers, on the verge writers, filmmakers, and film nuts make it a fun place to be. Useful info on the boards. Overall, great site.
The bad: Any peer site will have newbies that give bad notes. TriggerStreet has an appeals process to remove useless reviews. The Screenplay of the Month process encourages old drafts of scripts to be left up as you can't replace drafts without losing your 'place in line.'
Again, well-run site with some talented folks.
2. Zoetrope.com. Closed process (not just anyone can see the notes you receive). I've found it a more artsy crowd there than the other sites. But some solid notes and may be a good fit.
The good: Associated with a production company that actually reads the winning scripts and considers them for option.
The bad: Site can be difficult to navigate.
3. Circalit.com. This is a new site and a bit of a sleeper. I've had two filmmakers request scripts from here in my first couple of weeks of posting there.
The good: Easy to use. Industry people and pros populate the ranks.
The bad: No required reviews or tests to assure scripts are read. A group of friends could easily push up a script in the rankings. Not sure why someone would want a pro reader to review a script that way but it's a possibility given the format. Site is in the beta-phase though and these issues will be addressed.
Only see it getting better. Good place to get in early.
4. Talentville.com. Started by the co-founder of Final Draft, this website is easy to use. Nice design. You post scripts 'for free' but then add 'dollars' (earned from doing reviews) to your script to get reviews.
The good: Quality of the reviews I've received to date have been very good. Pro readers are on the site and there are industry members.
The bad: New site and word has to get out. Will see how it develops.
They've brought in many industry people and want scripts from the site to become films. One to watch.
Becoming active on any peer review site is a good way to form a group of screenwriting friends and keep on top of what's going on via the discussion boards.
Reading and reviewing scripts (doing coverage) is an excellent way to improve your own writing. You will raise your standards. Pay your dues. Put in the time it takes to develop your draft.
There's a chance on any site that you may be 'discovered' or make a connection that springboards your career. More important, rewrite and rewrite your script through many drafts.
All of these sites will show you what you thought was the 'final draft' is nowhere close. A good lesson to learn early.
From there you can go to pro consultants if you want to get an idea of what a production company coverage of your script would find. See if it's ready to shop.
Then when you shop the script or enter contests it'll be with a solid draft: No typos, no format errors, no gaping plot holes. Your script won't be tossed aside in the first round or immediately booted by a production company as unprofessional.
You'll have a solid spec, the best version of YOUR SCRIPT (make sure it stays yours through all the notes and rewrites) possible. Now go enter contests and make your pitch phone calls with confidence knowing you've got a script you want the world to see.
If you are not active on a peer review site, sign up today! Best of luck.
(You can add me as a friend me on circalit: stephenhoover; Talentville: stephen_hoover; Triggerstreet: toddh99.)