Developing a feature film or television series is the ultimate goal that all screenwriters interested in long-format stories are pursuing one way or another, wherever they are on their creative odyssey. Be they at ideas stage, outline, first draft, or out to sea somewhere on a rewrite, the development road is long, often winding through years, with only ones own faith to guide them when the going gets tough.
Like any hero on her journey, there are many obstacles to overcome on the way to having a production-ready, funded project. From the internal obstacles of fear and self-doubt, to the external obstacles of financial insecurity, finding the right producers and script advisors, and gaining distributor or funding agency support, the challenges are real and the stakes are high.
The single most important aspect of development is finding your people, finding your tribe. At some stage in the process, this will be a producer, hopefully, a creative one who understands story and can guide you along, nurturing you and your project, and developing your unique creative voice.
The writer/producer relationship is not only a vital one for the growth of your screenplay, but in the case of some funding streams, an essential one, so this is not a relationship that should be left until you have the perfect polished screenplay, but one that should be fostered at ideas stage if possible. Find your people early and make the journey more of a road trip than a lonesome odyssey.
But it isn’t always easy to find a producer as an emerging screenwriter, and often you will need spec scripts to show them what you can do, so another important relationship to foster is the script mentor or advisor.
A script mentor or advisor can be invaluable to the emerging screenwriter. A good one will help you discover what it is you are trying to say with your screenplay, provide invaluable feedback, make suggestions for rewrites and research, and be your support as you slay the dragon inside your laptop. They make seemingly insurmountable obstacles feel insignificant, and can make your screenwriting goals seem achievable. They share their passion and demystify the process of moulding a screenplay into existence.
There are some opportunities for funded mentorships through Screen Australia’s Talent Escalator program, though resources are limited, so it can be wise to build up a relationship with a writer or script advisor you respect, with a view to applying for early development support from your state funding agency.
Be brave. Reach out to the people who inspire you. Research other writers and script editors or advisors who have worked on projects you respect and get in touch. Send your ideas out to script labs and development hothouse opportunities.
Below are some opportunities both locally and internationally open to Australian screenwriters, from mentorship opportunities, to funding rounds, and international script labs where you can also gain support through the wisdom of advisors and other writers and creative producers.
LOCAL DEVELOPMENT SUPPORT
Screen Australia – Talent Development Creative Suite
The Creative Talent Suite provides opportunities for less experienced as well as experienced creative practitioners including writers and directors across feature film, television and online and interactive drama. Funds may be used for international placements, domestic attachments and placements, Lab attendance, and career-specific mentorships. Applications open on a rolling basis throughout the year
Screen NSW – Early Development Support
Through the Early Development program Screen NSW offers support in the pre-draft stage of development for draft and non-draft costs. Funds can be used towards a Script Editor/Advisor on the project. Applications are assessed on a rolling basis throughout the year.
SCRIPT DEVELOPMENT LABS
Script Development Labs have a proven track record of helping projects thrive in a creative hothouse environment, with the assistance of high-level script advisors, creative producers, and other writers. Entry is highly competitive but incredibly rewarding for selected participants.
Aurora Script Development Lab (Screen NSW)
Screen NSW’s premium development program, consisting of a development workshop accompanied with development funding for the next draft. Many high profile projects have been through Aurora including Animal Kingdom, Sommersault, and Wish you Were Here. Previously only projects with an experienced producer attached were eligible to apply. Keep an eye out for the updated 2015/2016 incarnation of Aurora for updated guidelines. Applications expected to open later in the year.
The Sundance Screenwriters Lab (USA)
This renowned Lab is a five-day writer’s workshop that gives independent screenwriters the opportunity to work intensively on their feature film scripts with the support of established writers in an environment that encourages innovation and creative risk-taking. The Screenwriters Lab is held from 16 to 21 January, just before the Sundance Film Festival. Recent Australian projects developed through the Lab include Partisan which also screened at the festival. International applications are due around 15 June each year.
Cinefoundation – The Residence (France)
The Résidence du Festival annually selects a dozen young directors who work there on their first or second fictional feature film project, in two sessions lasting four and a half months (from October 1st to mid-February, and from the end of February to mid-July). Since its creation in 2000, the Résidence has welcomed more than one hundred and seventy filmmakers from more than fifty different countries. It makes available to them a place of residence in the heart of Paris, a personalised programme accompanying the writing of their scripts, and a collective programme of forums with film industry professionals. Nearly fifty filmmakers emerging from the great halls of this “Villa Médicis” of cinema have seen their films selected by international festivals and distributed in theatres. Selection is based on the quality of filmmakers shorts – or first feature film, as well as on the interest of the feature film project in the course of being written, and on the candidates’ motivation. The deadline is in September each year.
Film Independent’s Screenwriting Lab (USA)
This Lab is an intensive five-week program that runs two to three evenings a week in Los Angeles in September and October. The Lab is designed to help screenwriters improve their craft, develop their voices as writers, and take their current scripts to the next level. During the Lab, Fellows receive feedback on their scripts from the Lab Mentor, outside advisors, and the other writers in the program. Applications close early May each year.
Sundance Episodic Story Lab (USA)
This relatively new Lab will choose ten writers/filmmakers with an episodic pilot over a two-round process for a six-day fellowship. The Episodic Story Lab is an immersive experience for ten writers over a six-day period at the Sundance Resort in Utah. The writers will work with an accomplished group of showrunners, television executives, and producers. Participants take part in one-on-one creative story meetings, a simulated Writers’ Room to break story, pitch sessions, and group conversations about the creative and business environment of television writing and producing. The Lab runs in October each year.
INTERNATIONAL SCRIPT COMPETITIONS & FELLOWSHIPS
Another way to gain feedback, mentorship and networking opportunities with producers and industry internationally, is through fellowships and screenwriting competitions that can help get you and your project Industry attention.
AWG INSITE Awards (Australia)
The INSITE Award celebrates and acknowledges the outstanding work being produced by AWG writers and provides an important development opportunity. Entrants must submit writing samples, with shortlisted writers submitting a full draft screenplay. The winner will meet industry directors and producers with a view to moving the project forward and onto the screen. Entries close June each year. The AWG Pathways Program is also worth checking out for emerging screenwriters.
Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting (USA)
This prestigious competition awards up to five fellowships of US$35,000 each year. Specifically for feature film screenplays, the Nicholl Fellowships are open to writers based anywhere in the world, regardless of citizenship. Fellowship recipients are expected to complete at least one original feature film screenplay during the Fellowship year. Many Nicholl Fellowship winners have had their screenplays produced and screened at festivals including Sundance, Cannes, and Berlin.The final entry deadline is May each year.
Screencraft Screenwriting Fellowship (USA)
For screenwriters looking for ongoing mentorship to develop the skills that’ll take their careers to the next level. Successful applicants receive a $1000 writing grant, six months of one-on-one consultations with the Screencraft staff and mentors, and meetings with literary agents. The ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship is designed to jumpstart and continually develop the careers of talented screenwriters through ongoing consultation and a special trip to Los Angeles filled with meetings and introductions to key entertainment executives, producers and representatives. Applications accepted for feature film scripts and original television pilot scripts. The Deadline is December each year.
Script Pipeline Screenwriting Contest (USA)
This contest offers $20,000 in cash, consultation, circulation of your script, and a free plane ticket to LA to meet with Industry execs. It has a long tradition of discovering up-and-coming talent and connecting them with top producers, agencies, and managers across studio and independent markets. This process has proven enormously successful, with numerous screenwriting contest alumni worldwide finding elite representation and gaining crucial introductions to otherwise impossible-to-reach industry execs. International screenwriters are welcome to submit their work and entries close May each year.
BlueCat Screenplay Competition (USA)
The BlueCat Screenplay Competition is focused on developing and discovering the unknown screenwriter. Every entrant receives one written analysis while supporting screenwriters of all levels and stages of development with the constructive feedback all writers require. Winners and finalists have been signed by major talent agencies like UTA, CAA and WME, sold their work to studios like Warner Bros., Paramount and Universal, and won major awards at the Sundance, Berlin and Tribeca Film Festivals, all after being discovered by and winning BlueCat. Categories include Features and Shorts, and entries are open to International Screenwriters. Check their website for the next call for entries.
A competition with the goal of finding talented (unknown) screenwriters and to promote them in the highly competitive film industry. The first place winner receives a cash prize of $10,000. Scriptapalooza also supports the winner, finalists and semi-finalists by publicizing each screenwriter’s script for one year. Past winners have won Emmys, been signed by agents, managers, had their scripts optioned, and even made into movies. The deadline is February each year.
Big Break (USA)
An annual, global screenwriting contest designed to launch the careers of aspiring writers. There are seven feature categories (Action/Adventure, Comedy/Rom-Com, Drama, Family/Animated, Period/Historical/War, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and Thriller/Horror) and four television categories (Half-Hour Spec, Half-Hour Pilot, Hour-Long Spec, and Hour-Long Pilot). The eleven winners will share US$80,000 in cash and prizes. The final entry deadline is 31 July.
Festival-Based Competitions (USA)
Several film festivals in the USA have noteworthy Screenplay and Teleplay Competitions, including Austin Film Festival, and Slamdance. These festivals provide exposure to projects and provide important networking opportunities with other filmmakers and industry professionals including managers and producers.