The 2017 Byron Bay International Film Festival is expanding with the addition of a screenplay contest with a $2500 U.S. first prize and Final Draft screenwriting software for the top three placegetters.
Open to screenwriters both domestically and internationally, the Byron Bay International Film Festival Screenplay Contest is one of Australia’s only feature film screenplay competition attached to a major film festival.
“Screenplay contests play a very important role in the careers of many screenwriters, especially when they are finding their feet in the business,” said Contest Director, Pim Hendrix. “Winning a contest is a great way to gauge how well your writing is going, and it can also help to fast-track your work, by gaining the attention of producers and agents.”
Hendrix said there are many examples of screenwriters who have gone on to have extremely successful careers after winning contests.
“We are so excited to launch this new component of the festival,” said Festival Director J’aimee Skippon-Volke. “Successful films are based on great screenplays, so it makes so much sense to incorporate a screenplay contest into this year’s festival,” she said.
Hendrix only recently returned to take up residence in the Byron Bay area after almost 18 years in LA, an experience, he says, which helped to make him a better writer.
“Trying to gain a foothold in Los Angeles is such a sobering experience for anyone who goes there,” he said. “You quickly realize you’re a very small fish in a very large pond and you really have to lift your game to get any attention.”
Before leaving for LA Pim was runner up in the Australian Writers Guild Monty Miller Award for unproduced screenwriters, his first contest award. “Being nominated for the Monty Miller Award was a great step for me as a fairly new writer on the Australian scene at the time,” he said.
“I realized at that point that my writing was on the right track and that the stories I was crafting were good enough to share with a wider audience.It’s so hard to know if what you are writing is up to scratch because as writers we tend to spend a lot of time on our own and rarely show our work to others.”
“And when we do, we’re often stunned by the lack of enthusiasm and criticism we receive. It can really hold you back as a writer.”
The Byron Bay International Film Festival Screenplay Contest is open to all writers, but there are a set of conditions to adhere to.
Screenplays must be formatted correctly, be in English, and be between 80 and 120 pages in length, which is the standard length for most feature films. They must be submitted as a pdf document, and the title page must contain no authorship or contact information, only the work’s title.
“What we’re looking for are writers with a unique voice,” said Hendrix. “We’re looking for stories that jump off the page and instantly grab you by the throat.”
Entries are open until late June with the winners announced at BBFF2017, which runs from October 6 – 15 at multiple venues in Byron Bay and across the Northern Rivers. The festival is truly one of the more interesting and quirky festivals on the circuit and attracts filmmaking talent from all around the world.
Tips From The Contest Director:
Hendrix said that judging is based on a series of writing components and not just story.
“When we judge a screenplay, we’re look at a range of elements, everything from story to structure, character, dialogue, pace, execution, and overall writing,” he said. “It’s more than just having a good story. You have to write it in the most filmic way possible. Make it a page turner and keep it lean.”
Asked what other advice he would give to novice writers, Hendrix said that making sure their work had no spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors was very important to the process.”
“I can’t stress enough how important it is for writers to make sure their work is error free,” he said. “Nothing is more off-putting than reading a good screenplay that is riddled with mistakes. Think about it. You’re reading a great story, visualising what is there on the page, and you’re suddenly confronted with an error. What does the brain automatically do? It focuses on the error and instantly you’re out of the story. In a screenplay you can’t afford to lose the reader. You need to keep the reader constantly engaged.”
“Plus it makes you look like an amateur. A professional has pride in his work and knows even one simple error can ruin the experience for a potential producer, investor, or anyone else reading a screenplay. My number one rule is NO ERRORS!”
He said another area writers should work on was to keep their writing as lean as possible. Strip it back to the bare bones.
“Screenwriting is not like book writing. It’s a type of shorthand, so you have to show what is happening with minimal words.” This means knowing how to craft your sentences so that they are just descriptive and emotive enough to give the reader the visual you desire, without overwriting. Less is more in many instances.