Do screenplay contest winners ever get made?

An anonymous user asked: “What percent of contest winners ever get their scripts made into movies?”

Wow, that’s a hard question to answer as no one tracks all of that in one place, but quite often if you search through the major contest results very few ever get made.  Why?

Well, there are a few reasons.

First: A good portion of screenplays that the studios buy never get produced.  I’ve heard numbers anywhere from only 10% to 25% of all script purchases ever get made.  I’d actually bet the number is even smaller.  Sometimes they purchase a script because they already have something similar in development and want to take it off the market.  Sometimes they have all the good intentions of making the screenplay into a film but it just doesn’t get the momentum that it needs to carry it forward.  Sometimes the stars just don’t align right.  More often than not, the stars don’t align.

A movie is an engine with thousands of moving parts and anyone of them can break down and cause the project to not get off the ground.  Doesn’t mean the script wasn’t good, but…

Second: Let’s look at the market.  In 2012 and 2011 the Scoggins Report reported exactly 132 spec sales.  That’s 132 sales of scripts that were written independently by writers.  So how does that compute to screenplay winners and finalists?  Well with just the Nicholls Fellowship and Page Screenplay winners your talking 50 winners… and that’s just two contests.  Or, to put it another way, there were close to 50,000 screenplays registered last year by the WGA and only 132 sales.

That means only 0.2% of all screenplays written last year were purchased.  Go further, that means 0.05% to 0.02% of all screenplays registered last year will get produced.

Third: In a perfect world only good scripts get made, right?  Hollywood is far from perfect and neither are script contests.  If you follow the spec market and read the spec scripts you’ll scratch your head on some contest winners.  Why did this win? Are you kidding me?  And if you watch a lot of movies you’ll ask the same questions:  Why did this get made?  Are you kidding me?

So why didn’t they get made?  Oh, there are a host of reasons.  Those screenplay competition winners were good, but were they commercial?  Were they ready?  Where they professional?

To use a sports analogy: The best high school football player in a given state is still no match for the Heisman trophy winner in the same year.  And even that Heisman Trophy winner will get squashed if he tried to scrimmage in the NFL right away.

The best amateur isn’t as good as the best professional… at least not usually.

That doesn’t mean give up.  Take the acclaim and use it to your benefit.  Ride the press.  Always move forward!