How to Win the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition

Man With A Bolex Movie Camera
DC Shorts finalist Colin Foster enjoys a table read of his screenplay, The Man with a Bolex Movie Camera.

The DC Shorts Screenplay Competition is a different kind of screenplay contest. What makes it unique is that the winner receives $2,000 toward turning their script into a film. The film is also automatically admitted into the following year’s DC Shorts Film Festival. This alone makes it worth the time of any aspiring writer. However, even if you don’t win the competition, it’s a worthwhile entry fee – all scripts receive written feedback. And if your screenplay is a finalist, you get to watch it being performed by actors at a table read, in front of a live audience in Washington, DC. You also get to attend the ScriptDC screenwriting conference.

(See the alumni report on last year’s finalists – they’re all doing great things.)

As a screenplay judge for the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition, and as a screenwriter myself, I’m going to tell you exactly how to win this contest.

I hate to say it but the rules are important. They exist because we want great short films that can be produced in DC, ones that audiences will stand up and cheer for. Most important rule – your script can’t be longer than fifteen pages. Ten pages would be even better. Be concise. Economical.

Here’s how we do the judging:

Scripts are scored by each judge for strength of plot, originality, writing proficiency, ability to be produced on a budget of less than $10K, ability to be successfully read, performed, and understood by a live audience, and other values.

Your script will be judged by the criteria listed above. What do we mean by them?

Strength of Plot – Story is conflict. You must introduce your main character and their dilemma immediately. We have to discover their problem in the first couple of pages. Then you must figure out a way to resolve it.

Originality – Everyone knows what happens in a romantic comedy, how the characters meet cute and are destined for one another. Blech. What’s your twist on this familiar genre?

Writing Proficiency – DC Shorts screenplay contest judges are writers themselves. Don’t annoy us with clichés, bland lines of dialogue or overwritten descriptions. And certainly don’t include typos, misspellings or other mistakes.

Ability to Be Produced – We’re talking low-budget. No special effects. No explosions. One or two simple locations, like a coffee shop or a bedroom. No crowd scenes or exotic costumes. Keep it simple and let your story do the work.

Ability to Be Successfully Read and Performed – Finalists get a table-read in front of an audience, who picks the winner. Write dialogue that actors want to perform, that audiences will thrill to hear. I suggest reading it aloud yourself or with friends. Act it out and see how it plays. All the winners have been comedies. That’s not to say that a drama couldn’t win but audiences like to laugh.

Other Factors – Judging is, by its nature, subjective. We read a lot of scripts so, above all, we want things in correct screenplay format. (Hint: use Celtx to format your script.) Extreme violence or sex may put off some judges. Stories that are racist, misogynist, homophobic or badly written certainly will. And it’s called DC Shorts, so we have a preference for scripts set in Washington. While I’m just one of several judges, I’d love to see a script with a strong sense of the city.

What doesn’t matter is… who you are. Judging is blind. We don’t know who wrote what. Anyone can win this contest.

You can do it. Fewer than fifteen pages, a couple of locations, some interesting characters, an intriguing situation – c’mon, you could write that over an evening.

Early Deadline – March 31
Regular Deadline – April 30
Extended Deadline – May 31

Submit your script online at DC Shorts. And if you have any questions, let me know. I’d be glad to help.

Table read of The Man with a Bolex Movie Camera, by Colin Foster (pictured).

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer, photographer and web person from Washington, DC. The author of several novels, Joe won the City Paper Fiction Competition in 2020. In his free time, he enjoys wandering about the city taking photos.

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