pen, notebook with the start of a screenplay, and a crumpled piece of paper
Writing a screenplay is hard. After toiling for months, maybe even years, on your script, it becomes more than just a story on the screen. It feels like it’s your child, one that you hold close and protect dearly. That’s why it makes it even harder to submit to a screenplay contest, where your script falls under the scrutiny of strangers.

Sure, it would be safer to lock it away, much like Elsa’s parents do with her in Frozen. But then it would never have the chance to impact others with its message. So when you finally do set it free and the long-awaited feedback arrives, what should you expect?

Of course, there’s always feedback that isn’t helpful. This type comes in many forms. Sometimes, it’s simply a summary; the reader is essentially describing your story to you as proof that they’ve read the screenplay. That might let you see if your story makes sense, but it doesn’t necessarily help you make it better.

Then there’s feedback given in the form of a numerical rating. Getting an “8” for characterization might feel good, but ultimately doesn’t pinpoint why the characterization works. Alternatively, a lower number doesn’t give you information about what, specifically, is lacking.

Feedback might come in the form of glowing generalities that make us feel good, but at the end of the day, we want to know what to do to take our story to the next level.

This means that whether you’re submitting to screenplay competitions through Film Freeway or Coverfly, you seek out a competition that values quality feedback.

Here are three things to keep in mind as you prepare your screenplay for submission to a competition and the feedback that follows.

First, feedback is your friend. As a screenwriter, it’s natural to go on the defensive when someone else doesn’t see your story in the same light as you do. Keep in mind, though, that the one giving the feedback is a professional reader who has likely read hundreds or even thousands of scripts and has learned to notice where particular elements of the plot or of the characters might fall short.

When receiving feedback from a contest, try to view it through the lens that the feedback is meant to help build your story up, not to tear it down.

Of course, sometimes to build something greater, it might be necessary to reexamine the foundation to be sure it is on solid ground. The Save the Cat! Screenplay Challenge does this through the 50 Points of Analysis, a set of criteria based on the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet. As a reader examines the script and answers questions for each of the beats, you can gain a better idea of where your story’s foundation is strong, and where it can be strengthened.

Second, submitting your screenplay to a contest allows you to get a second set of eyes on your story. Because writing is very personal, it’s all too easy to find ourselves developing our story within a vacuum. We are faced with writer’s block and get stuck, unable to figure out where to send our characters next. This is one of the greatest benefits of getting feedback for your screenplay. The reader can often spot things you’ve missed or raise questions you hadn’t considered.

While managing the Save the Cat! Screenplay Challenge, I read over every set of analysis that is sent to writers, and I’m constantly surprised by the amount of actionable feedback that our readers provide for the submissions. Sometimes it might be a suggestion for a new scene or an idea for rearranging plot points to have a stronger overall structure. The feedback can often lead to more questioning and can open doors for new lines of thinking, leading to an Aha! moment or a sudden realization prompting the writer to say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

The more you can get an experienced set of eyes to look at your screenplay, the stronger it can become.

Third, just because your screenplay could use some revision doesn’t mean that it’s bad. Personally, I know that I could hear a hundred positive things, but when a part of my screenplay needs work, my default mode is to view it in a negative light. However, a growth mindset is far more beneficial and yields better results.

With the Save the Cat! Screenplay Challenge, the feedback is designed to identify specific areas of growth and help the writer identify how that can impact the story as a whole. For example, receiving a ranking of “Almost There” for a specific beat does not mean that the script fails at that level or that the writer has neglected that beat. Instead, it points toward an area that needs a bit of development.

Often, these small areas have the potential to improve the story on a larger scale as well. For example, by realizing that the Theme Stated beat needs more focus, you will also improve the strength of other beats where the theme is important, such as the Midpoint and the Dark Night of the Soul. These, in turn, help to improve your hero’s arc and transformation.

Writing a script is never easy, but the good news is that if you are reading this, chances are that you’ve already finished one, a feat that separates you from those who only dream of doing so. Now, it’s time to share your creation with the world and embrace the feedback, discovering new paths as you shape a screenplay that raises the bar!

Learn more about the Save the Cat! Screenplay Challenge>>