ALTERNATE ROUTES: Produced by Uncle Sam – Government-Sponsored Screenwriting Contests

Marty Lang is a screenwriter, filmmaker, journalist and educator. His feature writing/directing debut, RISING STAR, was acquired for worldwide distribution by Content Film in 2013. His producing credits include the 2016 Independent Spirit Award-nominated OUT OF MY HAND, and BEING MICHAEL MADSEN, starring Michael Madsen, Virginia Madsen and Daryl Hannah. Twitter: @marty_lang.

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When you first start your screenwriting career, one great way to learn about production, and to see your work produced, is to write a short film or television project that can be made for a little money and a lot of sweat equity. Whether you direct it yourself, or you bring collaborators on board to help realize your vision, the process of turning a script into a film can teach a screenwriter so much about how to write in a visual medium, along with how to work with cast and crew.

Script EXTRA: Why You Should Write a Short Film Screenplay

Fortunately, some U.S. cities and states have realized that producing short media is also a great way to boost local workforce development and tourism. As a result, there are a number of screenwriting contests run by local and state governments around the country. And if you can write a script that fits their guidelines, they could provide you the money and resources you need to turn that script into a film.

TTC student Cassie Tuten on set of Indie Grant film ISLE OF PALMS

When it comes to government-sponsored production, the state of South Carolina has been leading the pack for some time. Their Indie Grants program has funded 27 short film projects since 2010, using professionals in key positions, and film students from Trident Technical College as their support crews. They offer budgets in the $20,000-30,000 range for winning scripts, as well as equipment assistance from Trident. They also work with some Hollywood heavy hitters; recent collaborators include Oscar-winning Cinematographer Russell Carpenter (TITANIC, ANT-MAN), Casting Director Avy Kaufman (LINCOLN, LIFE OF PI), Script Supervisor Martha Pinson (WALL STREET, THE AVIATOR), and noted script consultant Peter J. Fox.

Tom Clark of the South Carolina Film Commission is bullish on the program, which he says is unique in the U.S.

“It’s such a smart, tactical approach,” Clark said. “We’re supporting our state’s filmmakers and artists, while at the same time providing pragmatic hands-on training. Putting emerging South Carolina production professionals on the road to success and a bridge to high value employment.”

Here’s an example of one of their winning films, the dark fantasy DIRTY SILVERWARE by Steve Daniels:

Recent films produced through Indie Grants have played at film festivals like Sundance, Palm Springs, Austin and Los Angeles. And they’re actually in a funding cycle right now! Their deadline is June 19, 2017. If you’re interested, their entry form and information can be found at www.indiegrants.org.

Possibly inspired by South Carolina, the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Film Commission in Florida decided last year to conduct a similar screenwriting competition. After the films THE INFILTRATOR and MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN filmed around the historic Don CeSar Hotel and St. Petersburg Beach, the commission wanted to highlight their beautiful locations and local film crews by making a short film. Their contest, in partnership with networking/collaboration platform Stage 32, offered a $20,000 production grant to the winner, along with mentorship by Sundance director J.T. Mollner, and management by local production company Digital Caviar.

Script EXTRA: Interview with CEO of Stage 32

The added bonus for this competition, though, is that distribution opportunities are already included with the production of the film. The winning script, DOLPHIN GIRL by Tanya Carleton Lovrics, will be produced in the area, and then will be screened at the Hollyshorts Film Festival, Richmond Film Festival and Sunscreen Film Festival this year, along with a worldwide online screening on Stage 32.

A casting call went out on Stage 32 in May for Florida-based actors for the film, and it will be filmed this June and July. Odds are that DOLPHIN GIRL won’t be the only film made through this program; the competition was advertised as the “first annual,” so keep your eye out for the second edition this year.

And if you’re a female writer living in New York City, your hometown provides an incredible opportunity: The NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment held a contest this spring to select two half-hour pilots for production! In April, the MOME and Brooklyn College’s Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema announced that Patty Carey-Perazzo’s HALF-LIFE and Robin Rose Singer’s ADULT BEHAVIOR were chosen from a pool of over 300 scripts to be developed into pilots to be filmed this summer. These will air on NYC Media, the City’s official broadcast network with a reach of 18 million households, and one of them will be selected for the creation of four additional episodes, to air on NYC Media in the summer of 2018.

After taking time out from her day job as a location manager to write about a woman’s attempt to lean back into her career after leaning out to raise her children, Carey-Perrazo is thrilled to have this screenwriting opportunity.

Script EXTRA: Balancing Life and Writing

“I’ve been working in film and television production right here in NYC for over 20 years, but I’ve always worked on someone else’s show,” Carey-Perrazo said. “To have this opportunity to break through to another level and see my own project come to fruition means everything to me.”

The two winning scripts will be produced as pilots this summer by teams of Feirstein graduate students under the mentorship of Jonathan Wacks, founding director of the school, and Jamie Zelermyer, former Vice President of Physical Production at Focus Features/Rogue Pictures. Wacks and Zelermyer serve as Executive Producers.

This screenwriting competition is one element of a groundbreaking series of initiatives announced by MOME earlier this year, targeting the underrepresentation of women in the film, television, and theater industries. These initiatives, which also include a $5 million dollar women filmmakers fund, mark the first time a municipal entity has taken on gender inequity in these fields.

Whether for workforce development and education, tourism or supporting women in the film and television industry, cities and states are taking the initiative to produce short-form content that highlights where they call home. If you happen to call one home too, they just might be able to help you become a screenwriter with a produced script.

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