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American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest Offers Chance to Win $5,000 from Francis Ford Coppola

Screenplay contests abound. Notices for new screenplay contests arrive via email daily. Aspiring screenwriters could certainly go broke applying to the multitudes of contests in the hope of some sort of recognition. So, before handing over cash to a screenwriting contest, writers should really identify the value they get from a contest for the money they spend. Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest offers a chance to win $5,000 plus consideration for representation from major agencies and management firms as well as the possibility of optioning your screenplay to several notable production companies and studios.


For the uninitiated, American Zoetrope is Francis Ford Coppola’s production company, perhaps best known for producing Coppola’s masterpieces The Godfather, The Godfather Part II and Apocalypse Now, as well as George Lucas’ first feature films THX 1138 and American Graffiti. You can learn more about the history of American Zoetrope’s beginning as well as its financial collapse during the 1970s in Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, one of the 15 books from our film school on a bookshelf.

American Zoetrope continues to produce films, most notably all of Sofia Coppola’s films as well as films from directors such as Bill Condon (Kinsey), Hal Hartley (No Such Thing), Robert Duvall (Assassination Tango) and Robert DeNiro (The Good Shepherd), among others.

The 10th annual American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest offers a grand prize of $5,000 to the winner, presented by Francis Ford Coppola. The winner, along with the ten remaining finalists, will also receive consideration for representation from several major agencies and management companies including William Morris Endeavor, CAA, ICM, UTA and The Gersh Agency, to name a few. Over thirty production companies and studios will also consider optioning and developing the scripts of the winner and ten finalists, including American Zoetrope, Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics, Samuel Goldwyn Films, IFC Entertainment, Paramount Vantage and Lionsgate.

Additionally, American Zoetrope publishes the writers and screenplay titles for its semifinalists and quarterfinalists, providing them with additional exposure and the possibility of industry contacts as well (although no promises in this regard). From last year’s competition, American Zoetrope announced 16 semifinalists and 40 quarterfinalists along with the ten finalists and winner.

The upside to the American Zoetrope contest is the introduction to industry representation and independently minded production companies for the winner and ten finalists. The downside, like so many screenwriting contests, is a lack of feedback on a writer’s work. Also, as always, it’s subjective and it’s a numbers game.

The early deadline is August 1, 2012, with an entry fee of $35. The regular and final deadline is September 6, 2012, with an entry fee of $60.

Have you had a personal experience with the American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest? Do you find screenwriting contests like this one valuable? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section.

Link: American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest

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Description image 17 COMMENTS

  • Entry fee…? c’mon

  • 5000 for a script that can make milions? and they want registration fee? LOL

    • Michael Sacci on 07.21.12 @ 8:25PM

      Maybe you should read the award again. The $5k is for winning. If the script becomes a movie the writer will get all that money. Optioning is the first step and the write gets that , then if they make the movie the writer gets more.

      • Still, that’s insulting! A culture that says it’s okay to pay writers meager wages and b.s. awards has been established in Hollywood and perpetuated by idiots who are more than happy to share their opinion when they have never put a year of their lives into a script.

    • Agreed. $35-$60 fees for a 5k prize makes this look more like a raffle – which is illegal – than an honest prize for struggling writers.

  • A few years ago I had a few email exchanges with the head flunky there (at least, the one available to the public), trying to determine exactly what these people are looking for. He ended up exiting in a big huff, because I wasn’t sufficiently worshipful of Zoetrope and the judgment of its script readers, and was skeptical about his claims generally.

    Like every producer in American — or rather, like everyone who works for every producer in America — he claimed they were looking for nothing but “quality”. This is, of course, nonsense. Whether they know it or not, or admit it or not, they’re *always* looking for certain conventions. And even that much assumes their readers have a coherent approach, shared among dozens of people, which is unlikely. So it’s more likely certain prejudices have to be satisfied.

    Francis’ own recent scripts, as well as his daughter’s, wouldn’t make the grade if judged by international art-house standards, and would be of zero interest to Hollywood and Hollywood agents, so it would be interesting to see how his readers advanced *those* submissions. And since they’ve been running this competition for years now, it’s fair to ask how have the winners done? Anything produced? And how it was it? Or has nothing come of it, other than a development department subsidized by screenwriters themselves, but not accountable to them in any way?

    Try asking Zoetrope :)

    • Very true – What is the stories of the previous winners? One would hope it wasn’t a fund-raising exercise, the rather expensive magazine they produce would surely do that for them.

  • If like JasonD above you are interested in what the winners of this contest have done the contest has published a list of winners, finalists, semi-finalists, and quarterfinalists dating back to the 2003 contest and includes news of past winners and top-ten finalists. Get busy with the list on IMDb and make of it what you will, but it seems clear that the contest is not hiding from its past.

    • Nobody claimed Zoetrope is hiding results, just that they’re not likely to be stellar.

      Going back to 2003, and the past 9 years of the competition, and thousands and thousands of scripts, they list 23 writers who have had some industry success — in most cases, signed by an agent or “acquired an entertainment lawyer!” The actual role of the competition isn’t clear in this “success”. Some did get reported options and writing assignments. Two writers got produced films, and one worked on Ugly Betty, though it’s not clear what, if anything, this award had to do with either.

      As far as great or unusual writing getting to the screen, there’s nothing in evidence, if only because so little has been produced. And 9 years later, and thousands of scripts under the bridge, Zoetrope apparently couldn’t find a single production-worthy script.

      Make of it what you wish, but there are no great discoveries so far, judged by actual films.

      http://www.zoetrope.com/contests/index.cgi?show=res2

  • Coppola_skeptic on 07.21.12 @ 7:34PM

    This is actually pretty funny. After what must be at least 20,000-30,000 script submissions over the years, Zoetrope couldn’t find even one project good enough, or interesting enough, to produce. So your odds are effectively zero in that department, if you submit anything to this competition, whatever else it might do for you from third parties like agents.

    Meanwhile, if you happen to be a son or daughter of Mr. Coppola, your odds are 100% of getting a feature produced. And you probably don’t have to pay the submission fee.

    Is there something odd here?

    • If what you are saying is true, than they’ve made approximately a million bucks with fees while giving a couple of 5k prizes. That is the definition of a scam.

  • is this competition only for americians

  • Craig Michaels on 07.27.12 @ 7:50AM

    I hardly think that Mr. Coppola, is into making money off of the entries from this contest, however, these competition’s are typically run and operated by outside agencies, that may or may not be on the up & up…there also may be expenses associated with it, that Zoetrope does not want to absorb, however, once again, it just may be the agency that is involved with Zoetrope, one in which will manage the contestants. All of this is purely speculative, yet, in trying to understand this sense of shoddiness, that seems to accompany these type things, I would be remiss if i did not approach it with such caution, as to not character assassinate anyone with Zoetrope, but what remains is still that sense of something not being completely correct.

  • Daniel Mimura on 07.29.12 @ 7:41PM

    Wow…tough crowd.

    I’m sorry, but if I had a script that I thought had some sort of commercial appeal or that I thought had any chance of winning a contest, I’d much rather shell out $35 for AZ’s contest than just about any other contest other than the Nicholl Fellowships.

    Yeah, $5k isn’t anything but a couple or few months rent, but it’s the exposure. And unlike, Amazon’s (original plan at the least), it’s not exploitive. It gives a screenwriter a modest spotlight and platform…not taking away their material.

    The fact that so few of their past winners and finalists have big deals or big produced films is perhaps less of a damnation of the contest, but a testament of how tough it is for writers in this industry. (Or a testament to how crappy most of the screenplays they receive are.)

    • At least three of the comments (from JasonD and Coppola_skeptic) condemning American Zoetrope are from a commenter who I outed as abusing our comment system by constantly changing their name and commenting to themselves (with different names), as well as consistently being negative about anything and everything for no apparent reason.

  • David Sanchez on 01.15.13 @ 7:35PM

    It’s really very simple. MAKE IT GREAT! And they (the goodies) will come. Best Wishes To All – For All Your Hard Work and Dedication. After working on the same script since 1998, I still get excited everytime I sit in front of my computer and work, work, work. We’re the lucky ones; we all get to do something we love (unconditionally).

    P.S. My favorite film is Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus” (1984 Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay).

  • Rosie Brocklehurst on 02.15.13 @ 8:58AM

    John August.Com, has been doing a free weekly podcast for the past 18 months or so about screenwriting. Co host is Craig Mazin. They are both LA based experienced screenwriters in their 40s who have had films made from either original scripts or adaptations they have done. They both make a living and maybe even a very good one from their work. Currently both are awaiting new projets- so they are ‘resting’ but keep themselves busy by giving out to others, and John August also develops screenwriting software. They are very generous with their advice and are very interesting, They do comment on the firs three pages of a script if sent to them and selected. . Craig Mazin says to be candid, it is not about a ‘great’ script which is a subjective position but about being the ‘right’ script for the person who buys it. Also, Think about it. Coppola is a businessman, Hollywood i s a business, Coppola has also been ‘bitten by the industry. But some of thr stuff his virtual studio gives out to others is free. The concept of the writing side of the virtual studio is a nice one. Heh, it gets people thinking about art and writing. I have been writing as a PR and journalist every day of my working life but am guilty of giving up on the personal side of my writing. . I also worked in tv as a PA in drama plays (BBC) and tried to write a TV play which was reasonably well reviewed by a playwright I admired. As I say, I gave up too easily however. Now I want to hone the craft and enjoy the experience of writing. A good way to do that is writing flash fiction. There is cerainly no doubt that if you think you have written something special, the kind of thing that you know in your gut is good, you have to market yourself and it. Probably the best way of getting a story looked at as a potential film is to write a novel/novella and then work damned hard to get it out ther, to meet people and get a good agent. There is so much competition out there but a lot of stuff that gets published or gets made into films is really not very good. Bear that in mind.

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