The smell of award season is in the air, that is, the smell of the most coveted gold-plated, 13.5-inch statuette around. “The Biggest Movie Event of the Year” is only 5 days, 4 hours and 12 minutes away. How do I know? Thanks to’s handy countdown clock, that’s how.

This is the time of year when I try to squeeze in seeing as many Oscar nominated films as I can, and it’s never as many as I want to see (still have to see The Reader, Milk, and Slumdog Millionaire).

It always gets me thinking—what makes the cream rise to the top? This year’s nominees for best original screenplay, Milk, Happy-Go-Lucky, Frozen River, In Bruges, and Wall-E, must contain some of that illusive “it” factor that everyone is gunning for. And how do the winners or soon-to-be winners rather, get their start?

In the spirit of healthy competition, the Writers’ Program is gearing up for its own annual screenplay competition, officially called the UCLA Extension Screenplay Competition and the deadline is in late March.

Entering competitions is a great way to get your name out there. As Chae Ko, one of the screenwriting advisors in the Writers’ Program, put it, “If you place, it’s the best way to bring the industry to you, instead of the other way around, and it guarantees an agent or producer will read your work cover-to-cover.”

Some big names in the industry have a UCLA Extension Screenplay Competition placement under their belt. Academy Award winner, Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, Rendition) placed 3rd in 1992 for his script “A Reasonable Man.” Stuart Beattie (Australia, Collateral, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), won first place in 1993 for his script, “Mayday.”

But the real prize of placing in the top three is the one-on-one mentorship with a Writers’ Program instructor prior to the final judging. This consultation is valued at $700, but could probably be labeled “invaluable” for many of the winners. Cas Hyman, winner of the 2007 competition said of working with his mentor, “[He] gave me a note that made me aware that a key element of the ‘movie playing in my head’ was not on the page, therefore my revisions were all about making this key element as clear to the reader as it was to me.”

And the benefits keep coming after the official competition is over—Annabel Oakes, winner of the 2008 competition, gave us this insight into life after the big win. “When the competition is over the experience really begins. UCLA Extension did a good job promoting those in the top ten. I got a lot of meet-and-greet meetings from this. Even though that script hasn’t sold yet, I made some really great, continuing relationships with people at studios and production companies. These are connections I couldn’t have made on my own as a writer without representation.”

All this and I didn’t even mention the cash prizes yet! So, all you screenwriters out there, get with the spirit of awards season, and ready your scripts for the March 26 deadline. If you want to learn more about the competition and download an official application packet, click on the link for “Screenplay Competition” on the left. We’ll be looking for your name in lights!


Gabrielle Stephens is the Program Representative in Screenwriting (Onsite).

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