Writing Competitions and Prizes

Several outstanding opportunities exist for UCLA Extension Writers’ Program students in fiction writing, memoir writing, feature film writing, and television writing to gain recognition for the excellence of their work.

UCLA Extension Feature Film and Television Writing Competitions

2020 Competition Winners

The 2021 Screenwriting Competitions has been put on hiatus.  We are sorry for the inconvenience.  Please see the note from our director below.

Dear Students,

After many discussions with staff and considerable reflection, I have decided to put the UCLA Extension Screenwriting Competitions on hiatus in 2021.

This was a difficult decision, and one the staff and I made collaboratively to ensure we maintain our high level of service to students and instructors in our courses. Over the past year, our screenwriting enrollments have nearly doubled, now numbering more than 1,000 per quarter. We did this while pivoting to working remotely, navigating a series of urgent historical moments, and safeguarding our own health and the health of our loved ones. We are thrilled so many aspiring writers have sought out our courses, and we want to make sure each of you gets the support, encouragement, and advising you need to get into the right course and achieve your writing goals.

The staff and I love the Screenwriting Competitions. We always look forward to the opportunity to celebrate the winners and finalists. But the competition requires a great deal of staff time to facilitate, and every hour devoted to the competition takes time away from students and instructors in courses. We’ve had to make a few other operational changes to ensure the staff can be successful in their work, and putting the competition on hold was our final and most difficult decision.

It is our intention to bring the competition back some time in the future when we have the necessary staff for this program. We will ensure anyone who was eligible for the 2021 competition will remain eligible so that rather than losing your opportunity to compete, it will merely be delayed.

If you have already entered the competition, your entry fees will be fully refunded, and your script will not be kept on file.

Thank you for understanding why we made this difficult decision, and I hope you will consider entering next time when we can operate the competition at the high standards you and other students expect.

I wish you much creativity and inspiration, and great progress in your creative work over the next months.

All best,

Charlie Jensen
Program Director, Writers’ Program
UCLA Extension


Three exclusive opportunities recognize the highest levels of screenwriting students’ skill and craft: the UCLA Extension Feature Film Competition and the UCLA Extension Television Writing (Spec and Pilot) Competitions. All three competitions provide winners with one-on-one mentoring and targeted and invaluable Hollywood-industry exposure.

The UCLA Extension Writers’ Program takes enormous pride in the numbers of our students who have succeeded in developing successful entertainment industry careers. To name a few: Stuart Beattie (Derailed, Collateral, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl); Lindsey Beer (Barbie); Elissa Matsueda (Dog Days); Dorothy Blyskal (The 15:17 to Paris); David Budin (Grace & Frankie); Bryan Cogman (Game of Thrones); Drew Z. Greenberg (Dexter, Smallville, Buffy the Vampire Slayer); Greta Heinemann (NCIS: New Orleans); Christina Strain (The Magicians); Denise Harkavy (The Brave); Iris Yamashita (Letters from Iwo Jima); Barbara Stepansky (Flint); and Moisés Zamora (American Crime, Star).

UCLA Extension Feature Film Competition

This exclusive competition recognizes three outstanding Writers’ Program students who gain industry exposure, individual mentoring, and other prizes for their feature film scripts.

Top Three Winners receive:

  • A guaranteed read by an agent, producer, and/or creative executive
  • A one-on-one script mentorship (a $2150 value) with a professional screenwriter prior to the final judging
  • Announcements with names, script titles and placing in an industry trade magazine such as Variety or Hollywood Reporter
  • Names, loglines, and contact information sent to more than 1,000 entertainment industry executives

Eligibility:

Contest applicants must have completed 2 feature film writing courses at 3-units each (or more) or 1 advanced-level course since March 2018. Master Class or Pro-Series courses satisfy this requirement in full. Note: advanced courses will have the word “Advanced” in the course title. Master Class or Pro-Series courses would have “Master Class” or “Pro-Series” in the course title, respectively.

UCLA Extension Television Writing Competitions (Spec and Pilot)

These two competitions offer valuable industry exposure for writers in two categories: 1) Existing one-hour dramas or half-hour comedy specs, and 2) one-hour drama or half-hour comedy pilots.

The Top Three Winners in Each Category receive:

  • A guaranteed read by an agent, producer, and/or creative executive
  • A one-on-one script mentorship (a $2150 value) with a professional screenwriter prior to the final judging
  • Announcements with names, script titles and placing in an industry trade magazine such as Variety or Hollywood Reporter
  • Names, loglines, and contact information sent to more than 1,000 entertainment industry executives

Eligibility:

Contest applicants must have completed 2 television writing courses at 3-units each (or more) or 1 advanced-level course since March, 2018. Master Class or Pro-Series courses satisfy this requirement in full. Note: advanced courses will have the word “Advanced” in the course title. Master Class or Pro-Series courses would have “Master Class” or “Pro-Series” in the course title, respectively.

Click below for an archive of the winners.

Feature Film Writing Competition

Television Pilot and Spec Writing Competition

Where Are They Now? Click here to read about the successes of our previous winners and finalists.


For more information on how you can get one step closer to Hollywood, contact Chae Ko at (310) 206-2612 or cko@uclaextension.edu or Jeff Bonnett at (310) 206-1542 or jbonnett@uclaextension.edu.

James Kirkwood Literary Prize

2017 Kirkwood Award Winners. From left: Annie Barnett, 1st place; Saul Alpert-Abrams, 2nd place; and Aljohara Alrasheed, 3rd place.

The James Kirkwood Literary Prize is named for the late Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning author James Kirkwood, one of the Writers’ Program’s most illustrious students. Mr. Kirkwood recounted the moment his life turned around when his Writers’ Program instructor, the late Robert Kirsch, prefaced his critique by saying: “This week I suddenly realized why I teach: because once in a blue moon someone turns in something so original, so — I’m going to say it — brilliant, that it makes it all worthwhile. Now, who in this class is named Kirkwood?”

According to Andrew Morse, the award’s founder and benefactor, Mr. Kirkwood quickly abandoned his mediocre Hollywood acting career for a life devoted to writing, which was his “absolute joy.” In Kirkwood’s memory, his friends and admirers established the James Kirkwood Prize to honor new generations of Writers’ Program fiction writers for their literary achievements.

Each year, instructors who have taught intermediate and advanced-level courses are invited to nominate their outstanding students who are then asked to submit 10-20 pages for consideration. The semi-finalists and finalists are determined by selected Writers’ Program instructors, and the winner is determined by Andrew Morse, the prize’s benefactor. The three finalists, who are named in the fall, receive cash prizes ($3,000 First Place, $2,000 Second Place, and $1,000 Third Place) and are honored at a luncheon attended by Mr. Morse, the nominating instructors, judges, and Writers’ Program staff.

For a list of all previous Kirkwood Prize winners dating back to 1991, click here.

For questions about the Kirkwood Literary Prize, contact Charles Jensen at (310) 825-9415.

The Allegra Johnson Writing Prize

The Allegra Johnson Writing Prize was inaugurated on March 20, 2014 by Roberta J.M. Olson and Alexander B.V. Johnson to honor their daughter, Allegra Johnson (1983–2013), a prolific and talented young writer who was enrolled as an undergraduate at UCLA and was working on a memoir and a novel through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program when her life was tragically cut short. Through this award, her parents hope to make a difference in the lives of promising Writers’ Program students by providing both formal recognition of their talent and financial resources to support them as they complete their manuscripts. The award is merit-based.

Instructors who have taught intermediate and advanced-level novel, memoir, and book-length creative nonfiction courses are invited to nominate up to two outstanding students who meet eligibility criteria. In order to be considered, nominees submit 25 pages of their work-in-progress, an outline of their work, and a current resume. The finalists are determined by selected Writers’ Program instructors, and the final recipient is selected by the prize’s benefactors. The recipient, who is named in June of each year, receives a cash prize of $5,000 and is honored at a luncheon hosted by the benefactors. The two runners-up are given vouchers for a complimentary full-length Writers’ Program course.

Nominees for each year’s competition are contacted by the Writers’ Program and an application packet is forwarded. Completed materials are submitted in February for judging.

To convey a sense of Allegra Johnson’s literary voice, here is one of her poems:

Selfish with Beauty

by Allegra Johnson

i can’t leave my orchid
outside my motel room door,
even though I know
it probably aches for direct sunlight,
warmer and more intimate than the light
filtered through dingy screen windows.
somebody would probably break off
the main stalk
of yellow and pink-tinged blossoms,
yawning like rare dragons.
maybe even the stalk of buds,
yet to make their grand entrance,
snapped off they would be dead,
nothing but unfulfilled promise.

there is always someone
who isn’t content to just appreciate
the blooms in their living, growing state,
who has to take
all of the beauty for himself.

For a list of Allegra Johnson finalists beginning in 2015, click here.

For questions about the Allegra Johnson Prize, contact Charles Jensen at (310) 825-9415.

“The instructors at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program have been amazing. When I first set out to become a writer, I was lost, but their investment in me helped me navigate the craft, profession, and community of the literary world.”

Peter Hsu, selected as a PEN Emerging Voices Fellow

“This sounds dramatic, but the Writers’ Program changed my life,”

Darri Farr, recipient of a Stegner Prize

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