You probably heard of screenwriting labs but understandably, that term might have confused you.
We have festivals, contests, and all types of competitions, but what exactly are screenwriting labs, and which ones are the best?
Okay… labs aren’t exactly scientific laboratories. Instead, screenwriting labs come in the form of a workshop that runs over a certain amount of time where writers meet and work on a script with supervision from more experienced writers and industry professionals.
The two best screenwriting labs are Sundance Screenwriters Lab and Film Independent Screenwriting Lab.
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about screenwriting labs, how to find them, how to apply, and what opportunities they will bring you.
What Makes a Worthy Lab?
There are a dozen worthy labs in the industry. Each of those has great benefits and will let you network with other writers and mentors.
But what exactly determines a worthy lab?
Meaning labs that people in the industry know with the participation or support of well-known brands or names such as Sundance, Film Independent, or Meryl Streep (who supports one of the labs).
Well-known Professional Mentors
Mentors that have credits in the industry and can actually bring you further with their skillsets.
Marketing Of The Winners
Active marketing of the winners in the form of postings online and offering other support for the winners.
Possibility To Submit To Entry-level Screenwriting Jobs Such As Staff Writer
The chance to get submitted for staffing opportunities or Open Writing Assignments
Introduction To Other Professionals In The Industry
Connection to other industry professionals through meetings
Which Labs Are The Best To Apply To?
Twelve projects are selected at the Sundance Screenwriting Lab every time the lab runs. The lab supports writers and writers/directors in developing their first or second feature films. Writers with more than one film produced are not eligible. This lab runs over a five-day period.
During that time, the selected writers get the opportunity to work intensively on their feature film scripts with established writers.
This lab runs over a course of two weeks. It’s held in the first quarter of the year and provides story and career development support for emerging screenwriters. During the lab, each writer gets paired with a creative advisor who will support them one-on-one to develop their new screenplay.
Additionally, to help emerging writers develop a script, the lab offers support to the writers by introducing them to industry people who can give advice to emerging writers.
During the two weeks, there are also a couple of guest speakers that visit the workshops and screen their own movies followed by an opportunity to discuss their films and own careers with the selected writers.
To apply, you need a cover letter detailing why you want to be a part of Film Independent Screenwriting Lab, a completed feature-length screenplay, an artist statement, a logline and synopsis of the movie, and your bio.
This lab takes place over the weekend where the selected writers get to sit with established writers and creative producers to discuss their projects and get advice on their scripts and careers.
Throughout the weekend, there are also nightly salons, masterclasses, and happy hours with industry guests and alumni of the lab.
The Sun Valley Lab offers selected writers opportunities to meet with literary agents and opportunities to have their screenplays read aloud by working actors in the form of a table read during the Sun Valley Lab.
This lab offers six emerging writers the opportunity to work on their feature script during a week in the idyllic New England town of Middlebury.
During the week, there are also opportunities to go outside and visit the mountains, making nature a full part of the creative process.
During the lab, writers, producers, and agents will offer mentorship in workshops, masterclasses, and one-on-one support to the selected candidates. While anyone can apply, the Middlebury Script Lab is particularly interested in profiles that have encountered extraordinary obstacles in the pursuit of their screenwriting career.
To apply you need a feature script that fits the scale of independent production (75-120 pages). The application process is handled through FilmFreeway.
This lab includes mentorship from working industry professionals, meetings set up for the writers, and an intensive class on pitching your script which has immense value.
It’s a four-day event that doesn’t only focus on screenplay writing but also distribution, financing, and overall producing.
Additionally, this lab takes place in a small town in Vermont which just like Middlebury Script Lab, makes nature part of the creative process.
Some labs are specific to specific populations such as:
The Writers Lab (for women over 40)
This lab is supported by Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman. It’s only open to women over the age of 40.
It’s a four-day workshop that gives the opportunity to the selected candidates to focus on one screenplay through one-on-one meetings, workshops, discussions, and so on. This workshop is mostly there to inspire the writer to explore their creativity, develop new ideas and grow as a storyteller.
To submit to the Writers Lab you need a basic resume, script logline and genre, a full-length screenplay of 130 pages or less, and show proof that your script is registered with copyright. You can apply with up to three scripts.
Outfest Screenwriting Lab (LGBTQ)
All screenplays should have an LGBTQ protagonist. You can only submit one entry per writer.
Do not submit a complete script, instead submit the first 10 pages of your script, a synopsis of the script, a statement about your career and objectives, and how this lab would help you achieve these.
Athena IRIS Screenwriting Lab (for women and non-binary writers)
The Athena IRIS Screenwriting Lab takes place during the Athena Film Festival.
It’s made for women and non-binary screenwriters who don’t have credits yet.
During the lab, women get mentorship in developing a script. The scripts developed need to have a strong female lead.
The Hillman Grad Mentorship Lab (for underrepresented voices)
The Hillman Lab is meant for marginalized people. It was specifically created to help underrepresented storytellers grow their careers and tell their stories.
It provides workshops, educational resources, career development, and networking opportunities. It runs over 8 months and aims to bring more people from diverse backgrounds into the entertainment industry.
How To Prepare To Apply To A Lab?
1. Know yourself
Know what makes you different and interesting. Know your own story and how to present it in the most entertaining way. Know what kind of material you write and are interested in. Know why a lab would help you and be clear about that when you apply. They want to give the opportunity to people who are ready and willing to put in time and effort, show them that that’s you!
2. Have a strong script, synopsis and logline
Have strong material to bring to the lab. Make sure you know your story and know how to best market it already. You want them to see that you’re an exceptional writer. Have a memorable script, one that beats the rules, one that is memorable and shows that you will not stay in your comfort zone as an artist.
3. Write what you’re passionate about
Show them what your story means to you. You don’t need to write what you know and what you’ve experienced yourself but you need to write from the heart. The scripts that make it in labs are the ones that are written with passion and where the reader can feel the love of the storyteller for that story. So always write from the heart and keep writing no matter what!
4. Have another sample ready
While you will be pushing one script and one story for the lab, make sure that you have another sample that you’re working on that you can at least talk about if you’re asked to.
Show them that you’re a story machine and can bring up new stories all the time. Ultimately, they aren’t only investing in your story, they’re also investing in you as an artist.
5. Respect the deadlines
Every single lab has specific deadlines. Make sure that you are aware of them by putting reminders in your calendars. Don’t be the person who works hard to get ready for a lab only to realize that the applications are closed.
6. Keep pushing other venues
While applying to labs is super important and a great way to break into the industry, don’t make it the only thing you pursue. Make sure that you continue networking, attend events, enter contests, and more.
You want the lab to be a part of your strategy, not the only part. There are thousands of people who apply to labs, if you don’t get selected, keep on going and re-apply next year.
In summary, fellowships and labs can be one of the most efficient ways to break into film or television.
A lab can be an amazing way to develop a story supported by peers and working industry professionals. It’s also a great way to test your networking skills, pitch, and meet new people.
Keep in mind that some of these labs come with a fee for attending but many times, offer scholarships or other grants to support your participation.
Getting accepted into any of these labs is a big deal and will most likely fast forward your career greatly.
So writers, which labs are you going for?