Last year I entered the NYC Midnight Short Screenplay Contest. Why? I wanted a challenge, and I wanted to try something new.
I am once again signing up for this contest! Our first challenge releases this Friday at midnight (EST). I can not wait to see how I do this year and see how much I’ve improved.
Upon entering, all contestants are divided into heats (the number depends on the number of people participating). These heats remain the same for the first two challenges.
This contest consists of 3 rounds and four challenges. Round 1 consists of Challenges 1 and 2. All contestants are guaranteed participation in and feedback for both of these challenges (provided they stick to the rules).
The top five in each heat from Round 1 (determined by points accrued from both challenges) advance to Round 2. Last year, I did not make the top five, but I learned so much and received some much-needed feedback.
Points are only applied to the first round. Contestants who advance are placed in new heats for Round 2 (Challenge 3). The top five from each of those heats advance to Round 3 and the final challenge.
In Round 3, all remaining contestants are competing against one another, which means no more heats. This final contest round, a group of no more than 80 writers, is the last chance for screenwriters to showcase their skills. Prizes are awarded for the top 10 screenplays in the final round.
At midnight (EST) on the Friday of the contest, contestants receive a prompt and 48 hours to submit their final copy for judging. This is the “short” screenplay competition, so the final copy has a five-page limit (not including the title page).
Each prompt consists of three parts: a genre, a location, and an object. The following is from the FAQ page:
Q. How closely do we have to follow the assignment?NYC Midnight FAQ page
A. The screenplay must be within the assigned genre, the location must be the predominant location used in the screenplay but does not have to be the only location used, and the object must physically appear at some point in the screenplay. For example, if the object is a wig and a character speaks about a wig but an actual wig never physically appears in your screenplay, it will not qualify.
Before the first challenge, I learned everything I could about screenwriting. I had never tried it before, so I needed a lot of information.
Thankfully, NYC Midnight has a lovely how-to guide for beginners. After reading and taking (a lot of) notes, I tried it out. I messed up the format several times. I even tried a template or two… They didn’t work out for me.
I ended up making my own template in Microsoft Word based on the format rules. Getting the format correct only prepares you slightly for the actual contest.
My Challenges for Round 1
There are several genres that a writer could receive in their prompt. In addition to that, locations and objects are endless! Due to these facts, I was not prepared for my first challenge…
- A drive-in movie theater
I titled that story Rules Are Rules. Sci-Fi is not one of my strengths, so the story took on a bit of a dystopian twist. I did not score any points in that round… However, I received excellent feedback, some of which I’ve included below:
(Note: Participants receive feedback from three judges. First, they tell us what they liked, and then they tell us what they think needs work.)
- Judge 1913
- “…The world your characters live in seems very intriguing and engaging, and it gives you an excellent opportunity to develop a thrilling story.”
- “I’d like to know more about these watches…”
- Judge 1628
- “…The concept is advanced and worthy of longer treatment.”
- “The description of the world they inhabit is too amorphous. And the relationship between Ty, Ricky, Bryan and the rest needs more clear explicating…”
- Judge 1937
- “Ty, Ricky, and Bryan’s friendship felt believable and allowed for instant empathy.”
- “…Perhaps clarifying the stakes on what happens when the watch is taken off (beyond getting arrested) would help with any confusion.”
For Challenge 2, I felt more prepared, and I knew I could meet the 48-hour time limit. I was not, however, prepared for the object…
- A roller coaster
Caviar? What? I had to research caviar, something I have never eaten and will never eat (I don’t care for seafood). Then, I had to figure out how to fit it into my story… Oy vey.
I placed sixth in this challenge, so I must have learned something from the previous feedback. There are still things I can work on, but I received quite a bit of encouragement from the judges’ feedback, some of which I’ve included below:
- Judge 1795
- “…you’ve constructed this rather well and it will keep audiences gripped.”
- (I’m not including this judge’s “what needs work” feedback since they asked a question that was definitely answered in the story.)
- Judge 1934
- “You employed the given genre, location, and object in an effective way. From the jump, I appreciated how much you laid out for us to understand…”
- “I enjoyed the twist, but… if it’s going to be implemented in the story, it needs to hit harder…”
- Judge 1943
- “…This is a strong piece of writing – well done.”
- “…The caviar was a big challenge to include at a theme park, and I felt the seafood display felt rather contrived…”
Overall, I learned a lot about screenwriting and about myself as a writer. World-building is already one of my struggles, but it is even more important when I only have 5 pages to work with.
I hope to continue growing as I participate in the first round of the new contest coming up this week. I can’t wait to see where it leads!
Have you entered this contest or one of NYC Midnight’s other contests? Are you planning to enter this one or one of the others? Tell me about it in the comments!
Keep an eye out for both of my screenplays from last year. I’ll post them later this week!