Past Winners 

 

2019 / M. Rowan Meyer

      

From an original field of over 1,000+ writers and after four intense challenges, M. Rowan Meyer (Woodside, NY, USA) took home first place in the Short Screenplay Challenge 2019.  In each round of the competition, M. Rowan was challenged to write a short screenplay no longer than 5 pages based on a genre, location, and object assignment in just 48 hours.  Read the screenplays from each of his four challenges below along with an interview about his experience in the competition.

 

   

The Winning Screenplays

 

 

"Trophy" by M. Rowan Meyer (Challenge #1)

LOGLINE: Detective Ashleigh Case investigates a missing person at a New Mexico hunting lodge where the line between hunter and hunted begins to blur.
ASSIGNMENT: Crime Caper / A hunting lodge / An ashtray

LENGTH: 5 pages 

 

 

 

"Spare Me" by M. Rowan Meyer (Challenge #2)
LOGLINE: You've spurned God's greatest gift. New Beginnings Rehabilitation Center wants to offer you a second chance.

ASSIGNMENT: Political Satire / A rehabilitation center / A bowling ball

LENGTH: 5 pages 

 

 

 

"Scraps" by M. Rowan Meyer (Challenge #3)
LOGLINE: A barge captain must deliver unusual cargo to pay off a debt.

ASSIGNMENT: Drama / A barge / Garlic bread

LENGTH: 5 pages 

 

 

 

"Diving In" by M. Rowan Meyer (Challenge #4)
LOGLINE: Rachel and Yael share their first night of intimacy together, but a surprising discovery could make it their last.

ASSIGNMENT: Open / A secret room / A wind-up toy

LENGTH: 5 pages 

 

 

 

Read the Interview

 

Congratulations on winning the 11th annual Short Screenplay Challenge! How long have you been writing screenplays? How did you first get started?
Hey thanks! I started writing screenplays in February, 2015. I'm a New Yorker, but was in LA at the time doing a play with Dick Cavett (if you don't know who that is, congratulations: you're young). An idea for a tv show had been bouncing around my head for a couple years but for some reason I never put pen to paper... or fingertips to keyboard. There was a lot of down time during the run of the show and I suddenly had this "Big Magic" by Elizabeth Gilbert moment where an entire pilot poured out of me in two days. It was a little shocking, actually. I think I looked at the finished product and said something like "Where did you come from?" Anyway, I started submitting it to film festivals and competitions, not expecting anything, but it did really well. Two years ago I decided to raise funds to produce the first episode and two weeks ago we finally released "Patient", the first hospital comedy from the patient's point of view. Feel free to check it out at mrowanmeyer.com (why yes, I am shameless).

We see that you've participated in several NYC Midnight competitions in addition to the Short Screenplay Challenge 2019. What is the most rewarding aspect of the competitions for you? What is the most challenging aspect?
Yes, I'm eagerly awaiting the final results this month on my 4th foray with NYC Midnight. I love 'em! The most rewarding thing is having 3 or 4 new screenplays at the end of the process, especially the ones in genres I never would have thought to explore. I'm not a particular fan of historical fiction, but I had to write one for the Screenwriting Challenge last year and it's one of my absolute favorites. The most challenging aspect, weirdly, is writing in one of my go-to genres. I'm doing the Screenwriting Challenge again this year and got two comedies back to back -- typically my bread and butter -- but I remember thinking "Aww man, I wanted a ghost story, or a crime thriller, or something!" 

For the first challenge of the competition, you were assigned Crime Caper, a hunting lodge, and an ashtray. Your screenplay, "Trophy", had an unexpected plot twist which definitely added an interesting element of horror to your Crime Caper. How important is it to you as a screenwriter to surprise or even shock your audience with the unexpected?
I definitely prize irony in a screenplay -- especially in a short, where you have to convey an entire story in 5 pages. Characters need to change, one way or another, and what better way than to "put them in the shit" (as my clowning professor used to say)? I don't think I make it a goal to shock my audience but my writing definitely skews dark -- even the comedy. Who doesn't love a good shock?

Your screenplay for the second round, "Spare Me," contained intriguing revelations and implemented the assigned location (a rehabilitation center) and object (a bowling ball) in a unique way. Political Satire is not one of the easier genres to tackle, yet in "Spare Me" you show intimate knowledge of the issues and your comedic timing is excellent. When creating short screenplays, do you have a typical process regarding brainstorming, researching, outlining, etc. or do you just jump in and start writing a first draft immediately?
I like to dive right in -- which is weird because that's the opposite of how I get into a pool. As soon as I get the inspiration (or prompts, in this case) I'll quickly outline a skeleton for the story and get going on the dialogue and character development right away. When it comes to genres that demand research (political satire, historical fiction), I try not to put undue pressure on that process. Don't get me wrong, thorough research is crucial, but the most important element is always the characters' journeys. Research lays the tracks, your imagination is the train (good lord, that's cheesy. Dear reader, if you have the urge to punch me in the face, your feelings are valid).

In "Trophy" and "Spare Me," you explored relevant topics such as racism and abortion through compelling plots and allegories. Do you find it challenging to write about subjects that have raised controversy? What advice might you give other writers who want to deliver powerful messages through their work? 
I probably should feel a little more trepidation about touching on certain topics... but I just don't. I look forward to the day when that gets me in trouble, because it will mean people are actually reading my work. It's our job as artists to "Hold a mirror up to nature", right? Someone cool said that. Hamlet, Hamilton, John Hamm? I dunno. The point is you can't shy away from what's going on in the world, even / especially the ugly stuff. But no matter what, tell the truth. The truth just sounds different, it resonates. People can sniff a lie or ulterior motive a mile away. Even on Twitter <cough>.

For the third challenge, you were assigned Drama, a barge, and garlic bread. Your screenplay "Scraps" introduces the audience to Gloria and Vincent, two relatable and likeable characters, despite their flaws. What is your secret for developing characters that are real enough to have the audience rooting for them?
First of all, I love that you think Vincent is relatable and likeable. I mean, I think so too, but he's a straight up murdervillain. 

That's a great question. Getting the audience to care about my characters has a lot to do with grounding them in some way, and right away. One of my favorite ways to do this is through very natural dialogue. Introduce them as real people so we're more likely to follow them as the complexity and stakes rise. I can't stand one dimensional characters -- "being evil" is not a personality. It doesn't take much to root for a character (even an antagonist), we just have to see ourselves reflected in them in some small way.

The descriptions in "Scraps" are also vividly portrayed through the actions of your characters, especially the garlic bread that Vincent devours! Is there a method to engaging the audience's senses as you have done in this Drama?
"Engaging the audience's senses", my goodness these are thoughtful questions. You're making me think way more academically about my process than I usually do. 
I think this harkens back to the previous question in that you have to ground your characters in reality. Film is such a beautifully expansive medium, you can literally do anything. So instead of writing a scene that's just two characters sitting and talking, what if you add another sensory element that mirrors the tone? Have them smoking a hookah to make the scene fragrant and dreamy, or cracking lobster claws for punctuation, or painting each others' nails but really badly. The possibilities are endless and so much fun to play with.

For the fourth and final challenge of the competition, you were assigned the Open genre, a secret room, and a wind-up toy. You ended up winning the competition with "Diving In", a wonderfully absurd screenplay that explores intimacy and identity through a comedic lens. Is absurdist humor something you planned on writing in the finals regardless of the assignment, or did it evolve from the prompts?
I had no idea what genre I was going to write before the prompts. I knew it would be open, based on previous contests, but decided to let the location and object guide me. I don't think I've ever written an absurdist romantic comedy before, it just kind of came out unexpectedly. 

In "Diving In," you also set up the scenes and action lines in clear, concise ways, so that the sequence of events was easy to follow. When writing scenes, do you visualize them playing on the big screen?
Ha! The only reason my action lines are so concise is because I only had 5 pages. There was a fair amount of editing involved. I'm usually a little more verbose in my descriptions, but that's because I do, like you say, visualize them playing on the big screen. Writing for me is like editing a movie in real time. I see it all so clearly in my head, rewinding and finessing over and over until every line sounds exactly right coming out of the characters' mouths. My process is very meticulous, editing as I go, because I like my first draft to be a strong draft. 

In the first three challenges, you were assigned the Crime Caper, Political Satire, and Drama genres. You chose to write Romantic Comedy for your open genre assignment in the final round. Which was your favorite to write during the competition and which was the most challenging?
I had the most fun writing "Diving In", the romantic comedy. The absurdist factor might have had something to do with that -- I mean, not many romantic comedies feature a Holocaust museum inside of a... well, I won't spoil that part. 

I'd say the political satire was the most challenging given the scope of the material. I was trying to tackle a lot with that story in a very short span. It took a ton of editing to finally get it to 5 pages. "Kill your darlings" should be the slogan for this contest.

According to your website, you've had extensive experience in writing, producing, and acting, with multiple award-winning projects. Do you have a favorite role when working on a film? How do you feel your diverse background has shaped your screenwriting?
You visited my website?! That's so nice! You're probably one of, like, 7 people to ever do that. 

Most of my training is as an actor. I got my MFA in Acting from Rutgers. I have actually never taken a writing, directing, or producing class, so it's been a total 'learn by doing' process. However, training to be an actor is absolutely where I learned how to write dialogue. Mine was a Meisner program, which is all about moment to moment truth. You react to your partner's behavior and that creates the next moment which in turn creates the next moment, and on and on. It's natural, and real, and visceral. For any screenwriter just starting out, I definitely recommend sitting in on a Meisner class. 

When I was shooting the pilot for "Patient" I wore a lot of hats. Writer, producer, lead actor, costumer, caterer, location scout, chauffeur. It was a wonderful and exhausting time. Looking back, I think I really found my calling... as a caterer. No, I'm kidding. I love being on set as a writer and producer. I still love acting, but not when I'm juggling a million other things.

The COVID-19 crisis has changed, and continues to change, life as we once knew it. How has the pandemic affected your creative work and perspective overall? 
I feel a little guilty saying this, given the circumstances... but this year has actually been my most successful and creative year to date. Right before COVID hit I was flown to Sundance for a reading of my pilot "Cloistered". Then with all the free pandemic time I was able to write a feature and two pilots, produce a short over Zoom, release "Patient", be honored by several competitions (including this one), and pitch two of my projects virtually. I'm insanely grateful and shocked by how this year is unfolding and do everything I can to keep my karma from going to the dark side.

Do you have plans for the screenplays you've created during this competition? Do you have any other current or upcoming projects you would like to share?
I would actually love to produce "Diving In". In terms of scope it's definitely the simplest of these 4 screenplays, and my favorite. 

Aside from "Patient" which I would love you all to watch (again, that's mrowanmeyer.com), I'm actively pitching three projects at the moment. The first is an animated series that I can't actually talk about (then why bring it up? Because I'm insufferable, that's why!). The second is a comedy pilot called "Cloistered" about a priest, a nun, and an excommunicant navigating identity within the confines of their Catholic faith. And the third is a drama/sci-fi feature called "Deathless" about a self-destructive German porn star coming to terms with immortality 10 years after people have mysteriously stopped dying. You know, just the kind of lighthearted fare that appeals to those four-quadrant demographics. Haha... ha... But, to quote the musical "[title of show]": "I'd rather be 9 peoples' favorite thing than 100 peoples' 9th favorite thing." 

Thanks for the interview! This was fun. I think if we've learned anything it's that I'm an ambitious, insufferable writer profiting from a global pandemic. That about sums it up.
 

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