Posted by: steveonfilm | May 29, 2011

Served Cold: AAA Contest Scores and Feedback

I was delaying posting up the scores ‘Served Cold‘ received on the initial juding for the AAA Screenwriting Contest. But since the listing for the finalists has been delayed by a week or so, I figured I might as well post it up.

A few notes… ‘Served Cold‘ was a semi-finalist in the Screenwriting Expo’s Screenwriting Contest last year. It was the first feature length contest I’d ever entered. I didn’t know what to expect, so I was over the moon when I got my score back and saw how I did. Without knowing how to make it better, I did a round of polish and, on a whim, sent it over to Carson Reeves at ScriptShadow to read on “Amateur Friday.” He didn’t hate it, but noted it wasn’t ready for prime time either. It showed promise, but just wasn’t quite worthy of a “worth the read” yet. I took his feedback, and feedback from a BUNCH of people in the comments section, and spent the next month off and on doing some rewriting.

When I was done with the rewrite, I figured “what the hell” and entered it into the AAA Screenwriting Contest. I knew the judging criteria followed the same rubric as the Expo’s contest, so it was a good chance to see if it improved at all. Here’s the result I got back…

Title, Premise, Opening, Story:

The contest judge considers the criteria in this group in this part of the judging and feedback:

Is the title appropriate, and did it catch the judge’s eye?
Did the opening grab attention?
Is the premise/concept original and engaging?
Is the world of the story believable? (time, place, genre)?
Is the conflict set up effectively in the first 5-10 pages?
Does the script fit a known genre or market?
Description: is it tight, compelling, vividly written?
After the opening, did the story keep the judge’s attention?
Are there believable surprises to move the story along?

Possible score: 30
My score: 28

Characters and Dialogue:

The contest judge considers the criteria in this group in this part of the judging and feedback:

Is there a vivid, memorable, active protagonist?
Is the protagonist’s goal clear?
Was it clear what the protagonist stood to lose?
Did the judge see protagonist’s internal flaw(s)/complexity?
Did the script establish protagonist’s “Big Problem”?
Did the script make the judge root for the protagonist?
Character arc: Does protagonist change/solve problem?
Is there a vivid, memorable, active antagonist?
Are other characters memorable?
Is the dialogue real, natural, and appropriate to time/place?
Does each character have a distinct voice?
Can the characters be cast?

Possible score: 30
My score: 29

Format, Structure, Second Act

The contest judge considers the criteria in this group in this part of the judging and feedback:

Is the script written in standard Hollywood format?
Are spelling, punctuation, and grammar correct?
Does the script have three clear acts?
Is there a midpoint twist/complication to keep Act II moving?
Is there a third act lowpoint when all seems lost?
How satisfying is the ending?
Subjective “overall merit”

Possible score: 30
My score: 27

Overall Merit

In this part, the judge makes a subjective judgment on artistic merit, theme, marketability, and other qualities. In contest scoring, this subjective score allows the judge to give extra points to scripts which the judge thinks are especially deserving, or alternatively, to somewhat reduce the total score of a script that hit all its technical marks but just wasn’t magnificent overall.

Possible score: 10
My score: 9

Total possible score: 100
My final score: 93

Here is the feedback I received from the judge. I think they were pretty spot on with the assessment of what needs to be improved.

Served Cold has strong pacing and good attention to detail. It has authentic characters, and the eastern Michigan setting provides a unique and fertile ground for the plot. Excellent characterization of supporting characters and villains.

Some plot elements feel familiar, and I’d love to see an ending take a different approach because the moving and seeking out the picket fence lifestyle is very commonplace for conclusions. Also, I’d like to see more emphasis on the emotional impact of the story’s important turning points.

Some thoughts on the feedback… the comment “some plot elements seem familiar” is something I’ve heard a few times, especially on ScriptShadow. I think some of this is just part of becoming a better writer. As we start we’re influenced, both consciously and subconsciously, by the movies we’ve seen. Thus, when pulling together an idea we don’t always have the experience to recognize when we’re taking an approach that isn’t quite unique enough. This is definitely something I’ve been working to get better on.

The “seeing out the picket fence lifestyle is very commonplace for conclusions” also follows in this vein. One of my favorite movies is Michael Mann’s ‘Thief. You can probably see the influences in ‘Served Cold.’ What’s fantastic about the final act of that movie is that the main character just totally says fuck it about the “picket fence” life he’d been trying to set up. He realizes it’s never going to happen. He accepts that. Cuts off all of what kept him attached to that effort, and goes out to take care of shit with the bad guys. I tried to have it both ways… and didn’t quite make it work in ‘Served Cold.’ I’m not saying it can’t, but it’s just not quite there with the story I’ve got right now.

And finally the judge said, “I’d like to see more emphasis on the emotional impact of the story’s important turning points.” I thought it was really interesting to see this phrased the way it was. I had two scenes that dealt more with what the judge was talking about. But they just weren’t strong enough, and I felt like they were slowing the story down. In the end, I decided to cut scenes that I wasn’t 100% comfortable with, and these two scenes fell into that category. However, based on the judge pointing this out, I may go back an revisit the scenes again… I don’t think they need to be there, but if they work and they add to the story I’ll work them in. But if I still don’t feel comfortable with them I’ll probably still leave them out. This is one of those areas were subjectivity comes into play… while the judge might have wanted to see them, I might not be able to deliver the scenes in a strong enough manner, and someone else might not care about them at all. It’s still a valid point though.

So that’s about it… I scored a 93 out of 100. This was the same score I received for the Expo. I was sort of bummed to see I didn’t do any better, but at the same point at least I know I didn’t do any worse. I think my current draft of ‘Served Cold‘ is better than the Expo entry, even if it’s not be a measurable metric. But anyway, those are my thoughts on the contest. I’d be interested to see how other’s scored, so if you want to share your points and feedback in the comments section, fire away.

Until next time, keep writing!


  1. Good job, bro.

    Since the judge didn’t sense anything missing from the story, I’d say yeah, you should definitely leave out those two scenes, but it’s worth bringing the emotion you love about them into some other scenes.

    • Right… that’s another approach I can take as well. Good idea Spooky!

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