New York Film Academy screenwriting and filmmaking alumna Jaclyn S. Powell adventured through previous careers as a ski instructor and a paralegal before making the decision to return to school at the New York Film Academy to pursue her dream of writing. Recently, Powell’s short film script “The Last Shred of Daylight” was selected as a finalist this summer at the New York Film & TV Festival, and went on to win the award for Best Short Script. We had a chance to catch up with Jaclyn to hear about her time at the festival, her time at NYFA, and how she approaches her screenplays.
NYFA: First can you tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?
JP: After college I enjoyed a fun career as a ski instructor at Deer Valley Utah, then went back to school and got an associate degree as a paralegal in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I had attended college as an English major. As a paralegal in Las Vegas for the law firm representing the police department, I handled some of the exciting cases that the show CSI was made of, one of which I would like to turn into a psychological thriller script…
I moved to Puerto Rico and took the job of litigation/trial coordinator for a large law firm … As the economy crashed and work slowed down in Puerto Rico, I realized I was missing a creative outlet and I started taking photographs and drawing again, to stimulate my creativity. That led to short story writing and I got the idea for a book, a conspiracy thriller, “Kill Switch.” When I outlined the plot for one of the attorneys he said: forget a book, turn that into a movie.
…After doing an internet search, I found the New York Film Academy and was just in time for the 8-week intensive, the last screenwriting group at the Union Square facility. (Heart of my hearts! I’m sure I was there in a past life!) After the screenwriting class ended I joined a writing group, but drifted into Improv at UCB and struggled with disappointment about not getting “Kill Switch” on the market and my screenwriting not going anywhere. I decided I would be a better screenwriter if I understood more about how films are made, so I took NYFA’s filmmaking program — and that’s where I fell in love with films, filmmaking, and screenwriting. To take a vision you see in your mind and be able to convey it on screen, there’s nothing that equals that feeling.
NYFA: What was your inspiration for your short script “The Last Shred of Daylight”?
JP: “The Last Shred of Daylight” came out of a short story I wrote for a three-minute fiction contest. The prompt was: when one door closes, another one opens. It stems from that moment of despair when you think all is lost and can’t see beyond your present moment of misery. As I repeated the words of the prompt to myself, I heard the voice of the narrator saying those words and the first few sentences of the story in a slow, southern drawl, and story began to write itself.
NYFA: Can you tell us a little about the process of becoming a finalist at the New York Film & TV Festival?
JP: Jameson Whiskey had a contest and Maggie Gyllenhaal stars in the winner’s screenplay. I heard about that a day or two before the end of the contest and in four hours had changed the story to a six page script, the maximum page limit. I had the date of the contest wrong and missed it by a day! I wanted to find out if my writing was worth pursuing, and entered the script into a couple of other festivals.
Cinequest wrote back that they really liked the script, said that it reminded them of John Grisholm’s “A Painted House,” but that the ending was too deus ex machina. I agreed with their assessment and reworked the script several times until everyone I shared it with liked it and, more importantly, I liked it. I entered the new script into a few festivals and that’s when I started making the finals, with the NY Film and TV Festival being my first win.
NYFA: You had the chance to attend the festival where your script was a finalist — what was that experience like?
JP: When I first got the notice that I was a finalist in the NY Film and TV Festival I was so surprised I thought it wasn’t real. I’ve seen the lists of finalists in some contests and they number in the dozens, but here I was in the top five for short scripts. Then a week later I got the notice that I was a finalist in the AT&T and Warner Brothers screenplay contest and realized that maybe it was all real. That’s when I decided to attend the festival.
I was skeptical all the way to the festival until I met the winners of the other categories and they were from Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago, Maine. It was a small festival which gave me the benefit of meeting all the other writers and hearing their stories and it was an honor to be among such dedicated writers.
NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful in preparing you for your experience with the New York Film & TV Festival?
JP: At the table read for my final filmmaking script, “Storme the Toad Crusher” as well as the table read for “The Last Shred of Daylight,” the feedback I was getting from the actors is that they like my writing because they understand what I expect from the character. I think the training I got from NYFA in filmmaking — directing actors, lighting, editing and cinematography — combined to help me make a script that is both readable and easy to visualize.
…I wouldn’t be in this position at all if it weren’t for my wonderful time as a NYFA student. And I sure am an avid advocate for the school!
NYFA: What advice would you give to your fellow screenwriters who are looking to create festival-worthy scripts?
JP: I would advise fellow screenwriters who want to enter festivals to focus on short scripts, share your work with other writers and actors for feedback, and be open to revisions. I would also suggest caution when entering festivals, and look for those that offer feedback. And I would definitely recommend taking filmmaking and making a few films to get an idea of what’s possible and what’s not possible for a short script.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Jaclyn S. Powell for taking the time to share a bit of her story with the NYFA community. “The Last Shred of Daylight” begins production in September, and you can follow the fim on Facebook and GoFundMe.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Jaclyn S. Powell for taking the time to share a bit of her story with our community.