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Nicholl Fellowship

The Nicholl Fellowship is the granddaddy of all screenwriting contests. It's the one Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) and Mike Rich (Finding Forrester) won. It's sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This is the Academy that Oscar winners thank after they win. And Nicholl winners can thank them, too, for jump-starting their careers. The Nicholl Fellowship has a comprehensive website at www.oscars.org/nicholl/index/html that covers most of the questions I usually ask in my column. But I spoke to Greg Beal, the program coordinator, to glean a few insights about the Nicholl you might not otherwise know about. For example, they received 5,489 entries last year, and almost half arrived around the May 1st deadline. This seemed like something to talk about.

Q: With the crush of entries coming close to the deadline, is it better to send your script early?
A: If a script gets a marginal score, like a 58 or 59, we can be generous in the early days and give it a reread. But when it gets to the end, we don't have time to reread anything that doesn't score at least a 60.

Q: Do readers tend to be tougher with scoring scripts received near the deadline?
A: There are guidelines about plot, character, and other screenplay elements, but the final score should reflect the overall quality of the script. But in the back of your mind, you know that more scripts are coming. It's kind of like what judges do in figure skating. They're are apt to keep the best scores for the end. But readers also start seeing stories repeating. One year, three scripts about Northwestern Indians battling loggers in the 19th century were in a reader's pile. Repeats are not as likely to happen early on.

Q: The website lists genre submissions up to 1997. Do you have an update?
A: I do for the finalist scripts. In 1998, five of the scripts were about kids and teenagers. One of those was "Finding Forrester." 2001 was the most diverse group of finalists we had: action, period drama, political drama, psychological drama, time travel adventure, epic drama, western, coming of age drama, noir thriller, techno-action, and broad comedy.

Q: Do readers know they're reading a script that may have already been read before?
A: Each stack of scripts the readers receive includes rereads, but they don't know what particular scripts are getting that second read. Scripts are not necessarily read in the order in which they were received.

Q: Do you know if any of the winners sent their scripts in early or later?
A: They've sent them in at all times. Max Adams (1994) was number 13. Annmarie Morais (1999) was around number 4150.

It still comes down to having a great script. But with competition so stiff, and you can probably expect an increase of entries in 2002, it's easy to get lost in the sheer quantity of scripts. So do you send it early? Or wait and make it better? Like Greg said, winners have sent them in at all times. Maybe you might want to try to test run your script in another contest and see how it places before sending it to Nicholl. Or just send it, keeping your fingers crossed that you'll be among the few. Applications will be available in mid-January. And no matter when you may send your script, the important thing is to start working on the next one.

Monica Zepeda


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