One of the world’s premier screenwriting competitions, the Nicholl Fellowship is the envy of many new writers. It was founded over 35 years ago to hold the hands of new professionals.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is charged with its administration.
Via the aid of Julian Blaustein and Gee Nicholl, the academy came up with the award to motivate amateur screenwriters.
It entails a first-round reading assessment where scripts pass on to be reviewed by three different judges in the QF round.
The semifinal encompasses four Academy member judges taking a look at the SF scrips. The scores are compiled thus far from all the rounds to draw out the finalists.
Finally, every member of the Fellowship Panel reviews supporting letters and individual finalist scripts. The panel discusses their findings before a voting process decides the recipients.
With the competition slated to open sometime this February, should you consider submitting your script? Is it worth shelling out $48 (early entry) or $63 (regular entry) to enter this competition?
For many beginner screenwriters, it’s already tough having a day job and writing full time on weekends. It’s also one of the toughest screenwriting competitions with 7,831 entries in 2020 and only 5 percent make it to the quarter finals.
You have better odds of getting accepted to an Ivy League school!
However, it cannot be denied that many have gone on to do great things courtesy of simply placing in the competition.
Make it into the quarter finals and you’ll get emails from Hollywood insiders, like agents and film producers.
What makes the entry worth it is the actual journey. The amount of effort it will take to perfect a script. The film treatments. The re-writes. And the professional feedback. All these things are worth the nominal Nicholl Fellowship fee, as it will make you a better writer in the long run.
The Nicholl Fellowship offers many benefits for upcoming talents, and here’s what you stand to gain by trying it out.
To say that the Nicholl Fellowship is competitive would be an understatement. As mentioned before, 2020 had 7,400 screenplays submitted, only 5% wiggled through to the QF.
From that number, only 10 screenplays hack it to the finals. Out of those, only the best five are invited to the inner circle.
However, if you manage to squeeze through to the later stages, you’ll be astounded by how much you can become a hot cake overnight. The Science of Love and Laughter¸ the screenplay by 2014 Nicholl Fellow Sam Baron, is a perfect example.
Previously finding the doors slamming in his face, the London-based writer’s career took a sharp turn for the better.
The once struggling screenwriter was now the center of attention. Just by making it to the top ten, he was thrust into a new world of attention. He attested to receiving more than 800 emails in only the day after he was announced as one of the finalists.
Baron got proposals for partnerships from halfway across the world, with many determined to get him on their projects.
Suddenly, he was the guy everyone wanted to work with. Suddenly, there was an abundance of people who wanted to manage him or produce the script.
A few months earlier, he was struggling to convince anyone to get on board. After the announcement, he was spoilt for choice. That goes to show the power of the Nicholl Fellowship.
You don’t need to win to turn heads, just placing in the latter rounds generates buzz. If your career hasn’t quite taken off yet, the Nicholl Fellowship may just be your launching pad.
New writers quickly get to discover that breaking into the industry is more about who rather than what you know. Many talented screenwriters are getting smothered before they even get a chance to show the world what they’re made of.
Studio and agent biases are keeping good writers down. The Nicholl Fellowship is purely a merit-based competition that genuinely uplifts and rewards new writers.
Here is a reading of select screenplays when you make it far into the competition:
It recognizes individuals for the quality of their work, regardless of the genre. Where you come from, what you’ve done before, and who you know doesn’t matter one bit.
It offers equal opportunities for upcoming talents to get the attention they deserve by breaking down barriers often in the way. It levels the playing field enabling the discovery of truly good writing.
Managers and agents spend little time going through first-time scripts. If they reviewed every unsolicited screenplay, then they wouldn’t have time to sell projects and tend to their clients.
Recommendations from colleagues and friends are the primary points of reference. Writing competitions, and they rarely come bigger than the Nicholl Fellowship, makes managers and agents stop to take notice.
Highlighting that you placed or took part in the competition can sway the mind of an agent. It says a lot about you as a writer.
First, that you can work with a deadline hanging over your head.
Second, that you’re confident in your work to sign up against hundreds of other writers.
When your letter would have been dismissed after one glance, a mentioning of participation in the Nicholl Fellowship can win you an audience and a chance to impress.
The Nicholl Fellowship isn’t always about winning. Sure, that’s the most important part of any competition, but the fellowship offers many other benefits for aspiring writers.
For instance, it can make you more determined to do better and improve your writing.
If you’ve placed in the top 50 for the competition, you’ll be motivated to work harder to climb the ranks.
Here’s writer’s take on the feedback he received from the Nicholl Fellowship:
The more you work, the more you get better. The feeling of getting recognition offers potent fuel for new screenwriters to keep going.
One perennial contestant eventually went on to bag the top prize on the 29th attempt, after so many unsuccessful ones before.
Your path may not necessarily be like his but the point is the Nicholl Fellowship can shove you into a creative streak. The fierce competition serves as great inspiration.
Did you know that The Nicholl Fellowship is one of the very few where contents get two reads in the first round?
In most other competitions, judges blitz right through scripts just the once and their mind is made up. What’s more, aside from two script reads, the competition also tries to allocate each genre to an assessor who enjoys that niche.
Your script, therefore, has every chance to succeed and make it to the latter stages if it’s really good.
The Nicholl Fellowship is worth your time, and be sure to try out other professional writing competitions as well. The more, the merrier.
Remember, you don’t even need to win a competition. Just placing in the quarter finals at Nicholl will get you emails from agents and producers.
Your script gets more exposure to expert judgment and the judges know what managers and producers are usually on the lookout for in the industry. Additionally, you can build a strong network with other writers and professionals.
Heck, CONTACT US if your script makes it to the semi-finals!
All these things make the Nicholl Fellowship worth it.
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