Academy Nicholl Fellowships in ScreenwritingMost screenwriting competitions are simply out to take your money. They won't help you with your career. In fact, writing a great screenplay and making industry contacts who may then consider your screenplay will help you with your screenwriting career much more than a screenwriting contest. In other words, hone your screenwriting skills and cultivate industry relationships. So, as far as screenwriting competitions go, if you submit to any at all, I suggest only submitting to those that can actually help you launch or further a screenwriting career. As such, very few meet this criteria. One of the few is the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, now open for applications for 2013.

For those who don't already know, the Nicholl Fellowships were started in the mid-1980s by Gee Nicholl in honor of her late husband, Don Nicholl, who was a writer for the TV series All in the Family, a producer on The Jeffersons, and an executive producer of Three's Company. Gee Nicholl started the fellowships because she remembered how difficult it was for both she and Don starting out as writers for television and film, and wanted the fellowships to help launch new writers on their careers with less burden.

Overseen by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the Nicholl Fellowships awards up to five fellowships of $35,000 each year. The winning fellows must write a new screenplay during their fellowship year that will become part of the Nicholl Fellowship library. The writer, however, will retain all rights and may (and hopefully will) subsequently sell the screenplay written as part of the fellowship year. Entrants for the 2013 competition may not have earned more than a cumulative $25,000 from writing fictional work for film or television.

The Nicholl Fellowship program also publishes the names, contact information and screenplay titles of all of the quarterfinalists, semifinalists and finalists each year, and makes this information available to managers, agents and production companies. In turn, managers, agents and production companies can then reach out to quarterfinalists, semifinalists and finalists to request their screenplays if the rights are still available.

What does all of this really mean?

The Nicholl Fellowships program is very well-respected in the industry, but it is also very competitive. Last year, 7,197 screenplays were submitted. 368 quarterfinalists were chosen (roughly 5% of all entrants), of which 129 advanced to the semifinal round (less than 2% of all entrants), 10 advanced to the final round (too miniscule to count, or around 0.1% of all entrants if you must), and five scripts earned their writers or writing teams fellowships (half of too miniscule to count).

Another interesting fact to note: in 2012, all 129 semifinalist screenplays were read and scored by four Academy members (including at least one producer) to determine the 10 finalist screenplays.

I imagine that screenplays from the quarterfinal level and up are requested by managers, agents and production companies. As I've mentioned here before, I made it to the semifinal round of last year's competition, and had roughly a dozen requests to read my screenplay after the competition, but nothing further. Winning screenplays certainly get noticed - three of the five fellowship screenplays from last year also appeared on the 2012 edition of The Black List - which means those writers have a good chance of landing paid work in the future. And a few screenplays sell.

Past Nicholl Fellows include Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich, 28 Days, Pocahontas, Charlotte's Web, In Her Shoes), Ehren Kruger (Arlington Road, The Ring and The Ring 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon), Andrew W. Marlowe (Air Force One, TV series creator and executive producer of Castle) and Mike Rich (Finding Forrester, Secretariat, The Rookie).

If you decide to apply, make sure you've written the best screenplay you can. The Nicholl Fellowships does not provide feedback on screenplay entries, although Greg Beal, long-time director of the Nicholl Fellowships, routinely lets writers know if their screenplay received at least two positive reads, or even made it into the top 10% or 15% of screenplays, but didn't advance into the quarterfinals.

Here are the deadlines to apply:

  • Early bird deadline: March 1, 2013, $35 per entry
  • Regular deadline: April 10, 2013, $50 per entry
  • Late deadline: May 1, 2013, $65 per entry

For complete rules and FAQ, be sure to check out the Nicholl Fellowships website.

Do you think the Academy Nicholl Fellowships offers a good opportunity for aspiring screenwriters? Share your thoughts with us in the Comments.