Universal Pictures Launches Emerging Writers Fellowship to Find New, Diverse Screenwriters

Universal launches Emerging Writers Fellowship Just a few weeks ago, Warner Bros. announced its partnership with The Black List to find emerging, diverse screenwriters and offer them two-step WGA deals. Looks like finding emerging, diverse screenwriters is now emerging as a trend. Universal Pictures has announced its Emerging Writers Fellowship in the hopes of finding talented new screenwriters who don't currently have access to the industry. Applications for this new fellowship open Sept. 3. For more details about this fellowship, and what qualifies as "diverse", hit the jump.

Access to the industry can be extremely difficult for new screenwriters, so new programs like the Emerging Writers Fellowship from Universal and Warner Bros. partnership with The Black List are certainly encouraging.

Also, now that these two studios plan to work with new screenwriters over an extended period of time on new screenplays and pitches means we may actually get a chance to see some new, refreshing content from the studios, but only time will tell.

More specifically, here's what Universal Pictures had to say about its new screenwriters fellowship:

The Emerging Writers Fellowship is an exciting new program at Universal Pictures that is designed to identify and cultivate new and unique voices with a passion for storytelling. We are looking for talented screenwriters who have the potential to thrive, but don’t have access to or visibility within the industry.

Emerging writers who are chosen to participate in the program will work exclusively with the studio over the course of a year to hone their skills. During this program, fellows will be given the opportunity to work on current Universal projects as well as pitch original story ideas. Fellows will also attend workshops, receive mentoring, interact with top literary agents and sit in on Universal’s executive meetings. Fellows admitted into the program will be hired under a writing service agreement and must be committed to working full-time for one year.

Now, before you get too excited, Universal has set up some rules that may limit who can actually apply. Candidates may not have received the following credits on any feature film commercially released theatrically or television show that has been aired within the U.S.: Producer, Director, Assistant Director, Co-producer, Associate Producer, 2nd Unit Director, Director of Photography, Writer or Source Material.

Candidates will be able to submit one and only one screenplay during the application process. The screenplay must be comedy/romantic comedy or action/adventure/thriller. Universal will not accept any other genres (sorry, new writers with diverse voices that write dramas -- this fellowship is not for you).

Also, candidates who move on to the semi-final round will have to submit a second screenplay for evaluation. So, candidates need to make sure they have another stellar screenplay ready to go should they move ahead in the competition.

Here's the real head-scratcher, though, from the application requirements for this fellowship:

Two letters of recommendation from industry professionals.  Each letter must be no longer than two pages and address the following:

1.)   Comment on the context of your interaction with the applicant and your relationship to the applicant

2.)   Explain why you feel this candidate will be a good fit for the Universal Pictures Emerging Writers Program and his/her potential to become a successful screenwriter

Now if you've been reading this post carefully, you'll notice that the original description from Universal about this Emerging Writers Fellowship said, "We are looking for talented screenwriters who have the potential to thrive, but don’t have access to or visibility within the industry." Yet, just to apply to this fellowship, you need not one, but two letters of recommendation from industry professionals.

I'm not exactly sure how writers with no access or visibility within the industry will find industry professionals to write recommendation letters. Maybe Universal should reconsider this requirement. Just sayin'.

Moving on, the Emerging Writers Fellowship addresses diversity among its applicants by asking them to answer the following question:

How will you contribute a diverse voice that is unique to the screenwriting industry? (300 words)

In other words, applicants get to make the argument for how they are diverse. No other specifications are laid out under the eligibility requirements.

Applications and legal release forms will be available online starting at midnight (we assume PT, but they didn't say) on Sept. 3, 2013. To find out more details and for complete entry rules and eligibility criteria, check out Universal Pictures' official announcement on the NBCUniversal Careers website.

What do you think about Universal Pictures' Emerging Writers Fellowship announcement? Will you be applying? If you're a new writer with no access or visibility within the industry, how will you get two letters of recommendation from industry professionals? Share your thoughts and strategies with us in the Comments.

Link: Universal Pictures' Emerging Writers Fellowship

[via Shadow and Act - Indiewire]

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Your Comment


Don't ask for permission. Ask for forgiveness.

August 16, 2013 at 5:11PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Victor Hernandez

Are you fucking serious?

"Two letters of recommendation from industry professionals."

"Candidates may not have received the following credits on any feature film commercially released theatrically or television show that has been aired within the U.S.: Producer, Director, Assistant Director, Co-producer, Associate Producer, 2nd Unit Director, Director of Photography, Writer or Source Material."

lol, Hollywood is only out to abuse new talent. Bet they will underpay the writer because he won't be in a guild because of the "no industry ties" thing above... Jesus, golden tickets these days are stupid.

August 16, 2013 at 5:21PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Seriously, this is getting old. The only thing screenwriting fellowships and coverage services are good at is taking the money of hopeful amateurs with no other foreseeable way into the business. This one is just the icing on the cake. Good on you, Universal -- you complete jackholes.

August 16, 2013 at 8:04PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Well, the Universal program is free of charge (no application fees), is it not? Its only inconvenience and major stipulation are that it's for the folks who are already working in the industry and are residing in the LA area.
Black List's only possible enticement is to give scripts a far too generous grade in order for the writers to maintain an account for $25/mo. Of course, if that is the case, then they should also make it known who in the agencies saw the script (not sure if they make this disclosure mandatory ... IIRC, the industry comments are up to an individual involved).
At the opposite end, if they don't rate the script highly, they de facto tell the screenwriter to withdraw the script and hope for a more popular submission at a later date. If so, they're not working to bring in more money for themselves.
If you contrast the top possibility and the bottom reality, they're sort of following a reasonable course of action.
But an intrepid NFS man for the job could probably shed more light on the issue!

August 17, 2013 at 4:47AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I don't see how this is a problem. The current generation of filmmakers are spoiled. Whatever happened to paying your dues as an apprentice and working your way up the ladder? In whatever department you feel best in. The DGA has a two year program, both in L.A. and N.Y.C. And from what I remember the A.S.C. had something similar. How else do you imagine making it into the big leagues, that is why you're filmmaking, no? Sure every now and then a new genius indie filmmaker arrives, but for the majority of this business, it's just that.

For almost 100 years this industry was a profession, one in which you needed to learn the ropes from someone as in one day you will do the same. This is similar to military training. Except nowadays everyone with a 1080 or 4k video cam and some lenses thinks they're a General. Well at the very least a Colonel, since General should be reserved for the likes of Spieldberg, R. Scott, Nolan, Cameron, Lucas, etc. Making a huge Movie is no different than running a high-speed-low-drag Army Unit. You put together hundreds of people, who are good at what they do, have a long trained skillet all working together (Collaborating) to succeed in completing the mission.

Very often I'm on sets with people who are just there for the check, and don't get me wrong I sometimes don't blame them. But paying your dues is the norm in any profession. Apply, get accepted to a two-year industry sponsored program. Slowly make your way up as you work through the Hollywood system. Or keep on making 5-10 minute movies that you hope can get your name out there. Neither path is wrong, but one will bring more success than the other that is for sure.

Don't knock the very few programs left. We live in a time when movie making has been democratized, and with that bringing change to the system. Some good and some very bad. Seen any cats playing pianos lately?

Excuse the long rant, but I believe these programs sponsored or ran by Hollywood is great. This cuts out the middleman (agents) which is what really ruined Hollywood, and allows them to find and culture that rare talent out of nowhere. I'm not saying don't go out there and make stuff. I'm just saying don't make crap. Reading and watching tutorials will only get you so far.

P.S. I don't work in/for Hollywood. I'm a freelance A/C, CamOP out of Miami who once applied to the DGA program in NY his senior year of film school. I did not get accepted.

August 17, 2013 at 10:20AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Jorge Cayon

Jorge (and this is coming from a fellow SoFla resident), a screenwriter - or, for that matter, any writer can be developed anywhere. There have been plenty of instances where the college age twenty-somethings (name your top tier film school or fine arts program) delivered decent material fresh off their graduation ceremonies and subsequently got paying gigs in LA or NYC. Simultaneously, there have been many instances of no-names out of nowhere delivering quality work (and I don't just mean the "50 Shades of Grey" type of stuff). People polish their craft different and everyone has a different learning curve. Black List seems to be a great service for the "no-names out of nowhere" (presuming it's on up and up) without any strong connection to the industry insiders. The Universal program is for those who know what the film set looks like already but I still find it hard to blame the company for offering something for nothing.

@LAcrewmember - I've done my LA bit. It definitely helps to have contacts. The networking can be crucial in this field and those willing to knock at doors get an additional benefit of the doubt. At the same time, this is a big country. People can write screenplays for next to nothing and make their shorts on a shoe string budget too. The major players are opened mostly to those they already know. For others, it's a tougher going and this where the intermediaries like Black List can be very helpful (presuming it's on up and up).
PS. I can also imagine a service similar to Black List opening for the indy filmmakers who are willing to pay someone with connections to agents and managers $10-$20 to watch their shorts for the future reference. As a newcomer to this site, I don't know all the details of how the founder of this site (Hail, Hail the Great Leader ... Hail, Hail Freedonia!) got his short to people in high places (aside the fact that it was a clever little bit of film making) but I bet there are a ton of folks who wouldn't mind paying small fees to get their films seen.

August 17, 2013 at 12:29PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


They're looking to sign someone who has paid his/her dues in town already - as a PA, grip or just someone working on the set anywhere. Thus, the reference bit. So, it's for people who are already in on the game if not quite inside the game. For Universal, it's a winnowing out process because, otherwise, they'd have to pay to bring people from other states. As it is, they may drop $20K-$50K on someone locally without getting involved in the process of moving someone long distance.
Naturally, it's sneaky but they may only be doing this as a sop to political correctness and expedience. If no one emerges from this group, Universal wont suffer much of a loss. Or, if they're serious, they'll excuse the "reference" portion at some point.

August 16, 2013 at 5:51PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM



+1 big time! You guys who haven't come to hell-la and sweated it out with the rest of us who left family and love ones to pursue this insanely-hard industry.

August 17, 2013 at 6:26AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I know this sounds like crazy talk, but there are easy methods to work remotely these days. Does Hollywood have access to that INTERNET Network thing? It could allow them to see and talk live with writers located anywhere. Even transfer scripts, story boards, pictures, and even collaborate on them together, live, WHILE seeing and talking with them. Yeah, I know it sounds all science-fictiony, but it can happen. They should look into that. I believe there is a small monthly fee for access though.

August 24, 2013 at 12:47PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Greg Best

Could we lose the corny hipster-speak of "hit the jump" already in favor of a phrase that means something? This is a column about writing, correct?

August 17, 2013 at 8:07AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Well, there's a word that means nothing anymore

August 17, 2013 at 8:27AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Dave Kendricken

And now there is a sentence to go with it.

August 19, 2013 at 5:30PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


It's a great opportunity with the common catch-22 of the industry - You can't submit query letters without representation - agents/managers won't accept new clients without an inner connection within that circle of mutual friends (or representation, for lack of another term). A letter of recommendation from an insider already working in the industry, limits this competition to people with existing industry relationships - This is funny & hypercritical of the core intention of giving unheard voice a platform to be discovered. I thought the point of this was to "break in" & introduce talented individuals into the industry based solely on the merits & integrity of their work , writing abilities & compelling storytelling skills? At least its something I assume. Keep fishing in the vast sea.

I applaud this website for not becoming a sensational tabloid of film/entertainment news, like some film blogs turned to. This is truly a WEALTH of RESOURCES for all filmmakers & those interested in filmmaking! Thank You

August 17, 2013 at 12:33PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Alex Levit

The answer is simple: Universal doesn't want ANY writer to submit their applications to their fellowship. Because there's only TWO types of writers in this world: the ones with connections in the industry and the ones who don't have any connections whatsoever. So they have to decide which one they want. Connections and keep recycling the same boring ideas for movies and television like in the last couple of years OR no connections and welcome new and refreshing ideas from unique writers looking for their place in the world.

August 23, 2013 at 10:44AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

F. I. Rodriguez


August 24, 2013 at 3:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Thomas larsson

I am stun by the negative comments. What do you truly have to lose when there is so much to gain.

August 24, 2013 at 12:45PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I read some pain in those comments.
Can our community help.
We're free, we're collaborative and we love our writers.
Come see www.journeyoftheseeds-themovie.com

Meanwhile, I might even submit to Universal myself. They don't return my calls but hey you never know you're luck in a big universe. ;o)

August 25, 2013 at 8:54AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Facts talk. If writers are "loved" why invent restrictions. Reality looks like a "poisoned apple" to get into a coma like Snow White...and the seven dwarfs are unable.. Snow White ends in a glass coffin...

August 28, 2013 at 12:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Thomas Larsson

Guys and girls this is disgusting - Release Form - makes me feel sick. Terrible, I might even burn up my screenplay, they don't deserve it if Hollywood are always aiming to do such stunts.

September 2, 2013 at 6:44PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Nkosi Guduza

How many of the people here whining will actually enter?

How many of the people here whining have actually written one or more Screenplays?

Doubt in yourself and in opportunities and you will never succeed

September 10, 2013 at 10:44AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Half the people who commented trashy, probably applied. And if they didn't it's because they don't have a screenplay, and probably shouldn't even be commenting.

September 25, 2013 at 5:44PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Just realized that's what Michael wrote and I didn't even see that...Lol but I agree!!

September 25, 2013 at 6:18PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Only fools apply for slave contracts.

September 26, 2013 at 5:34AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Hi folks,

I am a seventy year old retired guy who has written his first book. 'Noah Thorne' is about an eight year old boy growing up on a farm in the 1920's. The really smart person who turns this into a tv series will have at least a five year run. I don't tweet or facebook, I just write great stories. The book is available online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Who's ready to do the future?

April 14, 2014 at 10:12AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Mark Gengler

Finding industry professionals to write letters of recommendation is not hard, but How important are the names and status of the people? who we should choose to do this for us? Because shouldn't our work be the real deciding factor not politics and favors from insiders even if they are quote ' industry professionals'?

This prerequisite would be ok if we were applying for an Ivy league school like Harvard where your parents and fraternities and most likely religious sectors have everything to do with who gets in and who doesn't get in....
Who are we kidding? It's reverse discrimination when you say we only want a certain group or demographic to apply, just as much as it is to base your application upon the professional connections you have to vouch for you in the first place?

Maybe this is just a pulp truth statement that universal has gotten too big for their own good!
Who so they think they are trying to help?

Many writers are going to netflix and amazon and makr or Hulu plus

Why should the old moguls think they still have all the clout?

Well it's just the same if you cannot get representation without being solicited first....the non-soliciting jargon in Hollywood has always boggled my mind to the point of extreme contempt for the industry, and also as much for the numerous contests and festivals all wanting to take your application fee but yet will not promise to even read your screenplay. It's like they want you to pay to come listen to them tell you how you should write ....or how they should make you beg borrow and steal to even get a crumb.

No thanks.....

Two letters, they will come from the most important people I can think of , but they will tell the truth. And this is cutting the shit and the sugar coating.

Teams of writers in a room who needs them?

When one person can write, direct, produce, edit, and compose and now even distribute and monetize their own content.

Why do you need to beg borrow and steal to get 'inside' when most of the insiders are doing nothing creative, not writing , but only delegating people as executives for large sums of money as salaries.....
Maybe the entire industry needs an enema.

Two letters? I will give you two letters


March 27, 2015 at 6:19AM

Singleton Makin