My neighbor works for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Yeah, that’s pretty cool. What’s even cooler is that she invited me to attend an event at the Academy last week! And even though I generally try to avoid the mid-Wilshire are for any reason, I couldn’t turn down such a special invitation.
The event was the celebration of the 2019 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. This is an international screenwriting competition that was established in 1985 to identify and encourage talented new screenwriters. The first year of the competition, 99 entrants – all California college students, submitted work. This year, the competition received over 7,000 submissions from all over the world.
Previous fellows include Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), Doug Atchison (Akeelah and the Bee), and Andrew Marlowe (Air Force One).
This year’s fellows were Aaron Chung, a recent college graduate from Florida; Karen McDermott, a former attorney who now teaches at Cal State LA; Renee Pillai from Malaysia – who, when she was notified that she had won, had to find someone to drive her the two hours to Kuala Lumpur so that she could apply for a passport; Sean Malcolm, who certainly gets the tenacity award for submitting screenplays to this competition for something like 20 years; and Walker McKnight.
The formal awards presentation included a live read of scenes from each winning screenplay. Amandla Stenberg (Rue in The Hunger Games), Rosa Salazar (Parenthood, American Horror Story), Wes Studi (Dances with Wolves, The Last of the Mohicans, Avatar) and Tyrese Gibson (The Fast and the Furious franchise) performed the live read, which was directed by 2016 Nicholl fellow Geeta Malik.
I had never been to a live read before and it was very fun. I loved watching the actors sitting on stools, with the scripts in front of them and then jumping into their parts. I felt like I could really see the acting, if that makes any sense. They were going from regular person to performer just right in front of our eyes. Rosa Salazar was especially act-y and I mean that as a big compliment. She really used her voice and her physicality (even though she was perched on a barstool) for all of her different characters.
The scene from Karen McDermott’s screenplay gave me an idea for a short story and I was so glad that I had brought a little notebook with me so that I could jot down some quick notes. I roughed out a first draft the next day and yikes! It is going to need a lot of work. I will be sure to let you know when I manage to get it pulled together.
It is so exciting to get to see up-and-comers succeeding in their field. The Nicholl Fellowships are the kind of thing that really makes a huge difference in someone’s life and it was a treat to have the opportunity to share in the celebration of their creative success. I am so proud of all of the winners and of the Academy for having a great program like this to encourage new talent. It was a great evening.