History of the Don & Gee Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting
- 1985 – Gee Nicholl and Julian Blaustein met with the Academy’s then-Executive Director Jim Roberts and then-Executive Administrator Bruce Davis to discuss the development of a program that would aid new screenwriters. That program ultimately became the Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.
- 1986 – The first Nicholl fellowships are awarded to Allison Anders, Dennis Clontz, and Jeff Eugenides at a reception held in the Academy’s Grand Lobby. In the initial year of competition, the 99 entrants were not required to submit screenplays; they could submit a screenplay, a teleplay, a TV series episode, fiction or a stageplay. The competition was limited to California college students.
- 1987 – The Academy Nicholl Fellowships expanded eligibility to include college students in nine states and to residents of Texas.
- 1989 – Eligibility was expanded again to include all United States residents who had not sold or optioned a screenplay or teleplay.
- 1990 – Rules for judging were modified to:
Early rounds – paid, professional readers narrow thousands of entries to the top five percent which are then passed onto the quarterfinal round.
Quarterfinal Round – Academy members volunteer to select the semifinal scripts – less than half are passed to the next round. In 2002, as the number of entries continued to rise, paid, professional readers replaced Academy readers in the Quarterfinal round. Readers do not read the same scripts round to round.
Semifinal Round – Academy members volunteer their time to select the 10 finalist scripts, which are presented to the Nicholl Fellowship Committee.
Finalists – In October, the Nicholl Fellowship Committee meets for a lengthy and spirited discussion to select up to five winning scripts. Often committee members champion their favorites and dismiss the scripts they did not appreciate. It’s quite common for one member’s frontrunner to leave another member cold.
- 1991 – At a meeting of the Nicholl Committee, former Academy president Robert Wise declared that “the best parties have chairs.” The committee and Gee Nicholl agreed and the ceremony became an awards dinner. The first Nicholl Dinner was held at Chasen’s restaurant in Beverly Hills.
Eligibility was expanded to include international entrants writing in English who had not sold or optioned a screenplay or teleplay.
Radha Bharadwaj, a 1989 fellow, becomes the first fellow to have her Nicholl entry script released as a feature film. “Closet Land” opened in March 1991.
- 1994 - Dennis Clontz received a Pulitzer prize for spot journalism as part of the Los Angeles Times team reporting on the Northridge earthquake.
- 1999 – At the encouragement of then-Nicholl Committee Chair Gale Anne Hurd, the Academy began inviting finalists as well as fellows to participate in Nicholl Awards week festivities.
- 2000 – Susannah Grant, a 1992 fellow, earned an Academy Award nomination for her original screenplay “Erin Brockovich.”
- 2001 – Nicholl eligibility was expanded to include writing teams (of exactly 2).
- 2003 – Jeffrey Eugenides, a 1986 fellow, won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel “Middlesex.”
Tejal K. Desal and Brian C. Wray became the first writing team to earn a Nicholl Fellowship for their script “Linda and Henry.”
The Academy Nicholl Fellowships office relocated to the Academy’s Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study on Vine Street in Hollywood.
- 2004 – The Academy Nicholl Fellowships had a record 6,073 entries.
- 2007 – Amy Garcia and Cecilia Contreras became the first female writing team to earn a Nicholl Fellowship for their script “Amelia Earhart and the Bologna Rainbow Highway.”
- 2009 – The Academy Nicholl Fellowships had a record 6,380 entries. Over 5,000 of the entries were submitted online.
- 2010 – The Academy Nicholl Fellowships received 6,304 entries, all of them submitted online.
- 2011 – The Academy Nicholl Fellowships received a record 6,730 entries.
The Nicholl Experience
The following quotes were taken from letters sent to the Nicholl Committee over the years by writers who entered the competition.
“It’s been hard to drum up the – I don’t know, maybe arrogance to call myself a screenwriter... The Nicholl Fellowships competition has helped me revitalize my will to fiercely defend this project that is secretly so important to me.”
“It’s a wonderful thing that the Foundation does for aspiring screenwriters. It not only gives us the opportunity to have our work read and evaluated by professionals in the industry, it treats us and our work with tender respect. It encourages us to keep believing that we can and will be successful.”
“It’s difficult to express to you how much the Nicholl Fellowship competition has done for me. One of my scripts... made the quarterfinals, and when I received your letter I shouted, cried and generally made a fool of myself... All I know is this was the moment of acknowledgement I needed to keep going.”
“[A production company has] bought my third screenplay... This wouldn’t have happened for me – certainly not as quickly – if not for competitions like the Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowships... Please relay my heartfelt thanks to Mrs. Nicholl for her support of new writers. The honor of being a semifinalist has increased my incentive to write more than ever. It also means that instead of banging on doors to be read, doors are cordially opened by smiling faces.”
“The Nicholl Competition is one of the few honest games in town, a chance to be read by people in the industry – an industry famous for receiving enough screenplays in a week to fire up the furnaces of hell for a year.”
“...all I have to do is utter the word “Nicholl” and the agent or producer I am speaking to will generally take me very seriously.”
“As a direct result of this year’s competition, I have a new agent, am being read all over town (including Amblin and several other companies who never read); and I am re-focusing solely on the writing for awhile...”