Each year, the Academy Nicholl screenwriting competition awards up to five $35,000 fellowships to amateur screenwriters. To enter, submit a feature length screenplay and entry fee via the online application when the competition is open for submissions. Fellowship winners are invited to participate in awards week ceremonies and seminars and expected to complete at least one original feature film screenplay during the Fellowship year.
Screenwriters who have not earned more than $25,000 writing fictional work for film or television.
Entry scripts must be the original work of one writer, or of two writers who collaborated equally, and must be written originally in English. Adaptations and translated scripts are not eligible.
There are three deadlines for 2020: early is March 6 ($48 entry fee), regular is April 9 ($63 entry fee), and late is May 1 ($88 entry fee). The online application form must be completed and a PDF version of the script uploaded by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on May 1.
Full-time students at an accredited college/university are eligible for a discount on their entry fee in 2020. Indicate your status in the demographic section of your online application. The discount will be offered in the payment section.
Up to five $35,000 fellowships are awarded each year to promising new screenwriters. From the program’s inception in 1986 through 2019, $4.58 million has been awarded to 176 writers.
Up to five fellows in the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting competition will be invited to participate in awards week ceremonies and seminars in November.
Fellowship recipients will be expected to complete at least one original feature film screenplay during the fellowship year.
Fellowship payments will be made quarterly subject to satisfactory progress of the recipient’s work, as judged by the Academy Nicholl Fellowships Committee.
The Academy reserves the right to grant no awards if, in the opinion of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships Committee, no entry is of sufficient merit.
- Original feature film screenplay (no shorter than 70 pages and no longer than 160 pages) in PDF format only
- Completed online application form
- Early entry fee of US$48 (by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on March 6) or regular deadline entry fee of US$63 (by 11:59 p.m. PT on April 9) or late deadline entry fee of US$88 (by 11:59 p.m. PT on May 1).
Register and Apply
Writers may create an online account at the Nicholl website at any time. When the competition opens each year, they should use that account to enter, following the links to the Log In page. The Nicholl website allows entrants to fill out the required online application form, submit a PDF version of their script and pay the entry fee with a credit or debit card. It also allows entrants to confirm receipt of their entry and to update their contact information at any time during the competition.
Only online applications will be accepted.
An entrant may submit a maximum of three scripts in the current competition.
Script should be no shorter than 70 pages and no longer than 160 pages. The recommended length is 80 to 125 pages.
Writers must create an account at the Nicholl website to enter the competition. PDF scripts must be uploaded and all other requirements met no later than 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on May 1, 2020.
The entry fee must be paid online via credit card or debit card.
7,302 entries were received in 2019. All scripts are read at least twice in the competition. About 15 percent are read a third time. About 5 percent of entries advance to the competition quarterfinals, about 2 percent advance to the semifinals and about 10-15 entries reach the finals.
Brief reader comments for each entered script are available for purchase but are not required for entry.
Every screenplay entry will receive at least two comments and may receive as many as six, up to and including the Quarterfinal round. These comments are released on the date specified in the online application.
Not intended as comprehensive notes, these comments offer a peek at readers’ reactions to the entry.
The first and quarterfinal rounds are judged by industry professionals who are not members of the Academy. The semifinal round is judged by Academy members drawn from across the spectrum of the motion picture industry. The finalist scripts are judged by the Academy Nicholl Committee.
To further the Academy’s commitment to encouraging and valuing diversity in the industry, the Nicholl Fellowships Program takes measures to ensure that our selection process is as fair as possible and without bias.
All entrants will receive notification of their status by e-mail sent no later than August 1 of each year. Quarterfinalist letters are e-mailed by August 1. Semifinalist letters are e-mailed by early September.
2021 Nicholl Rules
1. An entrant’s total, lifetime earnings for motion picture and television writing may not exceed US$25,000 before the end of the competition. This limit applies to compensation for motion picture and television writing services as well as for the sale of (or sale of an option on) screenplays, teleplays, stage plays, books, treatments, stories, premises and any other source material.
In most instances, fellowship and competition prize money is not counted as earnings unless it includes a “first look” clause, an option or any other quid pro quo involving the writer’s work.
Entrants must be 18 or older at the time of entry.
2. Current Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors, current Nicholl committee members, and current employees and the immediate families of these individuals are not eligible. Current Academy members are not eligible.
3. Entrants must register an online account at the Nicholl website (www.oscars.org/nicholl) and submit:
- A completed online application form.
- One copy of an original feature film screenplay uploaded as a PDF file. The feature screenplay should be in standard industry format (12 point Courier) and no shorter than 70 pages and no longer than 160 pages. Suggested page count is 80 to 125; scripts exceeding 125 pages may have their length counted against them.
- Submissions must have been written originally in English; translations will not be accepted. Scripts where the entrant hired another writer to write their screenplay or to collaborate on their screenplay are not eligible. No multi-part scripts should be submitted unless each part can be read as a separate, stand-alone screenplay.
- Submissions must be the original work of the entrant(s) and may not be based, in whole or in part, on any other fiction or nonfiction material, published or unpublished, produced or unproduced. Entries may, however, be adapted for the entrant’s (or entrants’) original work, which should be noted in the logline required on the application form. Entries lacking a logline on the application form will be disqualified.
- If the script is based on a true story, historical or contemporary, the “based on true story/events” button should be selected within the online application form.
- Collaborative work by two writers who share equally in its creation is eligible. Collaborative work for which one writer developed the idea and another writer wrote the screenplay is not eligible. Collaborative work by three or more writers is not eligible. The collaborator’s name must be added during the online application process. Writing partners selected as Fellows will divide the fellowship stipend equally.
- The entrant’s name, address, phone number or any other identifying information should not appear on the title page or any other page of the script. Placing a Library of Congress or WGA registration number on the title page is acceptable but not required.
- A single entry fee per script entry paid online via credit card. Entry fees will not be returned or adjusted. The entry fee for each script is $48 if submitted by March 3, $63 if submitted by April 3, and $88 if submitted by May 3.
4. Submissions for the 2021 fellowships must be uploaded and paid no later than 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on May 3, 2021. Applications will be accepted only via accounts registered at the Nicholl website. Submitted scripts will not be returned. The Academy is not responsible for late, misdirected, missing, or damaged entries.
5. The final selection of fellowship winners will be made by the Academy Nicholl Fellowships Committee.
6. Only one copy, draft or version of any screenplay may be submitted by an entrant or entrants and violation risks disqualification. Under no circumstances will substitutions of either corrected pages or new drafts of an entry screenplay be allowed. An entrant may submit a maximum of three screenplays in the current competition.
7. By September 2021, every writer of a screenplay that advances to the final round will be asked to write to the Academy Nicholl Fellowships Committee expressing the writer’s personal and professional interests.
8. Academy Nicholl Fellowships may not be held concurrently with other fellowships or any other similar award, or while completing a formal course of study. The fellowship year may be deferred to allow a student winner to complete his or her education.
9. Academy Nicholl Fellows agree to furnish the Academy with a copy of the screenplay(s) written during the fellowship year. The Academy acquires no rights to the work (or to the entry script) and will not participate in its marketing or in any other aspects of its commercial future.
Competition Terms and Conditions:
By entering, I (we) attest:
To the accuracy of the information supplied in this application.
That the material submitted is my (our) sole and original work.
To my (our) agreement to hold the Academy Foundation and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences harmless from, and defend them against, all claims, demands, losses, costs, damages, judgments, liabilities and expenses (including attorneys’ fees) arising out of or in connection with any stories submitted to the Academy Nicholl Fellowships competition or any screenplay developed out of such stories.
That the Academy Foundation may retain the material submitted for use in connection with its Academy Nicholl Fellowships deliberations, and thereafter for its archival collection of educational materials, to which use I (we) expressly waive compensation.
That the burden of obtaining copyright or otherwise protecting any proprietary interests in the material, if I (we) wish to do so, rests entirely with me (us).
To my (our) understanding of the purposes and conditions of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships and to my (our) acceptance of them should I (we) be selected as a Nicholl fellow.
That I am (we are) eligible for the competition, and that I (we) will notify the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting if I (we) become ineligible prior to the conclusion of the competition.
That providing false or misleading information on this application, or failing in any other way to comply with the rules of the competition, will subject me (us) to disqualification, forfeiture of prize money and/or other penalties.
Nicholl Reader Judging Criteria
Nicholl readers use the following guidelines to judge and score screenplays during the competition.
Does the story have an original premise?
Are the premise and story new or fresh for you?
Does that story idea start the movie forward?
Does the story itself have a strong beginning, middle & end? How about two out of three? If the story is non-linear, does it make sense?
Does this script make you feel that the writer is taking you on a journey?
Does the story connect with you emotionally, whether it’s a comedy or drama or another genre?
Does the script have a distinctive and original voice? (Or do you feel that you’ve read or seen this movie before?)
Does reading the script make you think, “This person genuinely has the potential to develop into a professional writer”?
Does the story show us something we haven’t seen before?
Does this script have vivid characters who each speak in their own voice?
Are the characters new or fresh for you?
Do you want to know what happens to them?
Does the central character change over the course of the story? If it’s an ensemble film, does more than one character change?
Do the dialogue and tone seem consistent from scene to scene?
Does the way the people speak fit the tone and setting of the story?
Does this writer know how to use description and dialogue to create suspense, tension, drama, comedy and conflict? Does the conflict propel the story forward?
Do the main characters take actions that move the story along?
Are these actions in keeping with who these people are? Or do they happen “conveniently”?
Meaning and Magic
Does this script genuinely make you want to keep reading? Are the themes of the story thought-provoking, across genres? Is the story “about something” that might spark discussion among friends?
When you finish reading the script, even if it has flaws, do you still feel that there’s something special about it? Is there an indescribable “something” that elevates this script above the ordinary?
Does the idea have a purpose as opposed to being simply about misery?