Category Archives: Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences

Divine Secrets of the Nicholl Fellowships (using it)

(second in a series)

Note: If you have an agent or manager they may have a different plan for you. That’s cool. They know they can get your script through the right doors when they’re ready to. When all you have is your own gumption, this is my advice.

How to use the Nicholl competition to your advantage:

1) A deadline.

Obviously, some of us work better to deadlines. If having May 1 circled on your calendar helps you, then by all means, enter just for that purpose.

2) Getting read.

If you get any kind of note on your “regretfully you didn’t advance” or if you advance, you can use that to try to get read. It will work somewhere. You don’t know where until you try.

Don’t go into a big song and dance about what “being in the next 10%” means. The more complicated your explanation, the less impressive your accomplishment. “I was in the top 250 of over 5,000 entries,” is good enough, if you aren’t a quarterfinalist. Just figure out the round numbers (that don’t misrepresent, of course) and go for it.

Make some calls, faxes, emails, snail mail queries. Make the short and spiffy. Don’t go into huge detail trying to build yourself up. Mainly, have a good logline. Say you’re in the top “whatever of whatever.” Or you’re a QF. Say whatever you are.

Don’t tell anything that doesn’t help your cause. Do NOT tell that you live in Podunk, Nebraska. All you want is to get somebody to read your script. Give them a reason to read it, not a reason to skip it.

3) Being timely.

Some people will disagree, but I believe the time to use your status in the competition is while the status still means something.

I do not believe in being a QF and waiting to see if you advance before you start querying.

I believe in querying while only the QFs are querying.

Why wait until you’re competing against SFs, Finalists and Fellows, after the thing is over?

Get your script out there as soon as you can. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You get to call somebody back and say, “Oh by the way, the QF script I sent you is now an SF, just thought I’d let you know?” And this is a bad thing? I don’t think so.

Will people contact you after the lists go out? If you’ve reached QF or higher, yes some people will contact you. They’ll also be contacting lots of other people on the list.

Why are you waiting to be one of dozens (or more) of Nicholl scripts in a pile when you could be one of the first?

And if you do advance to the finals? Don’t worry. You’ll be read by a gazillion people. Don’t lose any sleep over the handful of folks who got your script early.

Next in the series: Preparing to be a Finalist.

Oh, in case you’re wondering why Pooks has an opinion on this stuff (as if she needs an excuse to have an opinion on anything) — she’s not only a Nicholl Fellow, but the only person to be a Finalist twice, with two different scripts. And in case you’re wondering why this is written in third instead of first person, it’s because she feels very odd writing it in first person, like she’s bragging instead of explaining. Um. Okay. There, are you satisfied, those of you who said I should explain this? Okay.)


Filed under Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, Screenwriting

Divine Secrets of the Nicholl Fellowships (backstory)

(first in a series)

Once upon a time in a far away place called England, there lived a man and woman who loved each other very much. The man was handsome and the woman was beautiful. He was a journalist and she was a dancer and model. He began working in movies and she wrote a gossip column. She wrote a story and he adapted it to a screenplay. One thing led to another, as these things often do, and eventually they ended up in a strange land called Los Angeles, working in a strange business called American television.


“After his untimely death in 1980, Gee, knowing that Don had long spoken of helping new writers get started, provided funding first for grants for students in the screenwriting program at Stanford University and then for the Academy’s Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting Program.”*

And with that action, she changed lives.

Oh you may say that’s an overblown statement, but I believe it with all my heart. And I speak not just as a Fellow but as someone who watched the world shift around me from the first moment I heard of the competition — as someone who saw “never in a million years” turn into “maybe.”

If “May 1” has ever been a target on your calendar, the date when you had to finish a script to get it postmarked for The Competition, you too have experienced it. The hope, the dreams, the motivation to finish a script, maybe several scripts.

In my acceptance, I said this (more or less — it was unscripted) and I meant it with all my heart. Every year, thousands of new stories are told, words are written, writers grow — all because of that magic date.

Every year, May 1 is circled on thousands of calendars around this planet. Thousands of writers see this as a chance. And it is this dream, this hope, that fuels us. The important part isn’t that some actually win. The important part is that thousands and thousands dare.

We mustn’t forget that many of these scripts went forward to find success without ever winning the competition. It’s not always about winning. It’s about writing. And sometimes, you need that dream, that nudge of hope, to keep putting one word in front of the other.

It is impossible to quantify what this competition has meant to people, but it’s not impossible to go back to the beginning and see where it started.

So for my first post on the Nicholl Fellowships I must honor Mrs. Gee Nicholl, the woman whose gift of hope launched a thousand dreams.

And if I might be so bold, I suggest it would not be out of line for you to drop her a thank you (c/o the Fellowship offices) if you’ve ever used this hope to fuel your dreams.

Because it’s not about winning.

It’s about “helping new writers get started.”

And it’s hard for me to imagine any other program that has inspired so many to strive.

nicholl_logo.gif ©AMPAS®

*Source: The DON & GEE NICHOLL FELLOWSHIPS in SCREENWRITING 20th Anniversary program.

Addendum: I was actually asked to tell the backstory of my Nicholl-winning script, which I’d actually already done. So if you haven’t already heard the story:

How it began.

Part Two: Divine Secrets – Using It

Oh, in case you’re wondering why Pooks has an opinion on this stuff (as if she needs an excuse to have an opinion on anything) — she’s not only a Nicholl Fellow, but the only person to be a Finalist twice, with two different scripts. And in case you’re wondering why this is written in third instead of first person, it’s because she feels very odd writing it in first person, like she’s bragging instead of explaining. Um. Okay. There, are you satisfied, those of you who said I should explain this? Okay.)


Filed under Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, England, Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, Screenwriting, Writers, Writing

Things That Work

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for awhile. Lately I’ve stumbled across a couple of products that simply work. Now I know how this goes. What works for me may not work for you. But I still figured I’d pass the info along, just in case.

And then I thought, why stop here? I’d like to know what works for other people.

So, this is a meme. It’s as broad as anybody wants it to be. And I’m going to tag somebody at the end, of course.

1. Cheap Fountain Pen that Writes Like a Dream

Lamy Safari Fountain Pen

By hanging out on some Moleskine and GTD sites, I discovered the Lamy Safari Fountain Pen with Extra Fine nib. Now maybe you’re a fountain pen expert who has expensive fountain pens and will say, “Oh, that doesn’t write like a dream, the Uber-Costly German Gold-and-Sterling Whipperjammer writes like a dream, not that cheap piece of junk.”

But here’s what happened to me. I love fountain pens but won’t buy one that costs much because I’m afraid I’ll lose it. Plus, I just don’t want to get started down that road, because boy are there some gorgeous pens out there. So I bought the Lamy and loved it so much I was tempted to get three or four in different colors, and use each one for a different color ink. (Um, what road was it you weren’t going down, Pooks? Shut up.)

But I started surfing sites and saw some really beautiful pens that didn’t cost too much more than the Lamy Safari, and I finally decided to buy a couple of them instead. And they write scratchy. Or at least, not as smoothly as the Lamy. And after excursions into other cheap fountain pens I finally realized, “Duh, maybe there’s a reason why people kept recommending the Lamy Safari.” (I said Shut Up.)

So I’m back to wanting several colors of Lamy Safari pens. To go with the pretty inks I have. (Another weakness.)

My recommendation is you spring for the converter so that you can choose your own ink and refill, but if you prefer the ease of cartridges, that’s fine, too.

And as for that ease of writing thing — I’ve mentioned it before but my handwriting is abysmal. And after years of buying bold pens I discovered that this extra fine nib makes my handwriting much more legible. Wow, who knew?

Then of course there’s the added benefit that the fountain pen (this one, anyway) glides across the page so easily that I’m less prone to gripping too hard, pressing down too hard, and thus my handwriting improves even more, and my hand doesn’t cramp.

This pen works for me. Especially when writing in my Moleskine. Is there anything more romantic and lovely than writing in a Moleskine with a fountain pen? I think not.

2. 100% Cotton Shirts that Don’t Wrinkle

LL Bean Wrinkle Free Shirt

Really. This is not a joke or an advertising trick. First I bought a couple for myself. So the Resident Storm Chaser asked me, “When did you start ironing your shirts?” I’d been wearing it all day and it still looked crisp and smooth, and hell no, I hadn’t ironed it. I did hang it up straight from the dryer, but that’s it.

LL Bean Tattersall Wrinkle Resistant Shirt

So I bought him some. We’re believers.

Go to LLBean and search on “wrinkle resistant” and you’ll find a great selection. It works.

3. Lip Balm with Color

Burts Bees Lip Shimmers

I have chapped lips. I constantly reapply lipstick or chapstick or lip balm or whatever, and sometimes I’ll be okay and other times they’re a mess. But just out of curiosity I picked up some Burts Bees Lip Shimmers, and I’m in love. The colors are nice. (Shimmery but not sheer — very nice colors.) And my lips haven’t been chapped in yonks. Love this stuff! (And if you’re not into color I assume the regular stuff is just as great.)

According to them, “They’re made from natural ingredients like vitamin E, coconut and sunflower oils to moisturize and highlight your lips.” Whatever it is, it’s great stuff. And cheap!

4. GTD

Getting Things Done

Haven’t I said enough about that yet? Well, no, but I’ll save it for another day.

But for me?

It works.

5. The Best Screenwriting Competition Ever

Nicholl Logo

And I believed this long before I ever won. It is the best run, the best planned, the most respected, the best in all ways. When Mrs. Gee Nicholl decided to endow a fellowship for writers she became the guardian angel to more thousands of writers than she will ever know.

It’s not just the writers who are discovered because they entered, and have careers launched. It’s not just the writers who win.

It’s the thousands of you who are even now typing into the late hours of the night and wee hours of the morning to complete scripts to meet that May 1 deadline. Whether you’re in Los Angeles or Dallas or London or Hamburg or Hong Kong the dream is within your reach because this terrific woman decided to honor her husband’s memory with this fellowship, and because the Academy has done such a stunning job of implementing it.

So … why are you reading this?

Go write.


And good luck!

Now … I want to know what works for other people. I’m going to tag Toni and Candace and brett even if he is an Aggie. You can write about one thing that works or a dozen. You can list them or explain them. I don’t care. I just want to know —

What works for you?


Filed under Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Analog, Books, Getting Things Done, Girly, Meme, Moleskine, Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, Screenwriting, Writing

Pride in Fellowship

I am unabashed in my pride at being a Nicholl Fellow. It wasn’t an easy achievement.

Thus it is a source of even greater pride to share some of the current news about some of my fellow Fellows.

First, a journey back in time….

In 2000 I was a Finalist with the script DREAMERS, but did not receive a Fellowship. It was still a fabulous year and the week I spent in LA with the other Finalists and Fellows was terrific. It was there I met Doug Atchison, a writer/director whose script AKEELAH AND THE BEE not only won a fellowship for him, but also attracted the attention and support of a lot of people, resulting in:

Opening in theaters April 28th!

If you’ve been in a Starbucks lately, you’ve seen the promotions. I’ve begun my collection of Akeelah memorabilia:

akeelah pic.jpg

One year later, I’d somehow managed to actually win the Fellowship with a different script, REDEMPTION. Another terrific week (and lest you wonder, yes, winning is more fun) and more new Finalists and Fellows to meet, and that brings me to my fellow Fellow, Bob Edwards and his winning script, Land of the Blind.

land of the blind.gif

Its North American premiere is at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City in May. Damn, I want to be there. (sigh) If anybody goes, let me know?

Hopefully it also is coming soon to a theater near you.

And finally there is a different kind of pride. I just got the following email from yet another Fellow, Scott Fifer. To see his latest project, please click here.

"TunaHAKI makes me feel loved."

And that’s just what makes me proud of my fellow Fellows this week.


Filed under Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Movies, Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, Screenwriting, Starbucks