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As someone raised a question about entering and re-entering competitions, I gathered the following information:
Some stats on Nicholl fellows' other entries.
Due to the limited nature of the competition from 1986 to 1988, it was difficult, if not impossible, for any of the 15 winners during the 1986 to 1989 period to have entered prior to winning. 1989 was the first "open" competition year; previously, the competition had been limited to college students and, in 1987, to residents of Texas.
Of the 38 writers who have won Nicholl Fellowships since 1990 -- -- 15 were first-time entrants. The remaining 23 Nicholl Fellows submitted a total of 114 entries with 87 different titles. Obviously, 23 of the 114 earned the writers fellowships; they also had 31 other entries reach the quarterfinals or semifinals. Four previously submitted scripts earned writers fellowships; three of those scripts reached the semifinals prior to winning in a subsequent year.
On the high end, one fellow entered a total of 23 scripts (17 titles) over a six-year period; in addition to his winning script, he reached at least the quarterfinals on five other occasions. A second fellow entered 18 times (10 titles) with five other quarterfinal placements. A third fellow entered 14 times (five titles) with six other quarterfinal placements.
The Nicholl letters were mailed on July 24 & 27, so you should have received one by now. E-mail me at
Actually, winning $2000 or $5000 in most contests doesn't make you ineligible for the Nicholl competition. Only earning more than $1000 as a professional writer for film or television would make you ineligible. Disney, Chesterfield and King Arthur are the only obvious contests that make you ineligible. Prizes are fine; option agreements of one sort or another are not.
BTW, you heard it here first -- the Nicholl earnings limit will be raised to $5000 for 1999.
Nicholl first-round readers are paid. Academy member judges in later rounds are not.
All of this and much more can be found in the Nicholl FAQs --
I only know second-hand that Disney film fellows have already been selected.
There's a quite wonderful post by a non-winning Disney finalist on the Wordplay site in the letters forum --
Actually, the Nicholl Fellowships eligibility rules are pretty clear:
"No applicant may have earned money or other consideration as a screenwriter for theatrical films or television, or for the sale of, or sale of an option to, any original story, treatment, screenplay or teleplay for more than $5,000."
By television, we mean network/cable fictional TV shows.
Thus copywriters, newswriters, documentarians, industrial film writers, multimedia writers, et al remain eligible for the Nicholl competition.
Actually, in THE SCREENWRITING LIFE, the folks were UCLA-linked rather than USC.
One problem I had with the book was its title -- since many more pages were spent on TV writers and shows rather than on film.
3.0 inches is a typical starting point for dialogue width. I add a 3-character gutter in Scriptware; in my word processor days, I went out to 3.2 inches on a normal script and 3.5 if it were running long.
4.0 is a tad too wide for me, but probably within a visually acceptable range. Wider than that, I have a sinking feeling on page one -- "this script isn't going to be good, this writer doesn't know how to format."
I'm surprised to hear that Final Draft defaults at 4.0.
A gentle reminder -- ONLY SIXTEEN DAYS REMAIN UNTIL THE MAY 1 POSTMARKED NICHOLL FELLOWSHIPS IN SCREENWRITING DEADLINE.
Whew, that was too loud.
If you need one or many Nicholl application forms, try the Nicholl page on the Academy Web site where you can print one or many right out --
Look for the application form link. Once on the form, you only need to click print.
For another few days or so, you can also have a Nicholl application form mailed to you by calling 310-247-3000, ext. 110. About April 20 or so, we'll stop mailing the forms as we don't want anyone to be upset if the form arrives after the deadline.
Updates on several Nicholl Fellows:
1991 Fellow Raymond de Felitta's co-written SHADOW OF DOUBT has been playing on HBO.
Ehren Kruger's 1996 Nicholl Fellowship winning script ARLINGTON ROAD will be released by Screen Gems/Sony on May 14. Ehren's script REINDEER GAMES started shooting earlier this month with John Frankenheimer directing.
1986 Fellow Jeffrey Eugenides' novel The Virgin Suicides has been adapted and directed by Sofia Coppola and is due to be released in 1999.
Andrew Marlowe (1992 Fellow) wrote the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle END OF DAYS, which is in the final stages of production and is due to be released in the Fall. His script THE HOLLOW MAN is about to go into production with Paul Verhoeven directing.
Randy McCormick (1987) is the co-writer of the animated PLANET ICE, a science fiction epic due to be released by Fox in 2000.
Scott Ferraiolo (1997) is the co-writer of MARY JANE CAN'T DANCE, which just went into production.
Susannah Grant (1992) has 28 DAYS set to begin production this week with Betty Thomas directing; her script ERIN BROCKOVICH is slated to start shooting in May with Stephen Soderbergh directing and starring Julia Roberts.
Best wishes to all of you planning to enter the 1999 Nicholl Fellowships competition.
By the way, the Academy doesn't give duplicate awards to winners (let alone charge for them).
One of the ways for animation and live-action short filmmakers to qualify for consideration in their respective Academy Award categories is through screening at a variety of film festivals.
The Houston World Fest is not one of those festivals.
ARLINGTON ROAD, Ehren Kruger's Nicholl-winning script from 1996, opens today.
While watching the movie isn't the same as reading the script, the film does remain relatively faithful to Ehren's script.
Ehren has done fairly well since winning the fellowship. In addition to KILLERS IN THE HOUSE (USA Network, 1998) and several other works for hire, he currently has three scripts in some stage of production -- REINDEER GAMES and SCREAM 3 (both due out at Christmas) and TEXAS RANGERS (for which he wrote the draft that is being shot).
Several contests admit to having short initial reads. Sundance, in fact, asks for only five pages.
At Nicholl, every script is judged. Upon returning with a short stack of completed scripts, every first round reader hands me one by one, with very few exceptions during the year, each script and the judging sheet accompanying it. Over the years, a variety of readers have told me that they read every page of every script that I have given them.
My instructions are to read the scripts.
Do readers ever read less than the whole script? I'm sure that it has happened. For example, we have had novels entered in the competition. You don't have to read many (or any) pages of a novel to know that it's not a good screenplay. Given 4000 entries, there are a number that fall far short of being a script, of being in format, of telling a story, of being in a reasonable version of the English language.
For more on the Nicholl reading and judging process and criteria, visit the Nicholl FAQs on the Academy Web site at --
[In the Nicholl competition] what percentage of the 4000 or so submissions are like that, you know, wrong format, binding, etc.?
Year in and out, it seemed that close to 25% of the entries fell into that category of not having a chance. This year, there seemed to be fewer out of format scripts, fewer scripts that were really, really bad. So perhaps the percentage is down towards 15-20.
I think the internet and script formatters are somewhat responsible. Far easier to acquire basic information now than it was only five years ago.
I have to agree generally with the comments already made regarding comedies. Dramas, thrillers, science fiction, etc. can be appreciated by a reader even when the reader doesn't go fully with the concept or characters or story, etc. In other words, some number of problems can conceivably be overlooked in those scripts when the reader finally writes favorable coverage.
With comedies, though, not making the reader laugh is a huge problem. When a comedy isn't funny, that's it for most readers. There's just not as much middleground.
As we all know, senses of humor vary greatly from one person to the next. One person finds MARY or SOUTH PARK hilarious, the next finds them gross and not at all funny. As a writer, you can't do anything about that.
As to Nicholl scripts being "too artsy": just what does that mean?
It's funny, over the years different people have told me that 1) independent films stand no chance in the Nicholl; 2) that commercial studio films stand no chance in the Nicholl; 3) that comedies stand no chance in the Nicholl; 4) that action movies stand no chance in the Nicholl, etc.
I like to think we're somewhere in the middle, attemping to the best of our ability to select each year the best scripts, whatever their genre, whatever their commercial potential, whether we believe they may sell immediately or never sell.
Let me pose one last question: if we've been missing all these exceedingly commercial scripts over the years, why have almost none of them been made. By commerical standards the biggest hit film previously entered in the Nicholl competition was MY GIRL. Discounting the half-dozen Nicholl-winning scripts that have been produced thus far, there have been well fewer than 100 produced films (and probably fewer than 30 but I may have missed a few straight to video and foreign titles) previously entered in the Nicholl competition from over 35000 entries from 1986 through 1998.
Nicholl Letters, Notes and the 1999 competition
All 4,150 Nicholl letters were placed in the mail on Friday, July 23. Every single entrant was mailed a letter, whatever their status in the competition.
Each year I write notes on some letters in the competition that let entrants know that a particular script was close. Here are the notes and their meaning this year:
(Remember, there were 244 quarterfinalists, which was a record number.)
*Just missed -- among the next 100 scripts.*
With ties, there were 108 scripts in this group. #245 - 352.
*Close -- in the top 10% of all scripts.*
Top 10% is exactly 415. With ties this group went just over -- #353 - 418.
*Close -- in the next 10% of all scripts.*
That means the 10% after the quarterfinalists. With ties, the group includes #419 - 737.
It was possible to receive a triple read and not fit into the above categories. One strong score and two weak ones would do it. Only a few scripts fell into this group.
It was also possible to receive two decent scores or one solid score and one weaker score and fall into a group that would have reached the next 10% in previous years. Over 300 scripts were in this group.
On a few letters I did not define *close.* In most instances, that was because I was writing *Better news to follow* or because the writer had multiple scripts in the close category. Sorry, but I seemed to place a limit on the number of words I would scrawl on the bottom of a page.
And the *better news* note proved to be unnecessary as we managed to put all the quarterfinal letters into the mail at the very end of the day on Friday.
As I mentioned in the letters, scores were higher this year than in any previous competition. All else being basically the same -- scoring system, first round judges -- the higher scores suggest that the level of screenplay writing among pre-professionals is on the rise. That seems to me a good thing. It does, however, make the competition that much tougher.
As always, we do not distribute any additional information about entrants' placements, nor do we provide any notes. Please do not ask us to do so.
If you didn't receive a note, place yourself in the double-read category and move on from there.
It's not that I spend time searching for titles, but over the years I've been in the overall database often. And I've come to know titles and writers -- and so you know when someone is produced, especially when it's a script that was entered in the Nicholl competition. It doesn't happen often.
As to Allen G's mention of duo comedy writing teams, there are a fair number of comic writers who have done well on their own, so I don't think our non-collaborative rule has much to do with the inherent problems of judging comedies.
By the way (and you're the first to hear), collaborative entries will be allowed in next year's Nicholl competition.
In the Nicholl we only disqualify a writer when she has received the money; so an entrant can option her script so long as she doesn't receive more than $5000 while still in contention.
Max Adams was entry #13 in the Nicholl with MY BACK YARD, which won the fellowship for her in 1994. EXCESS BAGGAGE was optioned/sold two weeks after she won Nicholl and Austin in the same week with different scripts.
Advantages to entering early: slightly more leniency on borderline reread calls. Disadvantages: judges seem to be tougher early in the process.
Advantages to entering later: more time to polish, rewrite. Judges seem to grade slightly higher overall. Disadvantages: the reread borderline has a harder edge and is slightly higher. Judges may have seen too many thrillers/romantic comedies/etc. and so a later entry doesn't seem as fresh.
Since no one asked for a basis for ranking, I'll ask the question -- What's your reasoning behind your rankings?
The following are my opinions alone. I offer them as a starting point for discussion and perhaps for the development of a contest listing that attempted to consider the positives & negatives of various contests.
Let me run through a few contests (in alphabetical order):
Austin positives -- three categories, lots of entries (and so more visibility generally), one past winner who has done well, two past semifinalists who have had movies made, a wonderful conference at which finalists/semifinalists are offered discounts & special seminars, industry interest & support. negatives: lots of entries, low prize money, local first round readers, very few success stories.
Chesterfield positives -- good prize money, excellent educational program, solid industry support, lots of entries, requirement to relocate to LA, a fair number of success stories. negatives -- poor administration, repeated failure to meet deadlines, no longer have production company support, lots of entries, forced relocation to LA, keeps writers off the market for a year.
Cinestory positives -- wonderful conference with discounts & seminars for semi/finalists, industry support, year-long mentoring program. negatives -- low prize money, no real success stories, local first round readers.
Disney positives -- the best prize money, virtually free to enter, TV & film, work for a year with Disney execs, relocation to LA, apparently plenty of success stories, lots of entries. negatives -- lots of entries, forced relocation to LA, no publicity of winners or their success stories, keeps writers off market for a year.
Nicholl I'll abstain here.
Slamdance positives -- connection with high-profile discovery festival, industry connections, "notes" for all entries, high energy hands-on administration. negatives -- low prize money, no real success stories.
Of course, measuring success is in the eye of the beholder, but it seems to me that receiving phone calls from the industry or signing with an agent is only a starting point; real contest success stories include spec sales, produced films and successful careers (which admittedly take time to occur and develop and can't be expected from a contest in its first several years). On the other hand, a single spec sale catapulted a 1200-entry start up contest to a 3000-entry, high-profile contest by its third of fourth year.
Several of my regular readers have just begun reading in their first round.
So the announcement of winners might be a ways off.
Here's my current advice:
Enter about a week or so before the postmarked deadline, so that your script arrives just before or on the deadline. At Nicholl, you will then be among the slightly early middle of all entries, somewhere between 1500 and 2000 (of 4000 total).
Yours will be just one of many, but it will not be one of many arriving after the deadline when everyone's going crazy trying to deal with stacks of scripts.
Entering on the deadline, especially if from the East Coast or Canada, could mean that your script will arrive among the last 10% or so, which could mean that it will be one of the last to receive a first read.
When you enter early, you won't have the extra months to polish. You will face readers when they are fresh and, often, just a little tougher (as in figure skating scoring, the judges seem to save higher scores for later when they have read more scripts). Borderline decent scores will usually be given a second read, and your genre script will probably be the first of its type and setting to be read by a particular reader.
When you enter late, you have time to rewrite and polish. The judges have a better feel for how good the scripts are and so the scores of the best scripts tend to be a little higher. On the other hand, your overly familiar thriller may not fare as well with a reader who has already read six similar scripts. Borderline decent scores generally do not garner a reread as there are already hundreds and hundreds of scripts with higher scores.
So there are advantages and disadvantages to early and late entry. But the overriding factor should be entering the best possible script, which is usually going to be the one that has been written, rewritten and polished. (Of course, several Nicholl winners have told me that they wrote their draft to make the deadline, had no time to rewrite, and just sent it in. So there's something to be said for the passion and energy of a fresh script as well.)
All bets are off with those contests that have higher later entry fees. I guess I would enter on the last day of the cheapest rate.
Historically, family and youth-oriented coming of age scripts have done fairly well in the Nicholl competition. Both Andrew Marlowe (HOLLOW MAN) and Susannah Grant (ERIN BROCKOVICH) won with coming of age scripts featuring a 12-13 year-old protagonist.
In 1998, all five Nicholl fellowship-winning scripts featured kids or teens as protagonists.
The Nickelodeon contest certainly is centered on kids/family scripts. Disney Fellowships have also been won by the writers of family films.
Austin received just over 3000 entries last year (and probably about the same this year) so it's only $120,000+ that they're pulling in. It's true, the competition is a money-maker, but the "income" all goes into the conference and film festival.
My understanding is that all first reads in the Austin competition's initial round are 30 pages. The first cut is made on that basis. After that, scripts are read in their entirity.
First round judges in the Nicholl competition are asked to read all of the scripts they receive. There is no 30 page cut-off.
Is it possible that some scripts among the 4000+ Nicholl entries are not read cover to cover? Given that some scripts are really, really bad, it is possible that some readers do not read every page of every script.
On the other hand, various readers over the years have told me that they read every page of every script no matter the quality of the script.
From personal experience, I can tell you that there are hundreds of scripts entered in the competition each year that shouldn't have been entered. These scripts share some of the following qualities -- barely in English, little ability to put sentences together, no ability to tell a story, totally out of format, multiple typos/grammatical errors on every page, not a screenplay at all, etc. It does not take a complete reading of scripts exhibiting several of these qualities to know that they are not good enough to advance in the competition.
To answer the initial question, most writers selected for the labs are also directors.
Rather than individual scripts, what Sundance looks for are projects on the verge of being ready to go into production.
So, the overwhelming majority of writers/scripts selected for the lab are those already in advanced stages of development. Most already have attachments -- production company, producer, director (if there any cases in which the writer is not also to be the director), actors, and in some cases financing.
Scripts simply entered in the competition have little chance of being selected for the lab. Writers selected for the lab often are already known to the Sundance administrators, or at the least the attached producers are known to them. In some cases, lab participants are directly invited to submit and don't enter the competition in the same way that the ordinary entrant does.
Without attachments, your chances of being selected as a lab participant are exceedingly slim.
Actually, the Austin Film Festival and Conference is run by a non-profit organization.
Are Marsha and Barbara paying themselves decent salaries? That wouldn't surprise me.
I've posted my feelings about the overvaluing of the Austin competition by writers a number of times over the past few years, so I am hardly a staunch defender.
But I do feel that the conference is terrific and that pouring the competition money in that direction is not a bad thing.
If I were a potential entrant in the competition, I would certainly weigh potential return against the odds against the entry fee. Austin fares quite poorly on that count. If you don't want to support the conference, then you probably shouldn't enter the competition.
Interesting responses re: posting of contact info online. I've always felt that writers wouldn't want their phone numbers attached to an online list.
No one has any privacy concerns?
Email or website addresses rather than phone numbers?
On Frederick's database notion, won't it get really big really fast? It would offer a great means for producers and agents to check the veracity of a query they've received. I'm not sure that any other that wannabe producers would actually search the database for writers.
The monetary award has been increased to $30,000 for 2001. Up to five $30,000 fellowships will be awarded.
Collaborations by exactly two writers will be eligible in 2001. Prize money will be split equally between the two writers.
Printed application forms are now available from the Academy. Applications should be available online within about a week or so.
We'll be mailing forms to year 2000 entrants within the next week or so.
For additional information, visit http://www.oscars.org/nicholl.
Hard to believe that a website published an article who knows so little about how things work.
To answer Paula's question: while copies of some scripts are distributed to Academy members, my guess is that, for the most part, voting for screenplay nominations and awards are based on the viewing of the movies and not the reading of scripts.
Whoops. That would be --
. . . an article written by someone who knows so little . . .
I won't enter any debate about entering or not entering Nicholl or any contest other than to add that a writer should have a reason for entering any particular contest. And should enter contests as part of an overall marketing plan, with the central focus on becoming a working writer.
It's true that winning most contests does not affect your amateur status as far as the Nicholl competition is concerned. Only those contests that hold some measure of control over your script (an option or first-look deal) or your career (you're hired to write) cause you to become ineligible. Winning Disney, Project Greenlight, King Arthur, Chesterfield, et al, would make you ineligible for the Nicholl competition.
So long as Scriptapalooza's $25,000 (or any competition's award greater than $5,000) is a prize only, the winner would remain eligible.
Sorry to be slow to respond but I was at the Cleveland International Film Festival and Filmmakers Conference last week (btw, a wonderful festival).
This is what I do each year -- In a year in which there were 250 quarterfinalists, I would place notes on the next 25 or 50 stating the same on that group including ties (so, in some years the top 50 might number 54). These would be scripts number 251 through 305.
The top 100 note would be written on scripts number 306 through 350, including ties (which would place the number slightly over 350; let's say to 357). Top 10% would garner the next note. These would be scripts 358 through 425 (assuming last year's 4250 entries), including ties, which would send the actual number closer to 440. Next 10% is the final group to receive notes; these would include scripts 441 through 675 (250 quarterfinalists plus 425), including ties, which would send the actual number over 700.
While I'm not doubting anyone, I have found over the years that some entrants have exaggerated their placement both in conversation and in queries. Some quarter/semifinalists have elevated themselves to finalist status. Many top/next 10%ers have called themselves quarterfinalists, etc. A dozen or so times a year, someone from an agency or production company will call to verify a writer's placement.
Too late to have an application mailed, but you can still visit the Academy website and print one -- http://www.oscars.org/nicholl.
As it's going to be crazy in the offices on April 30 and May 1, we won't fax application forms. If you find someone else with a form, it is certainly all right to enter a faxed form (plain paper, please).
Yes, you may enter via UPS, FedEx or any other delivery service. So long as your package is dated May 1 or earlier, you'll be fine.
Don't forget to sign your application form and your check (too many of one or the other have arrived the last few days).
Don't forget to submit a script without your name anywhere on it. On the title page, title only (no name, address, phone, agent's name, etc.).
If you feel more comfortable doing so, it's perfectly fine to put a WGA reg number or a copyright indica on the title page. We don't require either.
Do proof your script one more time. If you can clean up typos or other miscues prior to entering, it won't hurt you. (On the other hand, one of last year's winner's lawyer counted 37 typos in the winning script after it won. So don't worry about a typo here or there.)
Do make sure that all your pages are in the copy you're sending in. Missing pages are all too common.
Good luck to everyone who has or is about to enter.
Quiet today but then I'm not in the office. Looking forward to about 400 scripts arriving tomorrow and 2000 or so this week.
Letters notifying entrants that we have received their scripts are sent about 4-6 weeks after we enter the script in our database. The majority of entrants will receive the first letter in early to mid-June. (We've sent letters through mid-to-late March. Early April folks may not receive their letters until late May.)
The letter advising entrants as to whether they advanced to the quarterfinals is typically sent in late July. By or around August 1 is what it says on the entry form.
Most unusual year? Because of the strike concerns?
We hadn't really thought that the potential strike would affect us one way or another. We did think that having a past winner nominated for an Academy Award (Susannah Grant for ERIN BROCKOVICH) and having nine films written by past winners released theatrically in 2000, including one of the 1998 winning scripts FINDING FORRESTER, would have some impact. Plus the fellowship money was raised to $30,000. And collaborations were allowed for the first time. And word may be spreading that all of the finalists are brought to LA for a week for the Nicholl award ceremonies.
About numbers -- as of yesterday, May 1, we had received over 3000 entries, which is about 800 more than we had ever received by May 1. So I'm expecting that we will receive near 5000 entries when the mail bins stop arriving.
Ashley, I'm awaiting the next installment.
Or am I supposed to answer the questions?
Yes, many readers are enthusiastic when reporting on a script they loved.
Stains on scripts? Usually not on good ones.
(Actually, it's extremely rare. Amazingly, I have seen scripts arrive already stained.)
Thanks for the note.
I'm glad that his family takes some solace in his Nicholl placement. It was a well liked script.
Congratulations on reaching the second round (again!). That's great.
It may be worth noting, however, that the writers invited to the Sundance labs are almost always writer-directors, that their entry script is almost always a package with producer, actors (stars) and perhaps some financing already attached, that they often have been invited to submit by one of the Sundance principals or have been recommended to the Sundance principals by a well known filmmaker.
Very few writers who are invited to the lab just entered the competition.
You explained it just fine, Doug.
Lots of dark, edgy scripts have advanced over the years. Some have won.
Many indy type scripts have also advanced over the years. Some have won.
Although such competitions are an ettle, to be sure, I think it appropriate that the readers should be able to tell the difference between the purpose of an ellipsis and a double dash.
Wouldn't it have been simpler to use a word such as opportunity?
As to . . . and --, since professional screenwriters often use them interchangably, it's tough to state unequivocably that an ellipsis is used to denote a sentence that trails off while a double dash is used when there has been an abrupt break in dialogue, often an interruption by another speaker.
Plus most screenwriters type ellipsis incorrectly (at least according to most manuals of style), typing them ... without spaces as opposed to the correct . . . They typically abut their ellipses to other words...as opposed to placing spaces in . . . between.
But the...usage or this ... variation has become standard in scripts so it's tough to argue against.
(I tried to post this yesterday when it was more timely -- but it didn't take.)
Thus far, there have been 68 Nicholl Fellows. Of their winning scripts, nine have been produced (two of the nine are currently in post). Here's the list:
IN THE EYES OF A STRANGER (tv movie) CLOSET LAND TRAVELLER WHERE THE ELEPHANT SITS DOWN IN THE DELTA ARLINGTON ROAD FINDING FORRESTER BRIAR PATCH BLUE CAR
(I would recommend reading the scripts if you want to know how good they were. Produced films do not always represent scripts in the best light.)
Of the nearly 3000 Nicholl quarter/semi/finalist scripts (not including the winners), about a dozen or so have been produced.
Of the approximately 40,000 remaining scripts entered in the competition, about a dozen have been produced. (It is possible that I've overlooked some produced titles; it's not many, and I don't think any big-name films are hiding among them.)
Of the produced films, MY GIRL (a non-quarterfinalist) and FINDING FORRESTER had the most success at the box office.
Other titles include I LIKE IT LIKE THAT, SPANKING THE MONKEY, DON'T TELL HER IT'S ME, JOHNNY SUEDE, HIGH ART, POLISH WEDDING, THE YOUNG POISONER'S HANDBOOK, A REASONABLE MAN (some of which advanced, some of which did not).
Don't expect to find classic movies (or scripts) among the work of amateur screenwriters.
Most scripts written by amateurs are mediocre at best. The best scripts (and I include the 3000 quarter/semi/ finalists/winners here) are okay or a little better.
Rarely (for me, anyway), a script truly stands out. Even then, the chances of that script selling are slight; the chances of it being produced are even more remote.
Competitions such as the Nicholl are door-openers; they serve to validate the work of entrants; they distribute money and direct support to a few writers each year.
Competition archives are not the repository of the best scripts ever written. Those scripts are seldom written by new writers.
Here are those run-on titles (sorry about that --
IN THE EYES OF A STRANGER (tv movie)
WHERE THE ELEPHANT SITS
DOWN IN THE DELTA ARLINGTON ROAD
Over the past dozen years, I have read every page of thousands of scripts. I have read chunks of the tens of thousands of scripts. So that experience is informing my comments.
When I wrote my first feature script in grad school years ago, I had read exactly one script. Oh, I had seen lots of movies, but what I didn't know about screenwriting was legion.
That's what I see again and again -- writers who are just starting, who have some talent and storytelling ability but just aren't good enough yet to put a whole script together. Why would anyone expect to be writing good, let alone great, scripts when they've just started? It takes years to become skilled at most professions. Why shouldn't it take years of practice to become a skilled screenwriter?
I hold entrants in high esteem. I think it's an achievement to finish a script, and a greater one to have completed two or six or ten. I was simply trying to be honest with my comments about the quality of scripts that are entered. Obviously, those are my impressions, based on my experiences. And I'm not speaking about any individual script, but about the totality of scripts entered (now numbering near 50,000).
As to scripts produced, 9 of 68 is an amazingly impressive number (to me, anyway). It's tough to get a movie produced; tougher still to have that movie turn out decently. 12 or so of 3000 isn't a bad number either, but it shows how difficult it is for decent (or better) scripts by new writers to get produced. 12 or so of 40,000 suggests (again to me, anyway) the extreme difficulty facing new writers as they struggle to see their scripts produced.
After it sold, I read the draft of the MY GIRL script (then titled BORN JAUNDICED) that had been knocked out. It was okay, and probably should have advanced, but it was far from the produced version, which benefited considerably from an uncredited rewrite by Barbara Benedek.
I overlooked HOME FRIES (a Nicholl qf in 1989) in my list of (known) produced entrants.
Zoje, thanks for the kind words and the honest ones as well.
As I have stated repeatedly, entering contests in general and Nicholl specifically is only one part of all that new writers should be doing to advance their careers. Contests can serve as stepping-stones, as door-openers, as validators, but they can not and should not be the end-all of one's breaking in strategy.
As to how mediocre the mass of script entries are, I guess you'll have to take my word on that -- until you've read hundreds of scripts by new writers yourself. I recommend reading scripts from any and every source. (Again, my use of the word mediocre applied to group of tens of thousands of scripts and not to individual scripts nor to selected smaller groups of entries.)
Re: who the Nicholl readers are?
In the first round, the readers are people I hire, many of them writers, a number of producers, several directors, several execs or former execs, one agent and one manager this year. Many of these readers have also read professionally at some point in their careers; some are reading for companies and agencies simultaneously with their reading for Nicholl. A number of the writers have produced credits; a number have had six-figure sales. The producers and directors also have produced credits. Many are in between jobs, or time their lives so that they can read for two or three months each year.
In the Nicohll quarter and semifinal rounds the reading is done by volunteer Academy members drawn from across the spectrum. Well over half of the member judges are producers, writers, execs, directors and agents. The remainder include actors, editors, cinematographers, art directors, short film makers, visual effects experts, animators, sound folks, etc. All are filmmakers of some distinction or they wouldn't belong to the Academy. Among the judges each year are a significant number of Academy Award winners and nominees.
BTW, on what other board was this discussion of Nicholl judges taking place?
Re: my background
Not that it really matters.
I have an undergraduate degree in history from UC Irvine, an MA in film (I wrote a screenplay in lieu of thesis) from UT Austin, and I completed my coursework and exams for a doctorate but only wrote half of a dissertation on 70s conspiracy films. In between my masters and phd work, I wrote and directed three short dramatic films for a Honolulu social service agency on the subject of the effect of alcohol abuse upon families. I taught film history, crit, theory, screenwriting and production at Syracuse University for several years. Moving back to Southern California, I worked at the AFI for four years; while there, I administered a variety of programs, including the institute's Masters Seminars with visiting filmmakers.
During the 80s, I wrote several produced short films, wrote a number of specs and wrote several features on assignment for low-budget companies. During this period I also won a WGA East screenwriting fellowship.
In 1989, I began my current job at the Academy. Within several years, I discovered that it was near impossible to continue to write while administering the Nicholl program. Plus I'm lazy.
Somewhere in the past, mostly in the early 80s, I squeezed in hundreds of film, book, art and music reviews, plus a weekly film column as well as several dozen newspaper features on film and art. I also worked in the late 80s as a reader for Fries Entertainment and MCEG.
An interesting discussion, especially Trevor's criteria for defining the best competitions.
A little tough, I think, to compare Praxis with other competitions, though it certainly does resemble Sundance and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Chesterfield and Disney.
Praxis seems to be a combination of elements -- a workshop geared to develop scripts for the Canadian market, supported by Telefilm Canada among others, which makes it a direct conduit to theaters and television. This suggests that it has much in common with state-supported development such as occurs in Australia and New Zealand (and the UK?), as well as in various European countries.
In this way it is very different from most competitions, as its goal is to develop scripts to be produced as opposed to recognizing good writers and/or good scripts.
In your mention of produced scripts as a criteria, you list Praxis first. 18 of 200 since 1986 certainly is a good track record. I wonder what the ratio is for Sundance. I do suspect that considerably more than 18 produced scripts have passed through the Sundance Workshops.
In terms of percentage, Nicholl winners actually do a little better than Praxis. Nine of 66 winning scripts have now been produced; two of those are currently in post or awaiting release. (And one of these days the Nicholl website information will be updated.)
Craig writes --
"I believe it's common for finalists and winners (and semis and quarts too) in any contest to be chosen at the same time -- but for information to be disseminated OVER time."
Boy, I don't know, Craig. "Common?" That's not what happens in Nicholl, where each round is discrete. At Austin, I believe first and second rounds are completed and then revealed simultaneously, but their semifinals are read by a set of industry judges and then their finals are read by a different set. Cinestory has the same model. Disney certainly requests additional information from finalists and so does have a discrete phase, but they don't reveal much to anyone along the way (and so you only know you didn't make it when you hear that someone else was called about an interview and you weren't).
I don't know what goes on in smaller competitions, but those with industry judges at the end seem to have a discrete phase, even if they don't let entrants know of their status until it's over.
Personally, I can't imagine not letting entrants know of their status throughout the competition -- but I realize that the Academy and the Nicholl competition have more resources than most other contests. And a lack of resources may be the reason that most collapse their acknowledgments to entrants to a single contact.
Reaching the finals of Chesterfield is definitely an achievement. Congrats to Patricia.
Sorry to be late but I missed this last week.
In large contests it doesn't quite work the way Doug would have it (that a script entered at the deadline will be read under a crunch). At Nicholl, once scripts start arriving in large numbers (after mid-April), hundreds of scripts are being read every week. This lasts about ten weeks. So the final two weeks would be the only time that panic might set in, and even then things are usually under control.
As an entrant, you can't control when your script will be read, and at Nicholl they are not read in order. But mostly I do hold the last few hundred for the end.
My recommendation has always been -- try to wait as long as possible to enter so that you can rewrite and polish, but then send the script so that it arrives just prior to the deadline, say, on April 27-30. I guess my target would be putting it in the mail between April 15 and April 25. This would give the entry the best chance of being read mid-contest.
Early on, readers are sometimes tougher; later, they often have loosened up some. Early, I allow a borderline scoring script to receive a second read; later, with rereads stacking up into the thousands, I do not. Early, some genre scripts will seem fresh; later, they might not. Early, some subject matter may seem fresh; later, it may not.
It does balance out to an extent. And realizing all of the above, I do what I can to adjust for the quirks.
I'm a tad confused, Ashley.
I've posted on this site from its beginnings. I glance at the boards regularly, but only post when I have something to contribute.
I missed responding to the thread earlier as I was out of the office when it initially appeared.
As I've stated many times previously, contests are simply one approach new screenwriters might consider when trying to figure out how to break into the film industry. Professional referrals are absolutely the best means of getting read and noticed. Many agents claim only to read scripts from new writers that have been referred to them by someone they know and trust.
The Nicholl competition requests personal information on the application form for statistical and indentification purposes. The application forms are never seen by the judges (at any level in the competition). With three Nicholl Fellows in their 60s when they won and an average age of Nicholl winners in their mid-30s, it is clear that age has not and does not play any part in the process. Nor does sex or race or occupation or whether you have an agent or where you live, etc.
Mrs. Nicholl's purpose in establishing the program was to help new writers gain a foothold in the industry. I don't think that has changed in any way from the beginning to the present.
As stated on the entry form, the first letter is sent about six weeks after we receive your script (not six weeks after you place it in the mail), so we're only up to the mid-April entries. Which is only about the first 1000 or so.
The total is at 6037 and will probably go up a little more when some problems are resolved (unsigned forms, etc.). And it's possible that a few more properly postmarked scripts will trickle in. One year a script that had been mailed from Portland, Oregon on April 23 arrived at the Academy on June 20.
That would be Nicholl, Todd.
As it states on the application form, we mail letters about six weeks after we receive an entry. Which would mean, depending on the mail and how you sent your script (overnight vs. media mail, for instance), that it might be as long as 8-9 weeks from the time an entrant sent a script until that entrant received a letter from us.
You seem to have entered in April in most past years, which means you probably are used to receiving your letters in May. But this year your script didn't arrive until May 3. Which means we haven't mailed your letter yet.
As of yesterday, we've sent letters through #5758, which includes all scripts received by May 6 and processed by us through May 12. After we deliver the checks to them, our accounting department seems to take another week to 2 weeks to process checks. By now, with few if any exceptions, all of the checks have been processed.
On the dating/postmark difference, they have been printing and stuffing about 500 letters a day and never know whether they'll finish in time to put them in that day's mail. I guess they got ahead of themselves.
Even with the now 6043 entries, we seem to be running on time. So expect letters to be mailed by the first of August.
This is great. All the questions answered for me.
It's true -- contest winnings are fine, so long as the money is a prize and not part of work for hire (Disney), some sort of first look deal (Chesterfield) or any sort of option or quasi-option deal in which someone connected with the contest has control of your script for some amount of time (typically production company sponsered contests).
Thanks for the kind words.
I'll pass them along (to the other two folks currently working in the office).
We include those reading numbers to let entrants know something about the process. As over half of the entrants each year are first-timers that seems necessary.
As you may know, about 600 or so regret letters this year included a brief note that let that group know that they were close -- in the top 15% or better.
Beyond that, we don't reference scores or placements because we're not convinced that it would be helpful. Or accurate.
For instance, which script is better -- one that receives a qualifying score from one reader and then two abysmal scores or one that just misses receiving a second read? One received three reads and yet there's a good chance that most readers would agree with the two who found it seriously wanting. The other received only a single read. A letter that announced the number of reads would not, in this example, provide helpful or accurate information.
Even though we've considered providing notes in some form for entrants from my first month on the job 13 years ago, we have decided that logistically and fiscally it's just not possible. We're also concerned that asking readers to provide notes for the entrants might alter their judging relationship with the scripts and perhaps skew their evaluations.
The Nicholl Committee long ago let me know that this competition was designed to discover and support talented new writers. It was not designed as a notes service to assist new writers. Other competitions and avenues provide that service; we do not.
All the scripts are read blind, so it wouldn't matter one way or another.
The scripts are read blind. You haven't hurt yourself in any way by asking questions.
But your analysis is wrong. I gave a single example of why the number of reads can be misleading. That example happens often. The variations of scripts that receive multiple reads and don't advance are considerable: you can receive two decent scores; one decent score and one bad score; one decent score and one marginal score; three decent scores; one good score and two decent scores; one good score, one decent score and one marginal score; one good score, one decent score and one bad score; one good score and two marginal scores; one good score, one decent score and one bad score . . .
Which is better -- the script that receives two decent reads or the many that receive three reads with only one of them good? Are all the three read scripts equal? Hardly, by any standard that I apply.
For me, the number of reads just doesn't mean enough. Nor do the raw scores.
Receiving one read means the first reader didn't like your script enough to qualify it for a second read. Does that make the script bad? Nope. It just means that one particular reader didn't like it. Does it mean that that script is worse than all scripts that received two and three reads? Once again, nope.
I remain unconvinced that delivering information about the number of reads would be remotely close to an accurate measure of the quality of one's script.
It's happened already. After winning, the person switched to his real name for press releases, ceremonies, etc.
Now would be fine to ask about your entry. The last letters left the building last Tuesday.
Send an email to email@example.com.
Sadly, you didn't read Which Lie Did I Tell? closely enough. Here's Goldman's essential line: "Total contribution: zero." Goldman's last paragraph on that page (333) is meant to be a joke. I guess you didn't get it.
Goldman has said repeatedly and he writes in Which Lie that he consulted with Damon and Affleck for exactly one day, and that the only thing he told them was to listen to Rob Reiner, who wanted them to drop the thriller subplot.
I've read the first draft, the fifth draft and the post-shooting script versions of GOOD WILL HUNTING. Whoever wrote the first draft also wrote the fifth draft and the fifth draft feeds directly into the post-shooting version (the one distributed to WGA and Academy members for voting purposes). The majority of the key scenes -- the opening, the monologues and the bar scene -- are in every draft of the script. The biggest changes from first to last were dropping the thriller subplot, beefing up the psychologist's role, and altering the structure some. Most of this was done while the script was still owned by Castle Rock. Little changed after Miramax picked up the project.
Sorry about the off-topic post. But PG shouldn't be judged negatively because of a mistaken tale about two of its principals.
As to PG itself, I think the peer judging model used last time around was a tad problematic. Sounds as if they've changed it slightly, but will the changes correct the inherent problems?
And the real end result being the TV show rather than the movie might just have affected some of the choices that those in power made for Pete Jones and his cohorts. Is it possible that similar choices will be made for the winning director and writer this time around?
I'm having a hard time here. Several of you have commented on how scripts are read at contests, especially those that don't report scores or provide comments for entrants. Only --those of you commenting seem to have no experience with what goes on at contests. What exactly is the point of fabricating your own version? Why not ask contest organizers how scripts are read?
The Nicholl pages at the Academy's website provides a fairly complete description of the reading process. I've described it in additional detail in interviews and in posted comments on various boards (here as well, I think).
To address a few issues raised in this thread:
Major contests need ever more entries?
I believe Nicholl, Disney and Chesterfield don't come close to breaking even. More entries have little or no effect on the bottom line (unless to increase the deficit). It seems to me that contests attempting to break even or better are actually the ones seeking ever more entries. Often, these contests offer other services -- consulting, reading, notes, query mailings, etc. -- and so while the contest itself might only be break-even, the organizers must hope to earn some income through the other ventures.
Contests that do not provide feedback depend on a small core group of readers and must use a "ten-page" and out standard?
I don't know what other contests do, but this simply isn't true at Nicholl.
I have written at some length on this forum as to why I think providing scores and/or placement is problematic, so I won't bore anyone by repeating my arguments.
I do agree wholeheartedly that the reading of scripts is a subjective process. One bad contest result is pretty much just that -- one bad contest result. Five or eight or ten negative contest results may suggest that a particular script isn't ready.
On reentering a script the following year:
While I don't like to suggest to every entrant that of course they should reenter because in most cases that would be a waste of $30, reentering writers have done well in the Nicholl competition.
Patricia Burroughs (aka Pooks) entered most years from about 1993 on. She was in the quarters or semis with three different scripts about 7 times. Reached the finals in 2000. Then won with a different script (one of the three) in 2001. Annmarie Morais was a finalist one year, a winner the next with the same script. Tony Jaswinski entered something like 24 times over six years with about 6 quarter/semi placements before winning with his horror script INTERSTATE. (I'm writing this from home so don't have exact numbers.)
Mike Rich entered several scripts without placing before winning with FINDING FORRESTER. So did Max Adams before winning with MY BACK YARD. Pretty much every year there are several or more returning entrants among the finalists.
In Nicholl with its blind reads a previous entry does not affect a current entry. Each year every script is treated as new.
I love flashbacks (and voice-over), but I have to agree with Jay -- flashbacks are not often used well or to good effect by amateur writers.
One usage that can almost always be eliminated is the framing device -- a character begins the story in the present and something (often voice-over) directs us to the past where the story really starts. Usually, the frame is simply a waste of space, and the writer should have just started the story from the beginning.
Yes, it's true, there are countless movies that use flashbacks wonderfully (film noir comes immediately to mind), but most new writers would be better served by telling their stories in a simple, linear fashion and disdaining flashbacks.
Didn't PG receive 7,000 entries last time around? That was the number that appeared at the time.
In any case, the $30 fee probably will cut down on the number of six-page monologues entered (though wouldn't those be easier to read and judge than a 120-page script?).
As to the profit margin: certainly the screenplay entry fee will raise somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000.
Costs for the screenplay competition alone:
advertising and pr -- considerable, it wouldn't surprise me if they spend a healthy five figures in this area (say, $30-50,000), perhaps more. (Some of this will count for both the directing and screenwriting comps.)
website/online/database management -- considerable, several people are probably full time on this project for months, part time for even longer. (Again, split between the two halves.)
clerical -- considerable, someone (multiple someones?) has to execute all the detail work of keeping things running. (Again, split.)
administrative -- how much is the time expended by Chris Moore, Damon and Affleck, various Miramax execs overseeing and coordinating the entire operation worth? Probably much of this is just absorbed by the individuals and perhaps by Miramax (just part of the exec's job), so the monetary cost might not be great, but the real cost is considerable. (Again, split.)
2nd and final round judging -- multiple reads at this level cost, especially if Miramax readers/development execs are producing coverage or notes. If 200 scripts are dealt with at this level, the costs are considerable, well into five figures. (Screenplay only.)
Final round scene production -- I'm not sure how this works this year with the separate director and writer competitions, but this cost also has to be considerable (and some of it has to be charged against the screenplay competition).
Now add in any separate costs of the director competition.
But HBO pays for the TV show! Doesn't that mean that Miramax is already making a profit?
Okay, perhaps the license fee covers the cost of the film production (figuring that the cost of producing the TV show doesn't count in all this). Does it also cover costs of prints and advertising? I doubt it.
The bottom line: no one's making a lot of money charging $30 per entry into PG.
Ah, yes, that is a different can of worms.
The longest monologue I think I've seen in a script covered 12 pages. The first 12, if I remember correctly.
I think the Swingblade monologue is just under five pages long (in the feature version), but it's pretty brilliant. And I can live with brilliant.
In the semifinal congrats letter, it says in early October.
We're hoping that it will be soon -- but it hasn't happened yet.
"if you were running a contest would you want to give out your phone number?"
Of course, you would. So that you could answer questions, field requests for entry forms, clarify bits of information that weren't clear to a potential entrant, etc.
Services can be helpful for writers:
-- who have plenty of money and not much in the way of film and screenplay education. Plenty of scripts I've read over the years seem to have been scrawled by folks who have little clue as to how movies and scripts work. While there may other ways to learn, notes may help.
-- who want to know where a script stands without burning any real reads.
-- who can't solve certain problems in a particular script.
I could keep going with this list, but you get the point. Of course, there are various other means to gather knowledge and reads -- classes, groups, script exchanges, contests, etc. A good reader/analyst should have a solid professional background, though, which will offer different insights than groups, most classes and exchange reads.
On the other hand, you should be certain of the analyst's credentials and whether his or her approach is appropriate for your needs and material.
For instance, anyone who claims that only 1% of all scripts he's come across are irredeemable is either trying to sell something or has a very different understanding from me of what real possibilities any particular script might have.
There are all too many scripts that are not going to be fixed by any amount of notes from any analyst, however good that analyst might be.
Of course, claiming that any script can be made marketable is about as trustworthy as the irredeemable remark. For instance, most produced independent films (especially those that are seen only at film festivals or that never make it to festivals or anywhere else) are not marketable. That's the reason the filmmaker (usually the writer-director) produced the movie independently.
Plus who knows what exactly is marketable. Alan Ball thought that American Beauty would be a writing sample that might get him work. Charlie Kaufman thought the same thing about Being John Malkovich.
Most new writers don't break in through a sale, but through a good script that generates attention, which leads to work in some form. That writing sample doesn't necessarily have to be marketable; it just needs to be damn good.
Thanks for the kind words, Andrea. They are appreciated.
"Has anyone out there ever edited and re-submitted to the same contest?
If so, were the results positive?"
Many, many times to Nicholl and mostly the results are not positive, because so few of the scripts advance.
On the other hand, a good number of finalists each year have been quarter/semifinalists in previous year. This year the count is six of the ten finalists, three with the same script that had advanced in an earlier year. And a good number of the quarter/semifinalists each year were quarter/semifinalists in a prior year.
Scripts have been reentered without being rewritten as well. Annmarie Morais' BLEEDING, was a finalist one year and a winner the next, with few or no changes in the script from year to year. (FYI, Annmarie is Canadian.)
You must have missed this paragraph written in response to the query about reentering --
"Many, many times to Nicholl and mostly the results are not positive, because so few of the scripts advance."
While I didn't write it in this particular post, I believe I have posted something like the following on these boards previously --
Statistically, returning quarter/semifinalists have done better in the Nicholl competition than any other group in any given year. Still, those writers, who entered about 300 or so scripts this year (I'm at home, so I can't generate exact stats), sent forward to the quarters this year fewer than 40% of those scripts. Some years (and this may have been one of them) it's been closer to 25%.
Why is that? How could scripts that do well one year not do well the next? Even scripts that have been tightened, rewritten, made better. First, because the enterprise is subjective (which is far from being a crap shoot). Second, because the rewrite made the script worse, rather than better. (Which I'll bet happens far more often than writers realize.) Third, because the better scripts in the competition (and that includes most of the quarter/semifinalists) are only pretty good. Which means they advance in a given year over several hundred other pretty good scripts because of the subjective nature of the enterprise.
Every year, hundreds of scripts are quite near in terms of quality (if we could somehow agree as to how to measure them). Different readers react in different ways to subject matter, to dialogue, to characters, to genres, to craft, etc. And so different scripts advance from year to year.
Interns?!? I think my youngest reader this year was 25 and had been an intern for a production company for several years while a student. I bet some of my other readers had once been interns as well.
But no one has ever read as an intern for the competition. Nicholl readers are paid, and the only intern ever connected to the program worked in the office in, I think, 1996. BTW, she was paid for her work while she earned credit towards her degree.
Over the years Nicholl first round readers have included agents, executives, producers, directors, writers, development assistants, agency assistants, and a good number of folks who read for agencies and production companies. One of my long-time readers started while an agent's assistant, continued as a development exec and still read for several years after becoming president of production for a well-known producer.
Over the years, many of our first round readers have stopped reading because their careers have taken off -- a script sale, a movie in production, a staff writing job on a TV series, promotion from assistant to agent or executive, etc. Some have even come back in leaner times or simply because they actually enjoyed reading the scripts (and making a few bucks while doing it).
Are the readers all good? I've pondered that myself over the years and recognized this conundrum --
If the person who I feel in my heart and head is the best reader in a given year disagrees with my take on particular scripts numerous times, what does that suggest? And if the person who I feel in my heart and head is the worst reader in a given year agrees with my take on particular scripts numerous times, what does that suggest?
And in the years when I was reading hundreds of scripts those two scenarios played out each and every year.
I think the Nicholl readers are and have been pretty darn good.
Plus, other than PGL, how many competitions do the amount of reading that we do? This year -- 6,044 first reads, over 2,700 second reads, over 900 third reads. And that's just to select the quarters. Then every quarterfinal script was read twice. And this year every semifinal script was read three times. And then the finalist scripts will have been read by between 10 and 14 members of the Nicholl Committee, depending upon their availability. Each script that reaches the finals will have been read by at least 18 different people.
And still the enterprise, no matter who the judges are, no matter how accomplished they are in their film careers, is subjective. And it always will be.
Thanks for the kind words.
Rewriting was one of three reasons I listed. Subjectivity was listed first and was mentioned repeatedly, and "pretty good" scripts is something I've also mentioned on boards previously, probably including this one. Sorry that I didn't rank them in order, but it's pretty obvious which one I think makes the most significant difference with regards to the pretty good scripts.
On the other hand, I've read too many rewrites in my life not to know that rewrites don't always improve scripts. Again, I'm speaking about the pretty good scripts. More often than writers seem to notice, the earlier draft has a certain energy and life that isn't maintained in the rewrite. Often, the new script isn't better or worse, it's just different. (And I certainly am not speaking here about any particular script but about scripts in general.) Or the changes, which the writers feel are significant, don't affect the readers' reactions in any significant way.
Writing a good script is difficult. Rewriting a good script and making it appreciably better may be even more difficult. Clearly, though, rewriting is the slightest of the three reasons I listed for a good script not doing well in another year.
I have to disagree with your other contention. Subjectivity simply isn't the same as a crap shoot. All too many people think that script competitions are similar to lotteries and crap shoots; how else can you explain the countless PGL entries that can't possibly be made for a million dollars or the studio-type scripts submitted to Sundance every year? Let alone the absolutely awful scripts submitted to every competition.
Luck is a factor, of course -- and I've stated that countless times. Who reads which script? Does the reader appreciate your style or subject matter or approach, etc.? Is the reader fresh or tired when he reads your script? No matter what, though, you still have to start with one of those pretty good or better scripts to do well in the Nicholl competition (or any competition, I would hope). And that necessary starting point makes it considerably different from a crap shoot.
As to how readers can be working professionals and still find time to read? You know, you'd really need to ask them. Especially those who read and are working full or part time. Obviously, they fit the Nicholl reading in around their jobs. I could guess that they treat it as overtime, knowing that it's going to begin and end in a relatively short period.
Many of the writers, directors, producers, etc. work when they have work and read for the Nicholl competition during periods when they aren't working. I've often had readers stop reading in the middle of the competition because they suddenly found themselves otherwise employed. For instance, one writer was needed on location for an HBO movie. Another had to fly to Paris to direct a play. On several occasions, readers have stopped reading to deliver babies.
As you might know, working professionals in Hollywood sadly don't often work 40 hour weeks or 50 weeks each year. More than 50% of the members of the WGA don't earn any money on WGA signatory projects in a given year. Is someone who has had multiple six-figure script sales a working professional even though he hasn't sold a script this year?
Rather than making "fair assumptions," though, why not simply ask questions? You might have noticed that I'm pretty willing to answer questions about the Nicholl competition.
I've looked for the question I've avoided answering. I couldn't find it. (That's one of the tough things about these boards; you can't easily look at the post to which you are responding.)
Let me know what it is and I'll give it a shot. (I could guess at one aspect but I didn't see a question; I did fail to congratulate you on your script being picked up by a production company. That's great news.)
Has PGL announced that they have 11,000 script entries?
Back when the boards were still working, entrants posted that they had received number 15,9xx just before the deadline.
But I never put much faith in that being a real number.
BTW, $350,000 is a drop in the bucket when compared to the overall cost of the entire enterprise -- competition, marketing, website, additional rounds of judging, equipment for additional shoots (if they're doing that again), movie, marketing, tv show, marketing, etc.
You're right, I have no idea exactly how costs and income are split between Live Planet, Miramax and HBO.
My point was that the overall budget for all aspects of PGL is in the millions of dollars. $350,000 is not a significant sum against the entire budget.
I also know that running a large competition, however you're handling the reading, is an expensive proposition.
Taking the reading costs out of the Nicholl budget still leaves us considerably in the red.
On the other hand, who cares? PGL had an entry fee. People still entered. Perhaps they were hoping to reduce the number of entries. They might have expected an additional reduction by requiring WGA and LoC registration. It apparently didn't happen. People still entered. Lots of them.
Is Live Planet making money on this? I don't know and I don't care.
I think the peer reading model is hugely problematic for a variety of reasons that I and others have voiced previously on this board.
[I noticed you mentioned that all Matt and Ben have to do is have their publicist . . .
Do you think their publicist works for free?]
Rule #4 from the official PGL entry rules --
"The screenplay must be registered with, or, on the date the screenplay is submitted to the Contest, in the process of being registered with, both the United States Copyright Office (see http://www.loc.gov/copyright/forms/) and the Writer's Guild of America (see http://www.wga.org/registration/register-online.html) (each Screenplay Contestant or Writing Team, as applicable, will be required to provide Promoter with documentary proof of such registrations promptly upon Promoter's request);"
I don't know whether anyone made any money or a little money or a lot of money off PGL last time around.
Just where, then, would you place Sundance, Disney, Nickelodeon, Scriptapalooza, Slamdance, Warner Bros. TV workshop, AFI TV workshop, Cinestory, Goldwyn, Diane Thomas, IFP workshop, etc.?
I think there are criteria people should use when evaluating whether to enter a competition. Those criteria include (in no particular order):
Prize money and other considerations provided to entrants. Ability to open doors. Success of past winners. Organization sponsoring the contest. Goals of the contest. Types of scripts sought by contest. Necessity of winner moving to Los Angeles. Number of entrants. Number of winners. Number of placers. Expectation that winning will do an entrant some professional good. Reasonable expectation that placing will do an entrant some professional good. Winners' names appear in the trades. Industry professionals take the contest seriously. Attachment or non-attachment of sponsoring company/organization to entrant's script. Winner's script or writing life tied up by sponsor (or not) for a period of time. Quality of early round readers/judging process. Quality of later/final round judges. Feedback given to entrants. Quality of feedback given to entrants. Sponsoring organization/company's connection to the industry. Ability of contest to meet its stated deadlines. Treatment of entrants by the contest. Longevity and track record of contest. Anecdotal experiences of past entrants, placers and winners. Information about all aspects of the contest easily accessible. Use of entry fees by sponsoring organization/company.
I'm sure other criteria exist as well, but the point is that potential screenplay competition entrants should consider a number of factors, weighing them according to their own needs and situation, before entering any competition.
Sundance is "a festival, not a screenwriting competition." Well, you might tell that to the folks over there you run the competition, which selects writers for the January and June screenwriting labs. More writers and films have surfaced from the Sundance labs than from any other competition of which I know.
Disney doesn't belong in the top five? I guess the over $3,000,000 they have distributed to new writers since 1990 doesn't hold any weight. Well, only half of it went to feature writers. A number of successful writers passed through the program. And Disney has no entry fee.
Nickelodeon is relatively new and is modeled after Disney, being administered by the former head of the Disney program.
Cinestory was founded in 1995 by the coordinator of the first Austin competition and has been geared to assisting writers from the outset.
Warners and AFI have longstanding histories, but are indeed TV workshops.
The IFP program is newer but offers a terrific workshop for screenwriters.
Diane Thomas and Goldwyn are significant competitions but do have restricted applicant fields.
Scriptapalooza and Slamdance have both offered prize money and support through their screenwriting competitions.
And I left off feature competitions such as Final Draft, the Screenwriter's Network's Carl Sautter comp, the Bill Cosby, Script Mag's Open Door comps. Plus many of the state and city film office competitions, which offer prize money and Hollywood connections, but typically are restricted to scripts at least partially set in a particular location.
A few notes on the above posts:
The CASABLANCA submissions took place in 1980 (or thereabouts), so the test is not exactly current. An article about the submissions appeared in Esquire.
Readers at the studios are not anywhere near 22. They probably average over 40.
Readers at established production companies and agencies are seldom as young as 22. Many have been reading for years.
I don't think a William Goldman submission has been read by anyone for years as there haven't been any. He works for hire and rewrites. A William Goldman script might be read at a production company but it would not be under normal circumstances. Perhaps as a project in production or if a project script went into turnaround. If so, the following would apply.
Shane Black scripts are covered by readers at established production companies. They may be read by executives first or simultaneously but they will be covered at most companies. As will scripts by other A-list writers.
Readers at established production companies are seldom reading scripts by Joe Someone from Anywhere, USA, because relatively few of those scripts are accepted. Most scripts covered by readers are traditional submissions from agents, managers and producers.
As I wasn't quoting you, it would be hard to misquote you. My mention of Goldman was in response to the point made that readers would not read Goldman or Shane Black.
Everyone discussing the Casablanca experiment seems to know exactly what the results were. But no one (I don't think) has actually read the article, which might mean that some of the stated conclusions are incorrect. Everything is hearsay, which is a problem. And some folks were discussing it as if it had happened recently.
My point about readers is that there are hundreds if not thousands of them who are well educated, know movies, have read hundreds if not thousands of scripts (and plays, novels, non-fiction books, etc.), and have had years of experience in the industry.
Some companies have interns? Some interns read scripts? Well, yes, they do.
Still, the vast majority of scripts submitted to production companies and agencies are not read by interns.
Thanks, Ellum, for the notice.
As I have posted with some regularity over the years on Moviebytes, though, I'm not sure I'm worthy of any special attention.
Plus, I'm not sure that we're looking for another record number of submissions. 6044 was more than enough, thank you very much.
Studio (union) readers (who number about 120 employed at any given time) are known for writing sarcastic, caustic, hyperbolic coverage. Being in the union, they are not easily fired and have, relatively speaking, an easy time finding another job. But how many of the 120 write this way? I don't know, but I would venture a guess that it's well fewer than half.
Some freelance readers also use the style, perhaps because that's how they were taught or because their bosses expected such or because they felt that displaying their caustic wit was the best means of getting ahead.
Once again, though, the majority of readers (at least in my experience) don't write that way; rather they attempt to provide straightforward, accurate coverage. When I see samples and I see a number every year, they are almost always clean, straightforward, to the point and decently written.
Freelance readers are all too often underpaid, seldom receive benefits of any sort, and are often overworked if they depend solely on reading as a means of making their living. Can such a situation lead to sloppiness, mistakes, less than 100% effort? Sure.
I have never met an executive who has requested over-the-top coverage. I have never met a reader who has said he was asked to change his style and write in some hyperbolic style.
I have had a number of readers tell me of being asked to rewrite coverage (typically to change a pass to a consider). And I have known at least one reader who quit rather than put up with such treatment.
Readers (and the reading enterprise) are far from perfect, but on the whole they do their jobs pretty well, especially those readers who work for established production companies and agencies.
(I feel as if I have answered this question previously here; I certainly have answered it many times over the years. Part two I have answered far fewer times.)
Nicholl readers ranged in age in 2002 from about 24 to somewhere in the 50s, with the average age being somewhere near 35 or so (maybe a little older). All have had some industry experience; many of had years of experience.
Over the years, more have been writers or attempting to become writers than anything else; a number have had produced credits and six-figure sales. Several have produced films; others have directed them. I have had agents read and executives and managers; some while they held their jobs, others while in between jobs. I have also had development and agency assistants read.
The overall quality of submissions probably has gone up over the years, so that there are a far greater number of okay or better scripts each year. Quarter/semifinal scripts are probably a little better. Finalists/winners scripts probably have remained fairly even over the years.
(Sorry but I have to cut this short; I might try to add more later.)
Sorry if you thought I was chiding you for asking a question. I was apologizing in advance as I knew I might have answered the questions more thoroughly elsewhere (and I knew my time was limited).
For instance, I didn't mention that most of the Nicholl first round readers have also read professionally and that some are currently reading professionally.
When you have a question, ask away.
Often, with Nicholl, there's going to be some form of an answer about the competition in the FAQs at oscars.org/Nicholl, and there may be some form of an answer on Moviebytes in the archives. So there are other reqources when I don't jump in quickly.
Not really, though they probably arrived somewhere recently.
On the other hand, the new Nicholl application forms are now online at --
in a PDF version.
If you have trouble accessing the PDF version, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for the Word version, and we'll email it back. Or you can ask for a hard copy and we'll mail it to you.
The only real change for this year -- entries postmarked by April 1 may be submitted with a $20 entry fee.
After that date, the fee reverts to the traditional $30 per script.
All entries must be postmarked by May 1.
Good luck to everyone on Moviebytes.
"Can you enter the same script multiple times in the same year?"
That's not something that we're excited to see. Typically, it's a waste of the entrant's money. If one version is passed on, all versions are passed on.
More often, it occurs when a writer decides that the version he entered early had problems now solved in the most recent draft. So, he enters again with the newer version. Usually, both versions don't advance. Occasionally, the first version has advanced but not the rewrite. Occasionally, the rewrite has advanced but not the early draft. Never have both versions advanced.
So much depends on what you can afford in the way of a house. Or if you'll live in an apartment or duplex. And how big of a place you'll need.
Visit LAtimes.com and check out the real estate prices by city/zip code. There you can get a snapshot of median prices and cost per square foot. For instance, one Santa Monica zip code (the least expensive) averaged $308/sq ft. Cheapest Burbank zip was $288/sq ft and $342,000 median sale price. Glendale $289/sq ft.
Another web site (which I don't know but was posted on Wordplay recently) shows SAT-9 scores for every public school (K-12) in California. (The same info is also available on a ca.gov website.)
Typical advice is to stay away from LAUSD schools (all of LA city, which includes Hollywood, Silverlake, most of the valley). Instead, you look for individual cities with their own school districts -- Burbank, Glendale, Culver City, Pasadena, Santa Monica, etc. (But searching the scores site might locate an exceptional LAUSD school; there are several.)
Searching for a California bungalow probably means starting at somewhere in the $600,000 range for a small 2-3 bedroom.
More affordable housing with decent to good schools probably means living farther away -- 30-40 miles from downtown LA. Places like Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Santa Clarita, Long Beach, where there are some zips around $200-225/sq ft.
Pretty much everything has happened.
Finalist returning with same script wins. Semi/quarterfinalist returning with same script wins. Non-advancer enters same script or different script and wins.
First time entrants have won on numerous occasions.
Someone has 14 entries this year; another person has submitted 13. I don't think anyone has previously entered 14 times in a single year.
No actual count at this point, but our estimate is just over 5,500 as of today, which is about even with last year on May 6.
I can't address what other contests do in first or later rounds, but in the Nicholl competition the instructions are to find the best scripts, whether or not commercial, whatever the subject matter, the genre, the budget, etc.
As to loads of commercial scripts hiding amongst the thousands of entries, it's simply not true. Let me explain: if it were true, wouldn't some of those wonderfully commercial, wrongfully overlooked scripts eventually find their way to a producer and studio and become movies?
Having spent hundreds of hours in our overall database, I have a pretty fair idea of what scripts are there. Over the past 13 years I have found in that database of over 50,000 entries about 30 scripts that later became movies (not counting the Nicholl winners). The most commercially successful of those scripts was MY GIRL (aka BORN JAUNDICED). Other titles you might recognize include SPANKING THE MONKEY, HIGH ART, JOHNNY SUEDE and HOME FRIES.
Of the 76 Nicholl-winning scripts, nine have been produced, including FINDING FORRESTER, ARLINGTON ROAD and BLUE CAR, which is currently in theaters in some cities.
The point finally being that you can't expect scripts written by amateur writers to become movies. It doesn't happen often. For that matter, scripts written by professional screenwriters don't become movies all that often. It's really hard to get a movie produced. It's nearly impossible for someone not yet a professional.
What contests do is open doors, allowing winners and sometimes runners-up to get some recognition, to get their scripts read, to get meetings, etc. Opening doors is just a first step, and it's typically a long haul from that point to seeing a script in production. And many who have doors opened never see a script go into production.
Of course, there are other avenues to break in as a screenwriter -- film schools, queries and submissions to agents and producers, recommendations from working film professionals, etc.
Anyone seeking to break in as a screenwriter should be pursuing as many avenues as possible. Contests are only one of the paths.
(Of course, there is another problem involving contests -- that's the proliferation of them over the past decade. How many are listed on Moviebytes? Over 200? 250? As the numbers grow, it has to have become increasingly difficult for agents, executives and producers to take some (many?) contest wins and placements seriously.)
Thanks for the compliment, Terry. Over the years, I've been amazed at how thick-headed "new" writers, however talented, can be.
The fact that you didn't like BLUE CAR proves something, doesn't it? Taste is personal; reading scripts is subjective. The script you didn't like won the Nicholl competition; it attracted a producer; it was produced; the movie version was selected for Sundance; it was purchased by Miramax; it has since appeared in film festivals around the world; it currently has been platformed in the US and has received some extremely positive reviews. And the movie, having been directed by its writer Karen Moncrieff, remains faithful to the script.
I'm not sure what the ICM person means. Are they bad because no one could sell them immediately; bad because he read them and didn't like them; bad because no one in the industry liked them in any way, shape or form? Over the years I've been repeatedly surprised by which Nicholl-winning scripts sold and which didn't, by which writers had careers that took off and which didn't. A number of Nicholl-winning scripts from the past three years have appeared in the trades as having been sold or set-up as a project. I just received a call last week about one of last year's scripts being optioned.
I can't explain why four of five Nicholl scripts from 1989 have been produced or why two from 1998 have been produced with a third slated to go into production next month. Or why none from 1992, the year that Susannah Grant and Andrew Marlowe were among the five winners, has been produced.
As to final Nicholl numbers, it's not quite over yet. Four properly postmarked scripts arrived on Friday, two sent via priority mail (only 22 days from posting to arrival). The count currently is 6,034; and it will climb at least a few more.
The Horses script is WILD HORSES by Karen O'Toole. After she won, Karen optioned the script and then rewrote it in concert with the producer and an Oscar-nominated director. The script went out to a host of female stars but so far as I know they could never get one to commit and so the project was never set up.
I confess not knowing about a Matthew Perry project. Do you have more details?
Sadly, Terri, TJ tells me that THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM remains in pre-pre-production. A new director is on board and the female lead is yet to be cast.
As to contests and analysts needing produced scripts to grant them credibility -- that's an unreal expectation. New writers seldom write scripts that are produced. The ones who become professional writers far more often write a script that gains them attention and opens doors. It's only later that they write a script that is produced.
As hard as it is to make a movie independently, it's more likely for a new writer to do that than to write a script that is produced by someone else.
Yes, the deluge on and after the postmarked deadline is huge.
As of yesterday, we were somewhere in the 4000s in terms of mailing letters.
We should have all of them out by next week.
If we cashed your check, we definitely received and processed your script. In fact, if you can view your cancelled checks, you should notice your entry number jotted somewhere on your check.
Good luck to all.
Nicholl notifications will be distributed in the near future.
As you may know, the application includes a mention of letters being mailed "before August 1." They will be.
I realize I didn't answer a question.
We do send the letters via the USPS.
Thus far we have not used email for the distribution of notifications on any level and don't foresee making any change in the near future.
I offer my condolances to those who did not advance in this year's Nicholl competition and my congratulations to those who did (there's at least one who has posted in this thread).
In addition to repeating again that reading scripts is a subjective enterprise, I want to mention that it's not a crapshoot. In craps, one can win in the short term, but in the long run one will lose.
In screenwriting, in the short term anything can happen (i.e., a good script can be rejected or overlooked), but in the long term, so long as the writer doesn't give up, the most talented writers and best scripts will surface. Yes, luck is involved to an extent as to who judges your script at any competition level, first and later rounds. But it's only one element of the whole.
We don't release any lists until after we announce the finalists. Which doesn't happen until about October 1.
Semifinalist letters will be mailed by the end of August.
Strangely, more often the complaint we hear is that scripts that do well in the Nicholl competition have too much heart and not enough bang bang shoot shoot.
I certainly wouldn't let one contest result get you down. There is no getting around the fact that the evaluation of scripts is a subjective process.
Continue to market the script. If it's ready, get it in the hands of agents, managers and producers. Perhaps enter other competitions.
Meanwhile, write your next script and the one after that.
Three simple variations:
If we only see one person on the phone and do not hear or see the other person at all, then it would be normal dialogue, perhaps with elipses signifying the other person's responses.
If we see only one person but hear both sides of the conversation, then it would be PERSON (V.O.) for the unseen person (or PERSON'S VOICE, as in the CHINATOWN example).
If we eventually see both participants but begin with only one, then the unseen participant would be PERSON (O.S.), who would become just PERSON after you begin to intercut between the two.
If you consider the shooting and recording process, it makes the whole simpler. If you just record a participant in a conversation, then it would be (V.O.). If you film and record the participant, then it would be (O.S.) even though the person is probably in a different locale, far, far away.
Of course, others have argued that off-screen from another locale is always (V.O.) even if the person will soon be on-screen.
In this particular instance, no one reading your script will much care so long as your usage makes sense.
The following was written in response to a question about how the Nicholl competition checks to see whether entrants are eligible.
First, in signing the application form, entrants state that they have abided by all rules and are eligible to enter. So that's our first line of defense -- trusting the honesty of applicants.
Second, it's not that hard to look up anyone and everyone at later levels of the competition. It only takes a few hours to run 300 or so quarterfinal names through sales data bases and other resources to see what surfaces.
Third, in many years, someone will let us know about an entrant they believe not to be eligible. And then we follow-up or double-check our earlier research (depending upon what stage we've reached).
Entrants have been disqualified totally or left at a particular level over the years. This includes at least three finalists.
As to this particular case:
As was mentioned, information found in trade articles and on sales websites should not always be taken at face value. Often, what is described as a sale is actually an option. And options are often for little or no money.
Bragi Schut remained eligible for the competition through (and beyond) the announcement of Nicholl winners.
Nicholl now has two horror scripts among its winners. Bragi Schut's SEASON OF THE WITCH earned him a fellowship this year. And it sold two weeks later.
The instructions I give to first round readers include -- look for the best scripts, whatever the genre . . .
The 2004 Nicholl competition application forms are now available online at www.oscars.org/nicholl.
For those of you who entered last year, we will be mailing an application form soon (though it may not be until the end of next week as we are awaiting the printing of new envelopes).
One rule change:
No longer is it possible to submit the same script or different drafts of a script more than once. That means that you can't submit one draft in February and then, realizing that your current draft in late April is much improved, submit a new draft at the deadline. It also means that you can't enter multiple copies of the same script.
For the second year, we are offering a reduced $20 fee for those entries postmarked by April 1. The final postmarked deadline remains May 1, with a $30 fee required.
Each year, every script is treated as an individual entry, whether it's been entered 10 years in row or is a first-timer.
All scripts are passed along to readers, and the readers have no idea whether a script has advanced previously or is a new entry. I attempt to distribute every re-entered script to a reader who hasn't read the script previously and, if possible, to a reader who has not read any script by the entrant in a previous year.
The inherent subjectivity of judging scripts has much to do with a script advancing in one year and not in another.
You also might look into San Francisco's Film Arts Foundation, which offers equipment rental, editing bays, film courses and workshops -- and has recently moved into a new building, with four or so other media arts orgs.
There are many docs, many shorts and some indy features originated in the Bay Area, and plenty of film folks to connect with. You just need to find them.
Another way to connect with film folk would be at the various film festivals -- from SF International on down. Volunteer at one and you'll probably meet plenty of like-minded people.
All that said, if you want to break into the American film industry -- as a screenwriter or in another capacity; and you're not making or working on indy films yourself -- the best place to do it is in Los Angeles.
When I came back from Austin in 1994 (the first year), I sat down almost immediately and wrote a multi-page proposal for a screenwriting conference that the Academy might sponsor. Unhappily (or happily, depending on your point of view), nothing ever came of that proposal.
Several years later (also, I'll bet, spurred on by trips to Austin), the WGA began holding Words into Pictures.
As the Nicholl department (both of us) has moved into the Academy's Pickford Center in Hollywood, it's possible that we may host screenwriting events of some sort in the center's 285-seat theater at some time in the future.
It won't be a conference, though.
And for those of you who entered the Nicholl competition last year, we should have 2004 application forms in the mail this week. Meanwhile, they can be printed from the Academy's Website at www.oscars.org/nicholl.
Here's a short list --
June, Santa Fe
Lots of screenwriting teachers, typically with a more disciplined approach to delivering information on topic.
August, Selling to Hollywood / LA
Also plenty of teachers, though with shorter, less intense sessions.
Lots of screenwriters, some teachers. Lots of war-stories, some wonderful. Fairly undisciplined overall. Opportunities to chat informally with many of the panelists, most especially at the Driskill Hotel bar.
October, Screenwriting Expo / LA
Everything and anything -- hundreds of panels and seminars featuring screenwriters, screenwriting book authors, teachers. War stories galore, plus many on-target sessions and some sessions that seem to be veiled attempts to sell other services.
I'll be attending Santa Fe for the first time this year. I've been at all ten Austin events. I've attended a number of Selling to Hollywoods (though not last year); and I attended the 2003 Expo.
All four should be fairly easy to find online.
The WGA's Words into Pictures conference won't be held again until 2005.
Animation scripts are acceptable, as are all narrative feature film script genres. Over the years, we have had one animation script reach the finals and a small number reach the quarters or semis.
Sure, dramatic thriller or drama thriller or suspense drama would be fine.
As to assigning scripts, mostly it's a matter of giving each reader a mix. A standard stack is 12. It might include 3 dramas, an historical drama, a coming of age drama, a comedy, a romantic comedy, a comedy drama, 2 thrillers, an action adventure and a science fiction script.
Every stack has a similar mix of genres.
Some readers prefer not to read certain genres -- horror, science fiction and black comedy are probably at the top of this list -- and so we don't distribute some genres to particular readers.
In the first round there have been just over 50 readers in each of the last few years.
In the semifinal round there were about 130 judges.
As many of you know, the early Nicholl deadline is today, April 1. Postmarking your entry no later than today means that you can enter the competition with a $20 fee. Entrants postmarking their scripts from April 2 through May 1 must submit a $30 fee.
One suggestion: if you are not certain that your script is ready today, don't submit it. Take as much of the remaining month to ensure that your script is as good as you can make it before sending it in.
My entry timing suggestion: if you are making the early deadline, today is the day to place it in the mail. If you're shooting for the May 1 deadline, placing your script into the mail between April 20 and 28 makes the most sense to me. Why? Because your script will fall somewhere in the middle of all the script entries, making it more likely that it won't first be read during the last two weeks of the first round. While I don't think there is a huge difference between being the 1000th, 3000th or 6000th script read, there is something to be said for reaching a reader prior to her having read six romantic comedies similar to yours.
Often, I hear that the Nicholl competition only selects small, character-driven scripts. (I also have heard, that being sponsored by the Academy, the Nicholl competition selects only mainstream, studio-type scripts; but I think that anyone paying attention to the scripts that have been selected over the years knows that is not the case.) What sort of scripts have earned their writers Nicholl Fellowships? Actually, it's a fairly diverse group: more dramas and comedy dramas, but also a number of action adventure scripts, thriller and crime stories, comedies and romantic comedies, and even three westerns and two horror scripts.
Typically, Nicholl-winning scripts share these qualities: intriguing, distinct and often quirky characters; strong (and appropriate to the genre) dialogue; a well-paced, well-structured and engaging story; sharply crafted scenes that flow together over the length of the script; and, often but not always, a setting (or arena) that is new to many readers. It is true, I think, that character-driven scripts often fit the above more often than do hard genre scripts, but you only have to consider movies such as PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and LORD OF THE RINGS to know that it's also possible to write huge movies that fit.
I recently reread an article entitled "Confessions of a Contest Reader," and while much of what is stated rings true enough to me, the descriptions don't apply to the Nicholl competition. For instance, scripts are not distributed in one large stack with the reader asked to identify the three best. Rather Nicholl readers pick up scripts weekly, returning one typical batch of 12 before receiving a new batch. They are asked to read and score each script individually. Each batch of 12 scripts contains both first and second reads, though none are identified as such. So each reader knows that some number of scores will be held up for comparison when the batch is returned. Each reader turns their scripts into one of us, usually me, and is given the chance to say something about each script as it is handed over one at a time. Reading and judging scripts is an inherently subjective process, but we do our best to give each and every entry a fair chance in the competition.
As to the selection process itself, every script is read once. About half of the scripts (nearly 3,000 in 2003), based on the initial score, are read a second time. About one-sixth of the scripts (over 1,000 in 2003) are read a third time. The best two of three scores are tallied, and the highest scoring scripts advance to the quarterfinal round. In 2003, the 6,048 entries generated over 10,000 reads in the first round.
The Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting awards up to five $30,000 fellowships each year. Since 1989, it's been five in every year save two, when only four fellowships were awarded. For the past few years, we have invited all of the finalists to Beverly Hills for a week-long series of seminars, meetings, meals and the Nicholl award ceremonies. For out of town finalists, that means air fare, hotel accommodations and a modest per diem. (In 2003, eight of the ten finalists were from outside Southern California, with one from Canada and another from Australia.)
There's another benefit to advancing in the Nicholl competition -- the distribution of contact lists of the quarterfinalists, semifinalists and finalists (including the winners). Last year, these lists were distributed to over 125 agents, executives, managers and producers who requested them. The lists were also distributed to many of the 135 Academy member judges who read in the semifinal round. These members included agents, directors, executives, producers and writers. As has been pointed out to me by both those on the list and those receiving the lists, there are no log lines on the lists, only names, script titles, genres and contact information. The Academy does not feel comfortable distributing log lines, and so we have not done so. We feel that describing their stories should be left to the individual writers.
Are writers contacted following the distribution of the lists? Some winners and finalists have told me that they received over 100 requests for their scripts. Some semifinalists have told me that they received over 20 requests. Some quarterfinalists have told me that they received over ten requests. Do these requests often result in sales or options or the writer being hired on assignment? While I have heard of a few success stories, mostly I think they do not. More likely, it's a first door-opening, and positive reads will often lead to meetings, which occasionally lead to the read of the next script and additional meetings. Which is often the way a screenwriter's career begins.
Occasionally, I hear that people feel that screenwriting competitions are scams, designed to make money for the sponsoring organization. I can't address what happens at other competitions, but I do have a good idea of what the Nicholl finances are like. Let me provide a brief overview. In 2003, we received about $170,000 in entry fees. Our reading expenses fell just short of that figure. By the end of the five winning writers' fellowship years, we will have distributed $150,000 to them. The cost of finalists' travel and accommodations plus the Nicholl week and award ceremony costs were well over $50,000. Add to these numbers the cost of full and part-time staff, office expenses and overhead, and you should understand that this is far from a money-making operation.
Last year, I read an online post stating that the Nicholl competition "is losing some of its credibility throughout town." Unfortunately, there wasn't much explanation of what the statement meant. Here's what I know -- since the Nicholl competition began in 1986, the Academy has distributed over $2,000,000 to 83 writers. Those writers have written, co-written or provided the stories for movies that have grossed over $2,000,000,000 in international and domestic theatrical receipts. More production companies, agencies and managerial firms requested the Nicholl contact lists in 2003 than in any previous year. Winners and finalists received more requests for their scripts than any previous group of winners and finalists. After waiting more than a year for his optioned script (for under $5,000) to move forward, one winner completed that sale and sold his Nicholl script within a month after winning his fellowship. Others among the winners and finalists signed almost immediately with agents and managers. For its annual Screenwriter's Guide issue, Screenwriter (formerly NY Screenwriter) interviewed agents, executives, managers and producers about their preferences regarding queries and submissions from new writers. Of those who mentioned contests, the majority of these industry professionals noted a single competition: the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.
Jacob Estes saw his film MEAN CREEK (which earned him a Nicholl Fellowship in 1998) be selected to the Sundance Film Festival, sell to Paramount Classics, and be selected for the Directors Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. Ten years after winning her Nicholl Fellowship, Dawn O'Leary saw her winning script ISLAND OF BRILLIANCE go into production. That is the 11th of the 81 Nicholl-winning scripts to have been produced.
Re: Nicholl resubmission eligibility.
For one year (1995) and one year only, entrants could not submit any scripts that had been submitted previously. It didn't matter whether they had been knocked out in the first round or had reached the finals. That rule was eliminated for various reasons, including that it was difficult to police.
So long as a writer is otherwise eligible, he can submit any script that was previously submitted.
The only significant rule change for this year is that entrants may not submit two versions of the same script. So you need to make sure that your script is ready when you submit it, especially when you submit it early.
I'd say the only inimitable person in the film program at Syracuse is Owen Shapiro.
I was there for two glorious years, 1983-85. Still root for the Orangemen, as well as for the schools I attended -- UCLA, UC Irvine and UT Austin.
The application is never seen by anyone other than those of us working in the office. So your logline has no effect whatsoever on the readers.
We use them as a crosscheck on scripts, to make sure we have the right one (sometimes multilple script entries will be attached to the wrong entry form, etc.), and as a check on the genre, both as the script arrives and as it's being read. For instance, if an entrant says drama and a reader tells us horror, it's handy to be able to look at the writer's synopsis to doublecheck.
No, your application would not be incomplete if you failed to fill in the age blank.
In addition to statistics, age data helps us connect current entrants with their previous entries, which helps us make sure that the same reader doesn't read scripts she has read in another year.
I don't think anyone cares particularly about MORE and CONTINUED. So using them or not using them should not have any effect whatsoever.
I think using MORE on the bottom of the page for dialogue that is broken makes the script slightly easier to read.
Somewhere in your program there should be a switch to turn MORE/CONT'D off.
The average stack is 12 scripts. Each trip to the Academy the reader hands me a stack and then takes away a stack. Most visit about once a week.
Reading takes place from February through early July.
As there were just over 10,000 total reads last year, the average for each reader was just under 200 scripts.
Well, I can't tell you much more.
I don't know how individual readers read. I can only guess.
Some are in between jobs when reading Nicholl scripts. Others are writers who set aside time for writing and time for reading each day. Some do work full time and must read scripts before or after work and/or on the weekend.
Let me add another thought: Given what I have observed about readers over the years, I would much prefer having 50 readers judge 200 scripts each than 200 readers judge 50 each. The reason: consistency. I can get a better feel for the readers, for their tastes and for their scoring. And I believe that they get a better feel for their task as well.
As the Nicholl competition is sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I don't think we'll be accepting television series scripts anytime soon.
Thanks for the kind words that have appeared in various posts. I have attempted in the following to clarify the Nicholl process and to address questions and concerns that have appeared on various boards. If you have others, ask away and I'll do my best to answer them.
The Nicholl application form promised that a second letter advising you of your status would be sent before August 1. Thus far, we have never missed that deadline. If you happened to call during the period when we were mailing the letters, you probably would have been told that letters would be mailed no later than August 1. It may not work, but we're trying to ease the anticipation anxiety.
In 2003, there were 6,048 entries and 320 quarterfinalists. This year, entries totalled 6,073 and quarterfinalists 323. To be exact, that would 5.29% in 2003 and 5.32% in 2004.
Unlike some other competitions, this one continues on. If you reached the quarterfinals, your script is currently being read. A letter announcement of whether you reached the semifinals will be sent in late August. Then notification about the finals will arrive in October. No one can now know that they reached the quarterfinals but not the semifinals. That has not yet been decided.
Notes written on the bottom of letters included: "Better news to follow" on dupe entry regret letters (and I would hope that the message is evident); "Just missed -- next 50 scripts" on those scripts from #324 to #384 (including ties); "Just missed -- next 100 scripts" on those scripts from #385 to #432 (including ties); "Close -- top 10%" on those scripts from #433 to #653 (including ties); "Close -- top 15% on those scripts from #654 to #952 (including ties).
Reaching the top 15% or higher is a good result. It means that at least two judges responded positively to your script. It means, that in terms of score, there was not that much difference between your script and those that reached the Nicholl quarterfinals.
While we have thus far decided not to distribute scoring information to additional entrants, another 800-plus entrants received at least two (low) positive scores but fell short of the top 15%.
FYI, the letter notes are not written to encourage writers to reenter the competition; instead they are intended to let writers know that they received positive reactions in the competition. I write all of the notes and sign the letters myself.
As stated in the letters, this year all of the scripts were read once; over 3,000 were read twice; over 1,200 were read three times. That's more first round reading than we've ever done. (If it were possible for my instructions to translate to what happens at a production company or agency, based upon the first scores, about 300 to 500 of these scripts would have received the equivalent of an initial positive response at an agency or production company. In my estimation, we're considerably more generous in reads and rereads than would be found in a professional submission situation.)
Many entrants have asked why we don't provide scores or number of reads or both. It would be possible for us to embed scores and/or reads in a line in the letters. As I have explained in previous years, I am just not certain that the scores/reads would be particularly helpful or all that meaningful. An extreme example: which script is better? One receives a 58 as its only read (when 60 grants a second read). The other receives a 80, then a 40 and another 40. The result is what it is; in another competition, in another year, at a production company or agency, the result could well be different. That's why it is necessary to continue to submit your work when it is ready.
It takes us about a week to print all of the envelopes and letters and then to sign and stuff them. As they are completed, we hold the letters, and then, as possible, try to get the letters out on nearly the same day. The date an entrant submitted has nothing to do with the mailing of a letter. Some years we have sent foreign regret letters a day earlier than all other letters. We do hold printing congrats letter until last. Some years, those do make it out of here on the same day as the other letters. Some years it's the next day.
Some entrants must not have noticed that we sent quarterfinal and regret letters in the exact same envelope as the we've-received-your-script letter. We now only have a single Nicholl envelope, with a colored yellow-gold Oscar as opposed to the gold foil Oscar that was on the fancy Academy Foundation envelopes and stationery.
Multiple entry letters are sent in the same envelope -- though the regret letters are separated from the congrats letters (hence the "better news to follow" note).
I am afraid that I attempt to ease up on my cramping hand by only signing one in a package of multiple entry regret letters. Sorry about that, but somehow I don't think my signature has that much value. This year, I did sign each letter for a script that received a top 15% or better note. In the past I had combined those notes on the first letter in the pack.
Someone claims that an Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated script did not advance in the Nicholl competition. I do not believe that this is true, but I am more than willing to be proven wrong. So far as I know, no film nominated as either Best Picture or Best Screenplay has ever had its script entered in the Nicholl competition.
Is it possible for "bad" scripts to advance in the competition? I know that I have read scripts in the quarter and semifinal rounds that I thought should not have advanced that far. Other judges have told me the same thing. But at least two judges in the first round and then, for the semifinalist scripts, at least two judges in the quarterfinal round thought these scripts were good. Something in the script touched them, the story, the characters, the dialogue, etc. And so they gave the scripts scores that sent them forward. To second-guess every score at every level of the competition would drive a person crazy. So, I don't do it. The scores are what they are; the scripts advance or not based upon those scores. We play no favorites here.
One poster claims that most readers are "minimum-wage wannabe losers" and that contest readers are "frustrated writers who will try to kill a good script just to validate their own inadequacies." I won't speak for most production company, agency and studio readers but the dozens (or is it hundreds) that I know are not "losers." And, to say the least, Nicholl readers are not looking to kill good scripts for any reason. Instead, they are truly gleeful whenever they find a script they love. Among the first and quarterfinal round Nicholl readers this year are current and former executives, produced writers, producers and directors.
I don't have anything close to complete stats developed yet, but since these two genres have been mentioned frequently, I'll offer these numbers: 72 scripts with the words "comedy" or "comic" in the genre slot advanced to the quarterfinals. 19 scripts with the word "horror" in the genre slot also advanced. While 72 doesn't seem like a bad total, it is an underperformance based on entry numbers. 19 is an overperformance.
While this thread seems to contain some reasonable information, I am somewhat taken aback by one statement made by Barb Doyon, in which she challenges Jeremy's mention that he is a reader --
"sorry, I didn’t see your name listed in the Professional Story Analyst Guild)"
Whatever else she knows, Barb apparently understands only a little about how the job of reader/story analyst actually exists in Hollywood.
Here's the concise version -- if you take the HCD guides at face value, there are thousands of production companies, agencies and managerial firms operating in Hollywood. Many of these places have readers, some full time, many part time. Several thousand people work as film and television industry readers at any given time. The overwhelming majority of these readers do piece work, that is, they are paid per script; they have no benefits, no vacation days, no paid holidays, no medical.
Currently, 155 people are members of the story analyst sub-group of the Editors Guild. At any given time approximately 100-120 of these folks are working as readers. When working as union story analysts, these readers earn a weekly salary, have a limitation on the number of pieces of material they read in a week (after, they are paid overtime), and enjoy full benefits. These approximately 100-120 folks currently employed work only for a select group of major studios and networks. They do not work for production and managerial companies and agencies; at least not in the capacity of a guild story analyst.
When someone calls herself a "union reader" or "union story analyst," then that person should be found among the list of 155, which can be accessed at the Editors Guild Local 700. When they are working, most of these 155 might also be called "studio readers."
Some confusion (especially in consultant advertising) with that last phrase, as many people have read at studios or read for production companies with deals with studios (and often with offices on studio lots) while not being one of the 155 guild members. Often, these other readers will also refer to themselves as studio readers or offer to provide "studio notes."
In any case, several thousand people are working today in the film and tv industries as readers. Only about 100 or so of these readers are also guild members.
Sorry to have bored you, Randy. I'll try not to let it happen again.
Sorry, too, that you apparently missed the reason for my post.
As I mentioned earlier, there are 155 union story analysts who are members of IATSE Local 700 of the Motion Picture Editors Guild. (The story analysts group merged with the editors group a few years back.)
In order to qualify to join the guild, one needs to work in the position of story analyst for 30 working days (six weeks) at one of the nine companies that employs guild analysts. Those companies include Disney, Columbia/Sony, Fox (including 2000 and Searchlight), MGM, Paramount, Warner Bros. and Universal. Exactly one guild story analyst works for ABC and another works for CBS. (Companies with studio deals and/or with offices on studio lots do not employ guild story analysts in that capacity.)
Of the 155 guild members, approximately 120-135 are employed full-time year round at these companies. Unless they notify the guild office otherwise, the 20-35 members currently not working at one of the companies as a story analyst is placed on the available roster.
When a position becomes open at one of these companies, the company must consider the most senior of the analysts on the available roster. Only if that person turns the position down or is found to be unsuitable for cause by the company is the company allowed to move on to the second most senior member on the available roster.
Recently, new members have joined the guild during the Disney Fellowship reading period, when Disney tends to use every available story analyst in order to read scripts for their contest. If additional readers are needed at Disney or if another union job opens at another company, Disney and/or the other company will hire new readers. If these story analysts work for at least 30 days, then they would become eligible to join the union.
Story analyst guild members do pay modest dues yearly.
While individual companies usually do require potential readers to write sample coverage, it is not typical that they administer any additional tests. Other than the 30-day work requirement, there are no tests involved in joining the story analysts guild. Nor are rcommendations required.
As I also mentioned earlier, union story analysts receive a weekly salary, which depends upon their experience. Most currently working members have reached the highest possible salary level. No union member working in the position of story analyst at one of the above listed companies is paid in a piecework capacity.
If a union story analyst were working for a company other than the above nine, they certainly could negotiate their price per script or book, but being a union member would have no special meaning in this situation. Any freelance reader could negotiate his rate; most companies simply offer a fee per script or book and allow the potential reader to take it or leave it. Often, readers who stay at a company over a period of years will be paid more per piece than a reader just joining that company.
It would be interesting to discover what story analyst group Barb Doyon belongs to, as there is no one named Barb Doyon among the group of the 155 union story analysts.
Perhaps there is another organized group of story analysts. Does this group have a name and an office? To whom is she paying dues? Barb mentioned a list of readers when she accused Jeremy of not being one. Where can this list be found?
Barb also mentioned the recent holiday lunch she attended at which there were well in excess of 155 readers. The union story analysts did not have such a lunch this year or last year or at any time in recent memory. If there was a lunch, there must be an organization. Could information about it be provided?
Barb also noted a long series of hoops through which one must jump in order to join the guild. As mentioned above, none of this is true. The only requirement to join the guild is the 30 days of work as a story analyst at one of the nine companies. Employment as a story analyst or reader at any other company or agency does not qualify you.
While it is possible that a crazed story editor at some company could have required several of the various tests Barb recounted, no reader I know (and I know dozens and have dealt with hundreds over the years) has ever had to do much more than write sample coverage and interview with a potential boss.
The CASABLANCA story is highly suspect. There actually is a tale involving an altered version of CASABLANCA, but it has been repeated on forums over the years until it usually is barely recognizable. Recently, I heard the story told as being about a writer who entered CASABLANCA into the Nicholl Fellowships competition. Not that I know of. To tell the original story briefly: in about 1980, a writer for Esquire magazine submitted a slightly altered version of CASABLANCA with the title of the original play, "Everyone Comes to Rick's," to a number of agencies and production companies. His article (which I believe can be found on the internet) chronicles his experience.
I'll apologize to Barb and to anyone else who thought I was attacking her thoughts about how movies work. As anyone who has read what I wrote knows, I never questioned any of that.
What I questioned was her attack on Jeremy for not being on a "list" of readers. I still would like to know -- what list should he have been on?
There are thousands of readers working for Hollywood production companies and agencies. Not being on a list of 155 union/guild story analysts has little meaning, as someone as accomplished as Barb should know.
But then Barb went on to discuss the "test" needed to enter the guild. Unfortunately, there is no such test. There hasn't been such a test for at least 25 years (and I only go back that far because that's how long one friend has been a member of the guild).
She also seems to think that guild readers have official standing at companies other than those who contractually must employ them. They do not.
Perhaps Barb belongs to some other group of story analysts, a group established to try to improve the lot of freelance readers throughout Hollywood. If such a group exists, that would be a good thing.
I'm sorry too if my questioning Barb's statements has caused her to leave these boards.
By the way, a single "Barbara" is listed among the 155 guild readers. Perhaps this is Barb Doyon. If so, it would be interesting to hear her discuss her experiences producing four tv movies.
Due to some changes being implemented for the 2005 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting competition, the application form will not be available until February 2005.
And it may not be until later in the month.
We are working to set up an online application process.
Sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.
"This nonsense started when Barb offered valuable advice free of charge."
No, Eric, it did not. The nonsense started when Barb attacked Jeremy's credentials as a reader rather than simply arguing against the ideas that he put forth.
Nicholl application forms are now available at www.oscars.org/nicholl in both pdf and Word versions.
We'll email 2004 entrants with attached application forms in both versions later this week. We'll also mail hard copy versions to those 2004 entrants without email addresses as well as to everyone who has asked for a hard copy version as soon as possible.
Sorry about the delay but as mentioned previously, we had hoped to have an online application process ready for this year. It is not currently available and may not be completed prior to the May 2 postmarked deadline.
A short checklist for Nicholl contest entries with the deadline fast approaching
Be certain that you have read and complied with the rules.
Be certain that you have filled out your application form completely and legibly.
Be certain that you have signed your application form.
If you are part of a collaborative team, be certain that both applicants have filled out and signed separate application forms.
If you are submitting more than one entry, you may include all of the scripts in a single package.
You also may write a single check or money order for the total entry fee for the multiple scripts.
May 2 is a postmark deadline. You only need to make certain that your script arrives at your post office early enough in the day on May 2 so that it will be properly postmarked.
It is permissible to ship scripts via courier services such as UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc. There is no need to overnight scripts.
If you are submitting to more than one competition at the same time, make sure that you send the proper form and entry fee to each competition. For instance, double-check that your Nicholl form has not been placed in your Austin envelope.
Scripts should be printed on three-hole paper.
Scripts should be bound with two or three brass fasteners (aka brads).
Card stock covers are recommended.
For foreign entrants:
If you do not have access to standard US paper, adjustments are allowed.
Scripts may be printed on A4 paper with two holes or four holes.
Do leave at least a 1.5 inch/3.8 cm bottom margin so that scripts can be copied onto US 8.5x11” paper if necessary.
Alternative fasteners may be used (but they should be similar in operation to brass brads).
Card stock covers are recommended.
Your title page should only include the title of your script.
Your name, address, contact should not appear anywhere in the script.
It is permissible to place registration information on the title page so long as your name does not appear.
You should not include a logline of your script on your title page.
If you have already submitted your script with a normal title page, we shall remove it from your script.
A few eligibility notes:
If you have earned more than $5,000 writing for narrative feature films and/or narrative television, then you are not eligible. The $5,000 limit is a cumulative amount. For example, three $2,000 options would make a writer ineligible to enter.
Writers of television news and/or documentary films remain eligible (so long as they are otherwise eligible).
Adaptations are not eligible. Typically, adaptations are based on a single source -- a novel, a non-fiction book, a short story, a news article, a movie, a TV series, etc. Additionally, scripts that depend upon the existence of a single source are also not eligible; typically, these use pre-existing fictional characters -- James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, the X-Men, Superman, etc. -- or are sequels to other movies (or books, TV shows, etc.) -- Star Trek, Star Wars, Scream, James Bond, Get Smart, etc.
Scripts based solely on fairy tales, mythological tales or the bible are usually not eligible.
Historical scripts based on research are eligible. If you consulted multiple sources for a script about Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, that script would be considered an original. However, if you consulted a single source for the same script, it would not be eligible.
Using a moment or two from a play in a script about actors would not cause that script to be an adaptation. Similar usage from other sources (news stories, sporting events, songs, etc.) would also not cause a script to be an adaptation.
[If you belong to another online screenwriting group and feel that this would be helpful to members, feel free to repost.]
Guess we can't edit that subject heading and take off that "s."
Over the years, the general quality has improved considerably, so that the totally awful scripts are a relatively small percentage of overall entries. Early on, I think the "absolutely awful" entries might have been about 10-15% of the total. I suspect now it's under 5%.
Not particularly good entries might constitute 30-50% of the total. "All right" to "pretty good" constitute the remainder. Few scripts entered in any year are better than the high end of "pretty good." (I realize that these categorizations are shaky at best and don't do much of a job of defining the quality of scripts, but given the variables that's about as good as I can do.)
To state that only "art house" scripts do well is silly and not true. What you might mean to say is that smaller, character driven scripts seem to have had the best results overall in the Nicholl competition. Even that is misleading as, year after year, all genres except for comedy advance to the quarterfinals and semifinals in about the same percentage as are entered.
For instance, LUCKY # SLEVIN was among the top 30 Nicholl scripts (in 2001, I think).
A moment on comedy. It's not quite as bad as my statement above might make it seem. If 10% of all entries are comedies in a year, only about 7% of the quarterfinalists will be comedies. So many comedies advance each year, just not in quite the percentage that they should. Why? Because humor, I think, is more subjective than any other aspect of storytelling/script reading. Make a reader laugh and a comedy has a chance; no laughter, no other strong qualities will save it. No other genre faces this problem. And individual taste comes more into play with comedy than with any other genre.
While Mrs. Nicholl did provide funding for awards to graduate students at Stanford, the Academy Nicholl Fellowships program has no connection with the Stanford program. For instance, Jeb Stuart, who won a Stanford award, is not a Nicholl Fellow so far as we are concerned. The Nicholl Fellowships began in 1986 at the Academy, with Allison Anders and Jeffrey Eugenides among the fellows that year.
Re: typos and poor grammar. It's a matter of degree and it depends upon the individual reader. No reader that I know is going to toss a script because of a few typos or poorly chosen phrases or misused verbs. What can affect a reader, though, is an overwhelming number of typos and consistently bad writing. If a script has ten typos in the first paragraph, there's a good chance that the reader will think it's bad, and the script may have little chance to overcome that first impression. Plenty of writers have done well in the competition, even winning, with numerous typos over a script's length and other problems (grammar, format, font, etc.).
Several horror scripts have won over the years -- including INTERSTATE, a vampire gangster thriller, and SEASON OF THE WITCH, a 13th century knight/witch/devil tale.
If Terry's "art house" category includes all small, character driven scripts, then it's true that there has been a tendency for those to do well in the competition. To name only some of the produced Nicholl titles, I would not place ARLINGTON ROAD, TRAVELLER, DOWN IN THE DELTA, FINDING FORRESTER or AKEELAH AND THE BEE in any art house category, even if as in the case of TRAVELLER the theatrical release was narrow. Even films such as BLUE CAR and MEAN CREEK don't seem art house to me, but they are small and character driven and did not attain wide theatrical releases.
[If you want to see way too many of my notes on various aspects of the Nicholl competition, click on the moviebytes system link at the bottom of this post.]
Sorry, Terri, about typoing your name. It's the old Moviebytes problem of not being able to look at other posts and moving along too quickly.
ARLINGTON ROAD seems to be a fairly mainstream conspiracy thriller to me. Plus it featured a well known cast and had a $28 million budget. If Polygram Films hadn't been bought by Universal, it would have received a more normal theatrical release.
The Nicholl competition had hoped to accept PDF versions of scripts this year but ran into some difficulties in setting up a system that would work for entrants, readers and us. We anticipate having it in place in 2009.
Since I've been doing a little research along these lines over the past year, I can add a little information.
Professional and represented writers submit their work to their agents and managers electronically (mostly in PDF) almost 100% of the time.
Most agents and managers submit scripts in the form desired by the production company or studio, more often electronically.
When working on assignment, writers send the script electronically, often in Final Draft (or whatever format is being used on the project). Same thing applies when in production.
Some agencies do submit paper copies.
When electronic versions are received at a production company, usually the scripts will be forwarded to executives and readers electronically. Individuals may then print out a copy.
When scripts are sent to decision makers (studio chiefs who can say "yes"), paper copies may be delivered. Paper copies may also be sent to major actors. (But these are rare cases when a "yes" may greenlight a project.)
Bottom line: writers should send scripts in the form desired by the recipient. Most will request electronic versions.
I don't visit Moviebytes as often as I once did, so I apologize for arriving so late to this topic. Some thoughts:
Look into the Screenwriters Network competition. While I haven't spoken to anyone there recently, their comp was adminstered by their membership. Essentially, writers helping writers.
Making the finances work may be the biggest obstacle if you're attempting this without sponsorship. (Depending upon where you are, you might consider partnering with a state or city film office, a film festival or another film organization. This would provide legitimacy and might help with some of the legal issues. Plus Web site and e-mail support.)
What sort of infrastructure costs would you encounter? At least: Office space. Mailing address / PO Box. Computer. Phone. Web site construction. Online entry system (though perhaps you could do everything through Without a Box). Data base construction. IT support for Web/computer elements. Banking.
Staff tasks (which could be you, mostly): Application form creation & distribution. Information center - answering questions. Handling application, entry & payment problems. Script handling (if paper copies). PDF handling (if electronic). Phone & e-mail response. Script assignment to readers & judges. Reading. Score tallying. Selection of advancing scripts. Script copying (for finals?) Judging of final scripts.
Other costs: Prize money. Awards Ceremony. Marketing. Advertising.
What else? Find professionals who will offer non-monetary prizes (notes, mentorship, etc.). Be creative in your prizes and connections (as Jim Mercurio & partner have been with their start-up competition). Connect with agencies and production & managerial companies who will be final judges and/or will read finalist/winning scripts.
Actually, the Nicholl Fellowships' deadline has been extended once -- when the "Rodney King" riots following the jury verdict on April 29, 1992 shut down Los Angeles for several days.
Otherwise, we feel that it is not fair to all of the entrants who have entered on time to extend the deadline.
We hope to be able once again to offer an early, slightly less expensive early deadline in 2009. By getting more scripts in earlier, that allows us more time for first round reading, which makes life in our office a little less hectic.
FYI - the Nicholl online application capable of accepting PDF uploads is now live.
Just over 20 scripts have been entered as PDFs thus far.
Thanks for your patience.
Some quick pointers if you do plan to enter online with a PDF.
You need a Visa or Mastercard. You should have your script's log line worked out prior to starting the application. If you are part of a collaborative team, you should have all the contact information for both members of the team. You should prepare a PDF script file without your name, address, phone, e-mail or other identifying information. Only the Script Title should be on the title page. WGA registration number is also permitted on the title page. Your PDF file needs to be under 2.0 MB. If your PDF file was converted through Final Draft or Movie Magic or another script processor, it will be probably be closer to 250K. Scanned files can get large and the system will not allow any large files to be uploaded. You should know the location of your PDF so you can find it quickly (the online application allows you to browse your files to upload it).
For those who prefer to enter by mail and on paper, PDF and Word applications are available at www.oscars.org/nicholl. This same address leads to the online application form.
Best of luck to all who decide to enter.
"Results of a four-month Hollywood tracking study conducted by a literary manager:
"170 projects were introduced to the studio system in 4 months."
I have to ask: what does "170 scripts introduced to the studio system in 4 months" mean? Those were all the submissions to the major studios (or to all studios) in that period? I assume that includes pitches, literary properties, games, etc.
Extending that number to a full year: there were only about 510 submissions to studios in a year? Only about 70 sales in a year?
Clearly, I haven't seen the original video. Perhaps the stats are in some context that makes sense. Free-standing, they do not.
Due to technical difficulties (i.e., the online application is down), the Nicholl deadline has been extended to 11:59 PM on May 2. Depending on how things go this afternoon for the IT folks, the deadline may be extended further.
If you're thinking about mailing your script to beat the deadline, please wait for the Nicholl online system to be fixed. The deadline has been extended and could be extended an additional day (or more).
Sorry for the inconvenience. The payment page of the Nicholl application can not currently be accessed. Our IT department is working feverishly to correct the problem. Unfortunately, we do not know when it will be solved. It could be within the next several hours. It may take longer. Meanwhile, if you are planning to upload a PDF version of your script, please be sure to remove your name and contact information from the script (prior to converting to PDF). The title page should have only your title (and your WGA registration or LOC copyright number, if you wish).
If the problem persists, the deadline will be extended accordingly. That extension will be noted on the Nicholl front page at www.oscars.org/nicholl .
Thursday evening: Nicholl online application seems to be working again. Just had 150 uploads in about 40 minutes.
Current deadline -- 11:59 PM, Saturday, May 2.
Season of the Witch, the 15th produced Nicholl-winning script, is slated to be released theatrically on March 21.
One problem with Hollywhooped Dave's argument is that his suggestion that "even Nicholl winners have spotty records ever working in the industry" could be applied equally to his breaking in advice in the same column. Since Dave offers advice of moving to LA or attending film school or making a film, shouldn't he also note that folks who move to LA with the intention of working in the film industry have spotty records as far as entering and remaining in the film industry? Or that film school grads have spotty records as well? Or that more often than not, first time feature filmmakers do not make a second feature?
Breaking in as a screenwriter (or into film in any capacity) is not easy, no matter what path you choose. Attending film school, living in Los Angeles, making short films or a feature film are certainly paths that many working writers have followed. Many have also entered contests.
For instance, prior to becoming working professionals Oscar winning screenwriters Dan Taradash, Francis Ford Coppola and Eric Roth each won a writing contest. Prior to embarking on their professional careers, these writers placed as Nicholl semifinalists: Michael Arndt ("Little Miss Sunshine"), Vince Gilligan (creator of "Breaking Bad"), Gavin Hood (director of "Tsotsi" and "Rendition"), Damon Lindelof (co-creator of "Lost"), Joshua Marston ("Maria Full of Grace"), Melissa Rosenberg ("Twilight," "Full Moon" and "Dexter") and Meredith Stiehm (creator of "Cold Case").
For beginning writers, competitions offer much that has nothing to do with winning and the aftermath. For instance, they offer deadlines; they can serve as yardsticks; some offer written feedback; they can serve as stepping stones; those that use industry professionals as judges offer the possibility of writers connecting with those industry judges; those connected with festivals and conferences such as Austin, Nantucket and the Screenwriting Expo offer opportunities to connect with professional writers, agents and managers, producers and executives; those that provide contact information or distribute log lines or scripts to industry professional offer the possibility of making connections within the industry; etc.
Beginning screenwriters should use as many avenues available to them as they can in attempting to become better writers and then in attempting to break in professionally. The Nicholl Fellowships is simply one among those many avenues. So are a number of other competitions.
BTW, the Nicholl competition is now officially open for 2010. Information can be found at oscars.org/nicholl.
As Jim states, reading has to do with how organized any competition is. Annually, the Nicholl competition receives thousands of scripts at the deadline, and those are evaluated as carefully as scripts entered a month or two earlier. It's simply a matter of planning.
Although this doesn't take into account the quality of scripts entered early, middle or late, in 2009 of the 321 scripts that advanced to the Nicholl quarterfinals:
7 were among the first 100 scripts entered; 28 were among the first 500 scripts entered; 6 were among the last 100 scripts entered; and 24 were among the last 500 scripts entered.
If you look at the whole 6380 scripts and 321 quarterfinalists, the average was 5 quarterfinalists per 100 entries. So early and late were pretty close to the average.
Perhaps there's a slight disconnect in the amount of reading that different contests undertake and the number of scripts that advance to the next rounds, whatever they might be called.
In the 2009 Nicholl competition all scripts were read once.
In 2009, about 2800 scripts were read a second time (in some competitions that might be described as advancing; it is not in the Nicholl competition).
In 2009, about 800 scripts were read a third time (in other competitions this might be described as advancing to another round; it is not in the Nicholl competition). The top 15% of entrants were notified that their scripts reached that level.
In 2009, the 321 Nicholl quarterfinalists were selected based on the best two scores of the first three reads.
In the 2009 Nicholl Quarterfinal Round, all scripts were read three additional times.
In 2009, 114 scripts advanced to the Nicholl Semifinal Round; all semifinal scripts were read by four additional judges drawn from the ranks of Academy members.
Selection of Nicholl finalists were based on those ten reads.
All scripts advancing to the Nicholl finals were read by members of the Nicholl Committee. By the end of the competition Nicholl-winning scripts will have been read by 20-25 different judges.
BTW, the Nicholl Fellowships competition now has a presence on Facebook where status updates are regularly posted.
Sorry we didn't respond to your e-mail, but I think it's because we didn't receive it. Perhaps you sent it to email@example.com, which would disappear into the ether.
We are pretty good in responding to questions, even those that are answered in some detail in the FAQs; usually we answer the same day, often within an hour or two.
FYI: don't forget about the new Nicholl Facebook page, where we post information, tips and reminders and answer questions when asked. If something goes awry with the application process (such as a server crashing), information about it will probably appear on the Nicholl Facebook page first.
Also, with all entries moved online, we are Confirming entries soon after they are uploaded. Right now, that's happening on the next day. We may slow down a tad near the two deadlines.
April 1 is an early deadline, with a $30 entry fee.
May 1 is the regular deadline, with a $45 entry fee.
I'm not quite sure what you're asking, but I'll try to respond:
All scripts are read once. Those that receive a score of 60 or higher (out of 100) are read a second time.
To be read a third time, one of the initial scores has to be near 80 or higher (the exact number varies from year to year depending on all the scores),
It usually takes two scores of 80 or higher to advance to the quarterfinal round.
I would guess that, like the Nicholl Fellowships, most screenplay competitions are seeking to identify and encourage talented new screenwriters.
I'm pretty sure there are competitions that don't restrict entries to amateur screenwriters.
I'm not aware of any legal restrictions that would prevent competitions from opening to anyone they wished to make eligible.
For the latest news and tips, visit the Nicholl Fellowships Facebook page — facebook.com/NichollFellowships .
Over 1,200 scripts were entered on May 1 last year. Shaping up to be an even greater number uploaded on May 1 this year. If at all possible, you should consider uploading and completing your online application prior to May 1.
If you do accidentally forget to clean your script prior to uploading, don't worry we'll clean it for you. No need to upload a new version and definitely no reason to pay for a second submission.
PDF files greater than 2.0 MB are not accepted by the Nicholl online process. If you have a large PDF file, you probably are using Final Draft 7.0 with its known issue or have scanned a hard copy of your script. Upgrading to FD 7.1.3 solves the problem for Final Draft users. Another option for both issues is to download and install a free PDF converter such as PDF995, CutePDF or PrimoPDF. These work with almost any program and will create normal-sized script PDF files.
After submitting your script and entry fee, you will know your script has been processed and all is well when Confirmed appears next to your script title in your online account.
Your script may be entered with or without a title page, so long as it does not include your name or other contact information. You may include a WGA and/or LOC registration number on the title page.
If you run into problems of any sort, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We plan on monitoring our email all day and into the night on May 1 and will do our best to respond in a timely fashion all week.
Feel free to repost this note in other forums.
Having attended every year, I'll echo what has already been said - far more convenient to be in the Driskill or Stephen F. Austin.
Still, the Omni is just across the street diagonally from the Driskill. The Courtyard Marriott is about two blocks away and the Hilton at the Convention Center about four. I have stayed at the Radisson on the river, which was pretty but those six blocks up hill going were not much fun. There are other hotels in the four-eight block range.
Far easier for attending panels and films at the Paramount and parties and the Driskill Bar or SF Austin bar to be in one of those two hotels or the Omni.
Staying on the outskirts of Austin or at the airport Hilton or in Round Rock would mean a 15-30 minute drive depending on time of day and traffic and then paying for valet or garage parking.
Didn't know the rate was in the $300-400 range. That's through the festival? I believe they block book rooms and make them available to attendees.
I have probably posted a similar message on these boards, certainly on other boards. Wondering about why contest-winning scripts don't sell misunderstands how the studio film industry works. Amateur writers seldom sell specs; professional writers also seldom sell specs but they do so far more often than amateur writers.
Most screenwriting careers are built in stages (but not all writers pass through all stages):
Getting an education, often including film school. Working on short films and/or making short films. Working on feature films, often indies. Becoming involved in film organizations, festivals, conferences as an attendee, volunteer, worker. Working in the film industry in an entry level position. Entering screenwriting competitions. Making connections with industry folks through some/many of the above. Getting your script(s) into the hands of producers, agents, managers and other industry types. Taking meetings with some of the above. Getting signed by an agent and/or manager. Having script(s) submitted to producers by agent or manager. Taking more meetings. Doing a take on a producer's possible assignment. Pitching new script ideas in yet more meetings. Hearing pitches from producers in meetings. Possibly optioning a script or two for little money during the latter half of the above.
Getting a first script assignment.
Far more feature careers begin in some manner similar to the above than ever begin with a spec sale.
Back when Howard Meibach was routinely putting out the spec sales directory, he told me that sales averaged about 12-14 a month and that sales by "new writers" averaged about one a month. (I'm fairly certain his definition of "new writers" meant new feature writers; for instance, Alan Ball would have been a new writer when he sold American Beauty even though he had been a tv writer for a number of years.) Even calling all new writers amateurs, that's only about a dozen sales a year, and yet on average about 100 or so feature writers join the WGA each year. 12 through a spec sale; 88+ through assignments.
Since the discussion began with a mention of script sales, the above pertains to writers working on studio theatrical features for the most part. The indie world is another avenue but typically spec sales are not a major component of indie film production.
Bottom line: the reason contest winning scripts seldom are bought by producers is because most producers are not interested in buying scripts from amateur writers. Plus, producers rarely buy specs with their own funds anyway; usually, they bring a script to the studio at which they have a deal and the studio actually buys the script, with the producer attached. Studios are also not interested in buying scripts from amateur writers.
If you're going to offer pronouncements about how things work in the real world, you should know how the real world works (in this instance, the rather unreal world of studios and production companies).
Studio readers do not have slush piles of 600 scripts to get through. Readers who actually work at a studio are union members and typically read two scripts or one novel per day. Since they are covering every submission, they need to read the entire script or book. Oh, they may be turned off by a weak opening and they may skim but they don't toss the script aside after two or ten pages.
Agency and production company readers providing coverage operate in a similar manner, though they often read far more than two scripts in a day.
Lower level and/or newer companies with looser submission policies may not cover many scripts. If that's the case, then these readers could toss scripts early on if all that's required is a "no" for the vast majority of submissions.
Of course, executives, producers, agents, managers can do whatever they want with many submissions, and they could well toss scripts early on. As long as they have coverage from previous readers, they can respond about a submission as necessary even when they haven't read the script.
None of this is to undercut the notion that your opening pages need to be strong. They do. If a reader at any level isn't compelled to keep turning the pages, that's not a good thing.
Instructions to Nicholl readers:
Read the scripts.
No one is told to read only 10 or 30 or 60 pages of the script entries.
Since many of the Nicholl readers are also writers or involved in development, I also suggest that they should treat each script as they would want their own scripts treated.
As stated earlier in this thread and in the Nicholl FAQs and in the emails sent to each entrant, all scripts are read once, just under half of the scripts are read twice and hundreds are read a third time.
The Nicholl competition has never read or scored all entries twice during the first round.
Congratulations to everyone who advanced to the quarterfinal round. Regrets to those entrants who did not advance.
71 posted comment lines on Facebook didn't advance?
Huh? How would you know that?
Do you enjoy posting facts that you just make up?
Actually, 90 comment lines were posted.
In the Facebook Note about the notification email PS notes it is stated that many scripts were read three times. All scripts read three times had a "highly rated" score and could have had posted comment lines.
Scripts receiving at least one "highly rated" score numbered over 900. Most of these scripts received another positive score and many received two additional positive scores.
The 71 scripts cited were those that received two negative reads after having garnered one reader's appreciation. "Being eligible" does not suggest that any lines were posted from these scripts.
In fact, the 90 posted comment lines could have come from any of the over 900 scripts read three times. Since we wanted the comment lines to be anonymous, we did not keep track of the source scripts beyond ensuring that we did not post two lines from the same script.
I hope I won't be adding to anyone's confusion.
Nearly 2900 scripts were read twice in the 2010 Nicholl competition. If either (or both) of the two scores was "highly rated," then the script was read a third time.
Over 900 entries received at least one "highly rated" score, making all of them eligible for a posted comment line and causing all of them to receive three reads. Of those over 900 scripts, only 71 did not receive a second positive read.
I decided to tell the 71 entrants about the "highly rated" score because I thought they would like to know that one reader appreciated their scripts. In some cases, actually loved their scripts. Unforunately for these entrants, two additional readers didn't like their scripts and so they were not included in any of the groups of scripts receiving two positive reads.
In the Nicholl competition, a script receiving a 95-35 would always be read again. A script could advance with a 95-35-75 but not with a 95-35-55.
Having only been at various Expos for a few hours total beyond the time it took to arrive, appear on a panel or for a presentation and then depart, I may not have the same reaction as a multi-day attendee. That said, the Expo always seemed like a high-end Walmart - loads of panels, including some great ones, but not much in the way of character. Ausin, which I have attended for multiple days every year, seems more like a wonderful small department store. A fair amount of variety, though far less than the Expo, but far more wonderful events and opportunites.
With the Expo, there didn't seem to be much opportunity for routine interaction between panelists and attendees. In Austin, you're mostly trapped in the same hotels and walk the same corridors and have beers at the same bar.
Two quick Austin stories: the second year I was meeting some internet friends for the first time prior to the conference opening. Into our midst stepped a tall, younger man, who sat down and introduced himself and then joined us for lunch. It was Shane Black. Last year at about two am a half-dozen or so people parked themselves in the Driskill lobby and started talking mostly about the life of a screenwriter. Heather was there, and eventually so were Terry Rossio, Shane Black, several other pros and a group of maybe 18 people. The conversation continued until four or so.
It's these sorts of happenstance outside scheduled events that make Austin wonderful. I just don't think there are similar opportunities at the Expo (but the Expo does have far more panels and topics).
Just posted this on the Nicholl Facebook page and thought it would help clear up some misunderstandings about the PS Notes.
What does the PS Note in the Notification Email Mean
Here are the different PS notes that were written on entrants' email notifications. Placement was determined on the basis of the two highest scores for each script. Each group includes ties.
''PS:Your script was among the next 100 scripts that just missed advancing to the quarterfinals.'' After the 351 quarterfinalists, these were the highest scoring scripts. All were read three times. Places 352 — 459. 108 entries.
''PS: Your script was among the top 10% of all entries.'' This group falls just below the next 100 scripts. All were read three times. Places 460 — 684. 225 entries.
''PS: Your script was among the top 15% of all entries.'' This is the next group in line. Many were read three times; some were read twice. Places 685 — 1021. 337 entries.
''PS: Your script was among the top 20% of all entries.'' These scripts received two positive reads but none received a high enough score to generate a third read. Places 1022 — 1361. 340 entries.
''PS: Your script received two positive reads.'' These scripts received two positive reads but did not score high enough to be among the top 20%. Places 1362 — 2153. 792 entries
''PS: Your script was highly rated by one reader.'' These scripts received one strong positive score, high enough to be eligible to be among the reader comment excerpts posted on Facebook, but then received two negative reads. We only counted places for scripts with two positive scores. 23 entries.
No PS on email notifications Some of the remaining 4,554 scripts received two reads, one positive and one negative. The positive score was not high enough to generate a third read. Most of these scripts were read only once.
I'd post here more often as well if I could remember my password, if posting a "Nicholl is open" thread didn't feel as if I were spamming the forum, and if people asked me questions about the Nicholl competition.
As the Nicholl early deadline approaches, a few tips and reminders to anyone currently in panic mode trying to make the 11:59 pm PT, March 15 cut-off.
Final Draft 7.0 creates immense PDF files, which the Nicholl application will not allow to upload. Upgrading to FD 7.1 or later or adding a free PDF converter such as CutePDF or PDF995 will eliminate the problem.
Entrants have found that our finicky application form seems to like some browsers in some OSs on some days and others on other days. If you're hitting a wall in Internet Explorer or Safari, try switching to Chrome or Firefox. Or vice versa.
We have discovered that the Select Script (for upload) button does not function in Firefox 3.6.x. It is possible that it may not work in other older Firefox versions. The solution is to update to Firefox 10 or to switch to IE or Safari or Chrome.
If you're a new entrant and have not yet created an account, you might want to do so now rather than wait until 11:37 pm on March 15. Accounts can be created in advance and are needed to access the application form.
Having a log line ready to go prior to filling out the application may save you a few minutes. BTW, log lines are never seen by readers but do help us assign scripts to readers.
Remember to remove your name and other personal information from your title page and all other pages of your screenplay prior to creating your PDF.
If you have any questions or have encountered any problems with the application, please email us at nicholl at oscars.org. Or add your questions to this thread. Emailing may garner a quicker response.
Good luck to all entrants.
The Nicholl application form, rules and FAQs are linked at:
We put information on the Nicholl Facebook page because we can do so at any time, on any day, about any topic. We do not currently have that capability on the Nicholl pages at oscars.org. Nor can we always place new information at oscars.org where it can easily be found by users. We have been promised that a new Web design will ease navigation problems while also giving us a blog/wall where new information can be posted in a timely fashion.
BTW, you don't need to be a Facebook member to access the Nicholl Facebook page. Anyone can see all the information we post. (A non-member cannot post comments and cannot see other users' comments.)
The notice regarding your Top 20% placement would have been in the PS at the end of the regret email that let you know that you did not advance to the Academy Nicholl Quarterfinal Round.
Being in the Top 20% would not place you on either the Quarterfinalist or Semifinalist lists.
Academy Nicholl Quarterfinalists are approximatly the top 5%.
Semifinalists are approximately the top 2%.
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