Live Academy Awards 2015

2015 Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting Awards

The Academy Nicholl Fellowships celebrated its 30th anniversary in high style on the evening of November 4, 2015 with a moving, hilarious and unforgettable presentation of the five newest winners of the annual international competition. The ceremony also included a live read of scenes from the winning scripts for the third consecutive year.

Academy CEO Dawn Hudson welcomed the packed audience at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, noting that the screenplay submissions have grown over time to the current total this year of 7, 442 entries, from which twelve finalists were chosen and five ultimately selected for Nicholl Fellowships. Introductions were given by Oscar-nominated screenwriter and Nicholl Committee Chair Robin Swicord (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and the ceremony’s director, Rodrigo Garcia, who teamed again this year with producer Julie Lynn, whose collaborative credits include Albert Nobbs, Mother and Child, Nine Lives, and the upcoming Last Days in the Desert.

This year’s read was performed by four talented actors who brought the characters in each selected scene to life. Familiar to TV viewers for her multiple Emmy-winning role on Picket Fences, Kathy Baker most recently appeared in the romantic drama The Age of Adaline and Boulevard opposite Robin Williams in his final role, with past credits including Saving Mr. Banks, The Jane Austen Book Club, Cold Mountain, The Cider House Rules and Edward Scissorhands. A new face on movie screens this year, O’Shea Jackson Jr. debuted as his father, best known as Ice Cube, in the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton. A star of the Best Picture Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire, Freida Pinto is now a producer in her own right and has also been seen in such films as Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Immortals, Miral and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. A television veteran of such series as Sons of Anarchy, The West Wing, NYPD Blue and L.A. Law, Jimmy Smits has amassed numerous film credits over his career including The Jane Austen Book Club, Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith and My Family, Mi Familia.

The first Fellowship was presented by Swicord to Andrew Friedhof for Great Falls. His excerpted scene was set in modern-day America and set up the collision of morals between a deputy and her superior while transporting a death row inmate. Incredibly, this convincing tale was created by an Australian railway engineer who was inspired by his travels through the American West and used Google Maps as guidelines for constructing his script. “We don’t all look like Hemsworth, ” Friedhof joked upon getting to the podium. He characterized his and four other fellow winner’s enthusiastic journey through Nicholl awards week, that included time with the Nicholl committee and Academy members and a visit to the Academy’s library, “like herding five excited cats.”

Producer Stephanie Allain (Beyond the Lights) presented the second Fellowship to Sam Regnier for Free Agent. His dramatized scene featured two strong female characters bonding on the basketball court with an impromptu life lesson through sports metaphors. Noting this is the beginning of a promising career, Allain remarked, “I love a beginner’s mind” of Regnier. She found his writing of female characters so convincing that she was happy to be proven wrong after being convinced this script was written by a woman. Regnier issued a disclaimer at the start of his speech for the intense emotions that would erupt as he thanked his family, including his children who inspired the script, and shared a touching story about a special bottle of champagne (which can be heard in his video below).

The third Fellowship was presented by screenwriter Dana Stevens (Safe Haven) to Amy Tofte for Addis Abeka. Another example of a writer shattering expectations, this intimate portrayal of Ethiopia was written by a South Dakota native. Tofte was inspired to go to Africa after her father’s death and transformed the experience into the story of an Ethiopian orphan whose exceptional ping-pong skills help his herculean efforts to find and free his imprisoned brother. In contrast to the familiar advice of writing what you know, Stevens found from Tofte’s script that “the thing that inspires you is what do you want to know.” Tofte tearfully expressed the joy of her experience and offered heartfelt thanks for “the humanity and care that goes into this contest.”

Oscar-nominated screenwriter Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) presented the fourth Fellowship to Anthony Grieco for Best Sellers. His excerpted scene gave a glimpse of the witty tale of a young female editor under a deadline to save her job and company by entreating an alcoholic bestselling writer to turn out the book he owes them. Inspired by the evening, Ray improvised his presentation by sharing some valuable advice he gleaned from Paddy Chayefsky and noting that “95% of what you do [as a writer] is problem solving.” Greico was startled by hearing his words read aloud, concluding “That was way better than anything I’ve ever heard in my writer’s group.” He went on to offer a funny and sincere dedication to his mother, late father and wife, of whom he felt, “Not only do you edit my work, you edit my life.”

The evening’s final Fellowship was given by screenwriter Tyger Williams (The Perfect Guy) to Elizabeth Chomko for What They Had. The excerpted scene is sampled from a seriocomic story about a daughter coming home to help her parents deal with the challenges of Alzheimer’s and the dilemma of opting for a supervised care facility. “This story was a gift, ” she explained after Williams noted her extended process of developing her script and eventually submitting her first, most impassioned draft. Her concluding remarks also offered a powerful statement about the encouragement and the celebration of creativity felt that evening: “Maybe the world wants to hear more from us.”

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Academy Awards 2015
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