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Fellowships have scribes hitting strides

What do “Speed 2,” “Excess Baggage” and “Air Force One” have in common?

Besides being upcoming transportation-themed summer pics, all three were penned by writers who got their first career break after winning a Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting.

For 12 years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has been handing out cash grants — currently worth $25,000 — to up to five struggling screenwriters with no previous professional credits.

In return, writers agree to complete at least one new feature script during their yearlong fellowship.

In 1992, “Air Force One” scribe Andrew Marlowe was working at a bank stuffing foreclosure notices into envelopes. “I wasn’t exactly adding to the positive energy of L.A.,” says Marlowe, who now has three projects set up at studios around town.

“After I won, I started getting calls from the same agents who a month before had told me they were too busy to read my stuff,” he says. “I was also able to go to the dentist.”

Max Adams was a student in Utah when she won a Nicholl Fellowship and the Austin Heart of Film Festival screenwriting award in 1994.

Less than three years later, the Alicia Silverstone starrer “Excess Baggage,” based on Adams’ spec script, is set for an August release.

In addition, she’s written a remake of “The Ladykillers” for Touchstone, done a rewrite on TriStar’s adaptation “One for the Money” and sold an untitled romantic comedy pitch to Universal, with producer Bob Kosberg.

“Speed 2” co-writer Randall McCormick was planning on finding a waiter job when he got out of UCLA film school in 1992. Besides offering him a financial reprieve, McCormick says, the Nicholl Fellowship gave him a much needed boost of self-confidence.

“Even now, when I have self-doubts, I look back and think, ‘Hey, maybe I can write.’ ”

The Academy received more than 4,000 entries in this year’s competition, which will be winnowed down to a manageable number by a squadron of hired readers. Quarter- and semifinalists are judged by Academy members, with the 10 or 12 finalists judged by a volunteer selection committee.

One member of that committee is filmmaker Allison Anders, who credits winning the first Nicholl Fellowship in 1986 with helping her get off welfare.

Anders (“Gas Food Lodging,” “Grace of My Heart”) says she looks forward to reading the new crop of screenplays.

“I read a lot of Hollywood scripts, and I often don’t see the character, I just see the actor the writer had in mind,” Anders says. “New writers aren’t so jaded that they’re writing with a specific agenda in mind.”

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