You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Nicholl winners get the write stuff from pros

Writers receive $25,000, advice from Norman, Kanter

Mark Norman, who knows a thing or two about weaving through the Hollywood maze, had a message for the five winners of the Nicholl screenwriting fellowships.

Don’t take any nonsense.

Norman, who shared an Oscar this year for writing “Shakespeare in Love,” said studio execs, agents and other industry heavies “are lucky you exist, lucky that you took the time out to write something.”

In the audience at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, the five winners — Chris Balibrera, Thomas Lynch, Annmarie Morais, Jamie Silverman and Rebecca Sonnenshine — and the five runners-up listened attentively, no doubt aware that, historically, writers have rarely been afforded great respect in the Hollywood pantheon.

“It’s pretty much up to you,” Norman said at the recent ceremony. “You’re the storytellers — you dream this stuff up. Your mission is to go through the swirling bullshit confusion that goes along with getting something made in this 500-year-old entertainment industry.”

Norman’s reference to this sesquicentennial came at the tail end of a story about his research into “Shakespeare,” during which he discovered that the first showbiz lawsuit was filed in 1620 by an English theatrical company against one of its contracted writers. The scribe had agreed to pen three plays, but finished just one.

“It wasn’t his fault — there was a plague,” Norman said, relating the poor writer’s excuse. Every since, he went on, scribes have been held to constraining contracts, to the detriment of their craft.

Veteran comic writer Hal Kanter, who addressed the audience earlier in the evening, said writing is “an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none.” Nevertheless, Kanter said, he loves the job — “I just can’t stand the paperwork.”

Gee Nicholl — who, with her late husband, Don, initiated the awards program in 1985 through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences — looked out at the crowd and said, “It’s so nice to see people working and actually being paid.”

Nicholl also complimented one of last year’s fellows, Michael Rich, whose screenplay “Finding Forrester” is in development at Sony-based Fountainbridge Films, with Sean Connery set to star.

Each of the winning writers receives $25,000, with the understanding that each will complete a feature-length screenplay during the following year. The Academy does not involve itself commercially with the finished scripts.

Since the Nicholl fellowships were founded, 40,000 scripts have been entered, and $1.5 million awarded.

This year, Balibrera won for “Harvest”; Lynch, “The Beginning of Wisdom”; Morais, “Bleeding”; Silverman, “Last Meals”; and Sonnenshine, “Mermaid Dreams.”

Silverman, a Hollywood High School teacher who was a quarterfinalist in the contest once before, said the Nicholl is “one of the few awards that appreciably changes people’s lives.”

Nicholl Fellows have been busy. In the course of this year, 10 screenplays written by various winners have gone into production, including “End of Days,” “Scream 3,” “Mary Jane Can’t Dance,” “Erin Brockovich” and “The Hollow Man.”

More Film


    Oscar Nominee Sondra Locke Dies at 74

    Actress and director Sondra Locke, who received a supporting actress Oscar nomination in her first movie role for “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” died Nov. 3 at 74. The Los Angeles County Public Health Department confirmed her death. She died due to breast and bone cancer, according to Radar Online, which reported that she [...]

  • Clint Eastwood and Alison Eastwood'The Mule'

    Clint Eastwood: Why Alison Eastwood Came Out of Acting Retirement for Her Dad

    Clint Eastwood’s daughter Alison Eastwood was done with acting after appearing in 2014’s “Finding Harmony.” Or so she thought. It was a Friday night and she and her husband were heading to dinner when her father’s producer Sam Moore called. “He [says], ‘You know, your dad wants you to do this film,” Alison recalls. “I [...]

  • 'Dead Women Walking' Review: Uncompromising, Powerful

    Film Review: 'Dead Women Walking'

    The sober and gripping “Dead Women Walking” focuses on the final days of a series of female inmates facing the death sentence. Divided into nine chapters, each inching its way inexorably closer to the moment of execution, the drama turns the fragmentation of its approach to a powerful advantage. Not only do the individual stories [...]

  • Sam Mendes

    Sam Mendes' World War I Drama '1917' Set for Awards-Season Launch on Christmas 2019

    Universal Pictures has given an awards-season release date of Dec. 25, 2019, to Sam Mendes’ World War I drama “1971.” Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners is producing “1917” through its DreamWorks Pictures brand. “1917” will open in limited release on Christmas Day then go wide two weeks later on Jan. 10, 2020. Mendes wrote the script [...]

  • Ventana Sur Queer Latin Film Panel

    Ventana Sur: Panel Talks Merits, Setbacks in Latin Queer Cinema

    BUENOS AIRES — Four venerable professionals from the cinema world joined on Monday evening for Queer Cinema In Latin America, a frank discussion on Latin America’s role within the queer filmscape for Ventana Sur’s Industry conference series held at the UCA campus in Buenos Aires. Touching on advancements in character arc and notable achievements in [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez 'Absolutely' Wants to Direct Film and Television

    Jennifer Lopez epitomizes the phrase “she’s done it all” — but there’s still more that the superstar would like to do. Lopez recently directed her first music video, “Limitless,” the track featured on her new rom-com “Second Act,” and it seems the multi-hyphenate has caught the directing bug. “Absolutely, absolutely,” Lopez responded when asked by [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content