The scripts of some of Hollywood’s newest up-and-coming film scribes came to life on Thursday night at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored the winners of its Nicholl Fellowships in screenwriting.
For the second year in a row, the event included a live read of scenes from each of the winning scripts. This year’s program featured “The Fault in Our Stars” thesp Ansel Elgort, “Selma” star Tessa Thompson, “The Shawshank Redemption” actor Clancy Brown and Jack O’Connell of the upcoming Angelina Jolie-helmed pic “Unbroken.”
Founded in 1985, the Nicholl Fellowship program is aimed at promoting emerging voices and helping new artists break into the industry and launch their careers as screenwriters. Academy prexy Cheryl Boone Isaacs told the audience that this year the program received a record 7,511 entries from writers all around the world. The winners will each receive a $35,000 stipend and are expected to complete a new feature film screenplay during their fellowship year.
The event, directed and produced by Rodrigo Garcia and Julie Lynn, started out on a somewhat somber note with a scene from British scribe Sam Baron’s script “The Science of Love and Laughter.” The story centers on a neuroscientist who decides to leave his wife, but then finds out that she has cancer and decides to try to save their marriage. Thompson and O’Connell read the parts of the troubled couple as they attempt to reconcile their differences and support one another.
Baron, who was presented with his fellowship award by “Selma” helmer and former Nicholl applicant Ava DuVernay, dedicated the honor to his late grandmother and his mother, who has now been in remission for five years.
During the live read of a scene from Sallie West’s “Moonflower,” Brown broke into a Scottish accent and lent his smooth cadence to the romantic story of a woman who makes cellos by hand and sends a special one to a handsome Scotsman whom she has never met.
After accepting her award from Eva Marie Saint, West shared the unconventional route that led her to write this script.
“Last year at this time, having a secret security clearance, I was writing instruction manuals for the communication systems aboard Air Force One,” West revealed, adding that she finished writing “Moonflower” after she was laid off.
While reading the next scene from Melissa Iqbal’s science fiction love story “The Death Engine,” Brown garnered laughs from the audience as he did his best Don LaFontaine impression and dramatically delivered the opening line which began with the iconic “In a world…” Elgort and Thompson bantered back and forth throughout the scene as Elgort lent his voice to a character who is interrupted while taking a bath.
The biggest laughs of the night came during the final reading of a scene from Alisha Brophy and Scott Miles’ comedy script “United States of Fuckin’ Awesome,” in which Thomas Jefferson finishes drafting the Declaration of Independence and heads out for a night of celebration with fellow founding fathers George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Elgort, Brown and O’Connell read the parts of Jefferson, Franklin and Washington, respectively, and humorously portrayed the scene in which, after a night of debauchery, the trio realize that the Declaration of Independence has gone missing.
As “Legally Blonde” scribe Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith put it when presenting to Brophy and Miles, the script “dares to make our founding fathers dysfunctional and boozy and horny and flatulent and deeply relatable.”
Following the live read, several guests made their way toward the stage to greet the actors — particularly Elgort — who posed for selfies with fans.