34th Annual Nicholl Fellowship Winners

Cannes Film Festival

Todd Wawrychuk


The 24th Annual Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting recipients were announced at the beginning of November.  On Thursday, November 12th, a group of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Governor’s Board members, and select producers, screenwriters and press agents were invited to honor the screenwriters of this year’s five selected scripts.


The Academy’s Executive Director Bruce Davis began the evening with a heartfelt toast to Gee Nicholl. Gee, who began the program 33 years prior with her husband Don, passed away on January 6th.  Beal made the commitment of continuing the Nicholl Fellowship well into the future.  Each year, up to five $30,000 fellowships are awarded to authors who have previously earned less than $5,000 writing for film or television.


Susannah Grant, Chair of the Nicholl Fellowship Committee and a former Nicholl fellow, welcomed the recipients by informing them that they have the strongest power in the production food chain.  “Writers don’t need permission from anyone to perform their craft.  It can be done from anywhere at any time.”


One of the evening’s recipients took this sentiment to heart during his path to receiving his award for his script, “Dream Before Waking.” 


John Griffin was working towards a BFA in acting when he wrote his first play for a playwriting class.  From that point on, he continued to write.  “I was always writing, whenever I had the chance,” said Griffin. 


After graduating from college, Griffin made the move to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career.   He moved into a youth hostel while trying to earn his keep as a working actor.  During this time, he’d translate his daily experiences into the context of dramatic and comedic scripts.


“Two years later, the acting was out of control, it just wasn’t working out well,” said Griffin. “I decided to focus on writing.  I realized, if I wanted to make it, I should write what ever types of work I wanted to.  I had the power to be in control of my own destiny.” 


He practiced writing comic book text, TV spec scripts, hour long dramas; all the formats he wanted to explore.  Griffin also wrote a play that he performed with his brother on stages in New York and Los Angeles.


His first application to the Nicholl Fellowship came in 2006.  Neither of the two scripts he submitted was accepted.  In 2007 he applied once again with an early version of “Dream Before Waking.”  This script made it to the semi-finals but was excluded from the final round.


“The judges only get to read the scripts that make it to the final round, so they wouldn’t have been aware of the previous year’s version,” said Griffin.  “They wouldn’t be aware of how the script had changed.”


Oddly enough, the 2007 version circulated through various agents, production houses and tracking boards.  Griffin hopes that the revised, award winning version will garner renewed attention.


“Both versions have received positive reaction,” said Griffin.  “Currently my agents are mapping out a strategy for ‘Dream Before Waking’ and are looking to package the script with a director.”


Griffin feels that receiving the Nicholl Fellowship has already had an impact on his career.


“What hasn’t changed?  It’s difficult to get a foothold now, the industry is shrinking.  Since being named a Nicholl Fellowship recipient, I’m having conversations and meetings I previously wasn’t offered,” said Griffin.  “And the fact that I stood in front of a room full of people and thanked the Academy, that was really surreal.” 


To complete the Fellowship program, each scholar must write one screenplay during the course of the year.  With a few different ideas percolating, Griffin looks forward to taking advantage of meeting with other scholars and enjoying the activities that are provided by the Academy as he continues to grow professionally as a writer.


“When I think of it, there is no better way or other way I could have imagined things happening,” said Griffin.  “The thing on (the other recipients’) mind right now is that this opportunity is so big.  How do I make the most of it while I’m here?  Right now I’m enjoying talking to people working in the industry; it’s a gold mine of knowledge and advice.” 



The remaining recipients of the 24th Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting are:

Matt Ackley for his script “Victoria Falls”

Vineet Dewan and Angus Fletcher for their script “Sand Dogs”

Nidhi Anna Verghese for her script “Jallianwala Bagh”

Jeff Williams for his script “Pure”