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Academy Celebrates Five 2015 Nicholl Fellowship Finalists

The 2015 Nicholl Fellows are, from left to right: Sam Regnier, AMy Tofte, Elizabeth Chomko, Anthony Grieco and Andrew Friedhof. Photo courtesy: AMPAS 2015

By: Marjorie Galas

During the 2015 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting recipient awards presentation and live read reception, the nominees gathered their courage. Outside the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on the crisp November 4th evening, Elizabeth Chomko focused on her glass of water.  Excited to hear a selection of her script read by the evening’s four actors: Kathy Baker, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Freida Pinto and Jimmy Smits, she couldn’t mask her nerves.

“It’s honestly something I never imagined.  I’m feeling nervous about going on stage, though.  I feel a little sick,” said Chomko, sneaking a quick sip.

Eagerly waiting on the doors to open was fellow Anthony Grieco. Grieco admitted he had strong reservations about submitting his script, fearing he’d simply be tossing the late deadline’s $75 fee “away.”

“My wife told me I had to submit it, she said it was that good,” said Grieco. “Right now I am so excited, I just can’t wait to jump on stage.  I have no stage fright at all!”

After being encouraged in a video congratulatory reel by Oscar luminaries including Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Ridley Scott, a few actors made specific plies. Seth Rogen urged “Don’t write a 200 million dollar feature and wonder why no one wants to make it”, while Brie Larson begged the finalist not present female characters as “broken but beautiful. I see that all the time!”  Before presenting third-time live read director Rodrigo Garcia, this year’s finalist: Chomko, Grieco, Andrew Friedhof, Sam Regnier and Amy Tofte, discovered their scripts bested 7,442 submissions.

After presenting an analogy of screenwriting to the big bang (“God created the world in six days. After creating just four humans it fell into chaos”), the highly skilled actors presented a selection of “Great Falls” writing by Friedhof.  A native of Sydney, Australia, Friedhof travel the US when researching the best location for his crime drama.  He settled on rural Montana.  Using Google maps, he articulate descriptions of real businesses and restaurants that appear in his script.

“I’ve never heard my work read aloud,” said Friedhof. “I’m extremely humbled to be standing here today.”

Before Regnier’s “Free Agent” selection was performed, presenter Stephanie Allain shared the initial thoughts she had when she first read the script.

“I was so certain this script was written by a woman. There were female characters of different ages, an older woman take a younger man for a lover, I just thought there is no way a guy could have wrote that,” said Allain.  “This script just proves the truth about diversity. I have to give praise where it is due.”

Regnier, whose script was just sold to CBS Films, pulled on the crowd’s heartstrings by sharing the story of his “seven-year-old bottle of champagne.” Saving the bubbly for his first script sale, he carefully packed the possession when he and his wife relocated, intent to usher it directly into the new local’s fridge.  When he went to unpack it, it was gone.

“I thought my wife had finally thrown it away, knowing it was time for me to give up on my dream,” said Regnier. “But she had already put it in the fridge.  She never gave up on me. This is for her.”

Upon hearing her story of a young Ethiopian ping pong champion forced to choose fame and fortune over family, Amy Tofte informed the audience her inspiration came from working at a hospital in Ethiopia. She thanked her many “families” who have supported her professional grown, including her native South Dakota family, her theater family, her educational families in Alaska and Seattle, and her husband.

After hearing the actors bring his aging, alcoholic has-been writer and the literary agent ushering him back into the public spotlight to life, Grieco finally had his moment on stage. He shared the careers he’d dabbled in before settling on writing: archeologist, psychologist, photo journalist.

“My hope is that I live up to this honor,” said Grieco.

Chomko made her way onto the stage after her personal tribute to her mother, “What They Had,” was masterfully handled by Pinto and Baker. Focusing on a daughter dealing with her life decisions and caring for her mother as she slips increasingly farther into the grips of dementia, Chomko stated she “wrote this script to understand.”

“It was a gift to hear these fine actors read these words,” said Chomko. “Thank you.”

To learn more about the Academy Nicholl Fellowships, please visit:

http://www.oscars.org/nicholl