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Award Winning Animator, First Time Creative Writer Amongst 2014 Academy Nicholl Fellowship Recipients

From Left to Right: Nicholl Fellows Sam Baron, writer of “The Science of Love and Laughter”, Melissa Iqbal, writer of “The Death Engine”, Sallie West, writer of “Moonflower”, Scott Miles and Alisha Brophy, writers of “United States of Fuckin’ Awesome” prior to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ presentation of its 2014 Academy Nicholl Fellowships Screenwriting Awards & Live Read on November 13 in Beverly Hills. (Photo credit: Jordan Murph / ©A.M.P.A.S.)

By Marjorie Galas

Selected from a record 7,511 submitted scripts, three individuals and one writing team were awarded the 2014 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. In addition to receiving special recognition, selections of their scripts were performed during a ceremony held at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Samuel Goldwyn Theater on November 13th.

Director Rodrigo Garcia (Albert Nobbs, Mother and Child) returned for the second year to direct the live read portion of the program. After sharing a mantra his mother bestowed on him during his youth: “There is nothing better than something well written.  There is nothing better than something well written – I’m still working through this in therapy,” he applauded the efforts of the Academy’s newly formed Casting Directors Branch in pulling together a talented ensemble of actors who performed segments from each recognized script. The cast included Tessa Thompson (Selma, Dear White People), Jack O’Connell (Unbroken, 71), Ansel Elgort (The Fault in our Stars, Divergent) and recent Academy Actors Branch inductee Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption, Starship Troopers).

Sam Baron’s “The Science of Love and Laughter” kicked off the program. The Cambridge, UK native’s script follows a couple teetering on the brink of divorce. When the husband learns his wife has cancer, he attempts to reconcile their relationship. Certificate presenter Ava DuVernay (writer/director Middle of Nowhere, I Will Follow) applauded Baron’s technical skill and ability to create real characters and encouraged Baron to pursue developing his script.

“I was involved in publicity when I entered the Nicholls Fellowship competition,” said DuVernay. “I still remember receiving that call informing me I made it to the semi-finals. I didn’t make it as far as the talented group here tonight, but don’t underestimate the power that comes with receiving the fellowship. You are validated as a writer, and use the power that gives you.”

Fellow UK resident Melissa Iqbal has been teaching screenwriting to students at the National Film & TV School when not working on animated projects. Her short “My Stuffed Granny” won the Best British Animation Award at the 2011 Edinburgh International Film Festival. Her science fiction script, “The Death Engine,” set in a futuristic world where the wealthy can afford immortality, explored one woman’s decision to live or die. Presenter and long-time Nicholls supporter Eva Marie Saint proclaimed she could “see the movie as she was reading the script” and stated the characters were ones she wouldn’t forget.

Sallie West wrote “Moonflower” after being laid off from her science and technical writing job crafting security clearance documentation for Air Force One. After informing the crowd that “Harrison Ford got it wrong” while joking about technical elements depected in the film “Air Force One,” she admitted she thought her first foray into creative writing was a “fool’s dream.”

“I was so excited when I received the call informing me that I was a finalist,” said West. “I was sitting with my dog and trying not to scream. It was hard to maintain any composure.”

The evening wrapped with a much too short scene from “United States of Fuckin’ Awesome” – a historical comedy that follows George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin who scramble, after a night of debauchery, to find the lost Declaration of Independence on the day of its signing. Prior to the event, finalist Alisha Brophy confessed she was “completely living it up to the nines” and celebrating the most “singular, exciting moment” in her life. Both she and “United States of Fuckin’ Awesome” writing partner Scott Miles found the week leading up to the reading to be a whirlwind of excitement and unforgettable experiences.

“A highlight was visiting the Margaret Herrick Library, where the Academy has archived scripts through the years,” said Miles. Added Brophy, “We saw so many classic scripts and movie posters – it was amazing to be standing in this special library, amongst these pieces of movie history.”

To learn more about the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, please visit:
http://www.oscars.org/nicholl