- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) - Until a screenplay is produced, it’s essentially a silent document: only the writer or a reader can hear its voices.

That changed Wednesday for the five emerging screenwriters receiving the film academy’s Nicholl Fellowships, who saw scenes from their screenplays performed live by such actors as Kathy Baker and Jimmy Smits.

“I’ve never heard my work read out loud unless you count Microsoft Mike,” winning writer Andy Friedhof said.

The film academy presents its Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting annually to outstanding, undiscovered scribes. Any amateur writer who submits a feature-length screenplay and an entry fee is eligible for the international competition. Winners receive academy guidance and a $35,000 grant, and they are expected to complete another feature-length script during their fellowship year.

“Erin Brockovich,” ”Finding Forrester,” ”Akeelah and the Bee,” ”Olympus Has Fallen” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction” were all written by past Nicholl winners (Susannah Grant, Mike Rich, Creighton Rothenberger and Ehren Kruger).

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chief Dawn Hudson said that when the fellowships launched in 1986, there were 99 submissions. This year, there were 7,442.

The five winners recognized Wednesday at academy headquarters were chosen by a committee of 17 academy members from various filmmaking disciplines. Committee chair Robin Swicord, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter for 2008’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” described this year’s Nicholl contestants as “the strongest field of writers we’ve ever seen.”

At least one of the winning screenplays has already been sold.

“This changed my life,” writer Sam Regnier said of being named a Nicholl fellow. “CBS Films pursued the script and acquired it. Let’s make a movie!”

Screenwriter Amy Tofte hasn’t sold her winning script but called the fellowship experience “a nurturing way to find new talent.”

“It’s life-changing, but you also feel part of a new club,” she said.

While the academy’s screenwriting competition has been going on for 30 years, the live reads of scenes from the winning scripts just started three years ago. “Albert Nobbs” director Rodrigo Garcia helmed the program; Freida Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (“Straight Outta Compton”) comprised the cast with Smits and Baker.

Pinto said she hopes the writers feel inspired by hearing their work performed.

“As an actor, we want to be working with new, young writers,” she said. “I hope that is encouraging to them as well.”

Writers Elizabeth Chomko and Anthony Grieco said winning Nicholl Fellowships felt like a validation of their lifelong aspirations, and hearing their work read by actors was exhilarating.

Said Grieco: “That was way better than anything I’ve ever heard in my writers’ group.”


Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at www.twitter.com/APSandy .




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