Baby’s First Visit to The Academy: Nicholl Fellowship Ceremony 2014

Almost a year ago, I submitted a first draft of a feature length script to the Academy Nicholl Fellowship.

I know, I know, you’re scratching your head wondering: “What are you doing submitting a draft to the premiere screenwriter’s competition? The one put on by The Academy—that awards their winners with $35,000 to encourage them to write an entire script in the following year? The one with over 7,000 entrants from all over the world? The one where they only choose, at most 5 or 6 winners out of the entire pool?!”

And you’d be right to ask.

The sad fact of the matter is that I really, truly hate editing and re-writing my work.

It’s my writer’s Achilles heel.

I sailed through high school turning in first drafts, stumbled through college doing the same, and nothing has changed since I graduated nearly 5 years ago.

In the real world, that’s obviously not going to fly.

HOWEVER—even with the handicap of not sending in a polished script, I ended up placing in the top 10% of the applicant pool. So I’m somewhere ranked between 700 and 380, where the cutoff for quarter-finalists falls (my script fell short of advancing to the quarterfinals by two-to-six points). Landing here entitled me to receive a comment over email from one of the two to three readers that rated my script. Usually when screenwriter’s submit to competitions or submit to find representation, they get almost no feedback beyond a casual and curt “no thanks.” This was a pretty significant “get” for me. The comment was equally encouraging, constructively critical, and reaffirming.

Just think what good may befall me if I add some discipline into my life and concentrate, for goodness sake!

That small accomplishment lit a fire in my belly that told me, “Hey. Maybe if you try harder you can actually make your mark in this industry. So stop being so freaking lazy.”

The Academy hosts an award ceremony for the winners and it was just my luck that it was in Los Angeles (hey, I live there!) and also FREEEEEE to attend. What better way to see what it takes to win this puppy than to hear from the writers that won this year.

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4 scripts won (2 dramas, a comedy, and a sci-fi), 5 writers (2 were part of a team and will then split their $35k) received their awards and gave a short speech, and 4 actors (check out that line-up!) read a scene from each of the scripts.

On Stage (right to left): Clancy Brown, Ansel Elgort, Tessa Thompson and Jack O'Connell, with Rodrigo Garcia at the podium.

On Stage (right to left): Clancy Brown, Ansel Elgort, Tessa Thompson and Jack O’Connell, with Rodrigo Garcia at the podium.

You can find more information on each of the winning scripts and screenwriters right here, but one of my favorite parts of the night was hearing about one winner in particular.

Sallie West, the writer of the winning screenplay “Moonflower”, had just been laid off of her job working for the US government after decades of service. She was a technical manual writer for the technology aboard Air Force One when they made her job redundant. She sat at home, reeling from the news (this happened right around the holidays last year) and decided to try her hand at writing creatively. Even at middle age, she thought she’d try her hand at something new. She wrote her screenplay, submitted to the contest, and told herself that there was no way in hell she would win.

Fast forward nearly a year later and she’s accepting the award to a thunderous round of applause and sitting on thousands of dollars worth of free money that will enable her to hone her new craft.

And the only thing that separates her from other people with raw, but tremendous, talent is the fact that she got in front of her computer and wrote. She thought of an interesting and original concept, sat down, AND WROTE.

AND WROTE!

That’s what I keep telling myself I need to do. There’s no use in planning, and worrying, and daydreaming if I’m not willing to sit my bootie down, shut off the internet, and freaking put the words on the paper!

For the 2015 competition, I’m submitting an edited script from the competition last year, I’m submitting a second new script this year, and my ultimate goal (that has a bit more optimism than realism) is to submit a third, any genre (you’re allowed up to three). Entries are accepted from January to May. I’m writing this here on the blog so that friends-of-the-blog and real-life-friends, alike, can keep me focused and motivated.

Keep checking back with me.

To stay up-do-date on all of Short and Feisty’s posts, click the Follow this blog button at the top right of this page.

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Think. Thank. Thunk.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I know I’ve skipped over the obligatory resolutions blog post, but don’t you worry, I’ll get to it.

First, I wanted to let you in on a little secret. One that’s taken me years to unravel and I’m  pretty proud to say its effects are already astounding.

Goal setting gets the job done. 

I’ve kind of known this for a while, I’m a planner and the promise of writing another hundred lists is what lures me out of bed in the morning.

But something happened recently to make me feel like I should be setting more short-term/weekly goals and, more importantly, putting in effort to make sure I achieve them.

This particular story begins, as many stories often do, with a picturesque landscape as our setting.

I do my best thinking while driving. I know, I know, I should be focusing all of my attention on the blaring car  horns blazing past me on the 405. And, truly, I am. But when that radio is turned up, and whatever song happens to be streaming through the speakers elicits an emotion or a memory, the cogs start a-turnin’.

Christmas Day this year started, for me, with a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway a.k.a. CA State Route 1. If you’ve never been to California, this magnificent stretch of road starts somewhere down in Orange County and travels up north all the way to Mendocino County–over 655 miles.

Whenever I have a visitor in LA, I try and make it my business to take them on a little jaunt down a small section of this road, not only for it’s cathartic aura, but for it’s pristine beauty: on one side–mountains, on the other–the glistening Pacific Ocean.

When my car tires wind through the ebb and flow of the curvy lanes, it’s as if a dam breaks and the water flows so monstrously fast it takes out everything in its wake…[Wait a minute. This was supposed to be a peaceful analogy. Try again.]

…it’s as if my brain blasts into hyperdrive and all my best musings spill out, ready to become personified in a physical manifestation of excellence [Better.].

One major problem: I’m driving, you guys.

I haven’t yet figured out a way to transfer all of my thoughts from my head to some sort of recording device while in the midst of travel. I feel like pen and paper may be a little dangerous to use while operating heavy machinery and talking into a tape recorder just seems all too cliché. I feel weird hearing my voice speak out loud to no one in particular and I’m sure I’d get more than a few stares from others on the road.

Christmas Day, though, I was doing some pondering that didn’t involve specific details and were easy to remember.

“Today, Short and Feisty, you’re going to learn a little bit about the powers of setting a short-term goal,” I remarked to myself.

“That sounds great, self. Did we shower this morning?”

“Stop trying to sidetrack us! You want to really get into screenwriting, you need to make time to do it. No excuses, pony up.”

“Pony up? Where are we getting these words from–have we been gambling?”

“Oh my gosh, YOU ARE ANNOYING.”

“You’re just learning that about yourself?”

“……….”

“Ok, continue.”

“When we get back home, we’re going to sit down in front of that computer and research. Pick an underlying theme or topic for our next work, and watch every documentary we can find. Read every article we can uncover.”

“Oh, yaaaaaay, we love documentaries!!”

“That’s the easy part. The hard part will be what we have to do next.”

“Ruh-roh.”

“Starting this Saturday, we’re going to write the first 20 pages of our newest script. By Sunday night, we should be up to page 50.”

“Is this going to require us to become a hermit, again?”

“You got it, sister. Over the course of the week, we’re going to write at least 10 pages a day. That means waking up at 5:30am to get to the coffee shop by 6:15am and then on to work by 7:30.”

“Can’t we just write at night?”

“No, you scallawag! You’ll be too tired from chasing babies all day. The following weekend, we hunker down, again. Get the take-out menus ready today. By next Sunday, January 5th, we will have at least 110 pages written–a full feature length script.”

“I dunnoooooo. This seems difficult. I’d much rather eat an entire pack of Milano cookies while watching a pirated version of BBC Sherlock’s latest episode.”

“Pirating is bad (right? I dunno…that’s a gray area. They should’ve released it in the US at the same time). BUT WE CAN DO THIS. We just have to really push our limits. Then you’ll have a completed script to enter into any one of the plethora of screenwriting competitions out there. So let’s stop making excuses, turn this car due east, and get started.”

“Can we dangle the promise of those cookies over our head each night? Or maybe an ice cream or 12 from 7-11?”

“I will allow it.”

Today is Monday, January 6th and my first draft of my latest script is finished and in the record books coming in at 111 pages.

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