Academy Announces Winners Of 2011 Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowships

Beverly Hills, CA – Seven writers have been selected as winners for the 26th annual Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Each writer (or writing team) will receive a $30,000 prize, the first installment of which will be distributed at a gala dinner in Beverly Hills on November 3.

The 2011 Nicholl Fellows are (listed alphabetically by author):

  • Chris Bessounian & Tianna Langham, Los Angeles, Calif., “Guns and Saris”
  • Dion Cook, Altus, Okla., “Cutter”
  • John MacInnes, Los Angeles, Calif., “Outside the Wire”
  • Matthew Murphy, Culver City, Calif., “Unicorn”
  • Abel Vang & Burlee Vang, Fresno, Calif., “The Tiger’s Child”

The winners were selected from a record 6,730 scripts submitted for this year’s competition. The competition is open to any individual who has not sold or optioned a screenplay or teleplay for more than $5,000, or received a fellowship or prize that includes a “first look” clause, an option, or any other quid pro quo involving the writer’s work.

The Nicholl Committee, chaired by producer Gale Anne Hurd, is composed of writers Naomi Foner, Daniel Petrie, Jr., Tom Rickman and Dana Stevens; actor Eva Marie Saint; cinematographers John Bailey and Steven B. Poster; costume designer Vicki Sanchez; executive Bill Mechanic; producers Peter Samuelson and Robert W. Shapiro; marketing executive Buffy Shutt, and agent Ronald R. Mardigian.


  1. So, let’s do a little Math here :

    6730 entries from 58 countries and all 50 US states.

    The 7 winners are not only ALL American, 6 of them are from the same state…and that state is – shocker! – California.


    1. Well, those who are serious tend to move to Cali to make their ultimate dream of working in the industry a reality. So coincidence…not really. Make sense…ABSOLUTELY.

      1. I’m aware of that, but there really isn’t ONE script out of that six THOUSAND, that is actually great ? Hard to believe it. And to be fair, I never get the argument that you have to move to LA if you want to be taken seriously. It comes down to raw talent…and that has nothing to do with where these writers live. Sure, LA-industry-experience could help, but isn’t this whole thing basically for writers who’ve never sold anything ? And for the record, I have NOTHING to do with this, I’m not a disappointed loser who didn’t get in blahblahblah, this list just simply seemed off for me.

        1. It does NOT come down to raw talent. It comes down to who’s gifted, easy to work with, good in a room, excites people, etc. At the end of the day, it’s a business.

          As an artist, a writer creates this work, but if s/he wants to make money for it, there’s other work that has to be done and LA is the best place to do it. Looks like most of the better applicants realize this.

    2. zip codes aren’t on the cover page, entries are anonymous.

      (many/most) serious aspiring screenwriters move to or live in LA.

      go cry wolf about something else…which i’m certain you will.

    3. Being in town and working in person among professionals raises your level of writing and helps you understand the industry standard for screenwriting.

      And the cost of living here puts a nuclear hellfire under your butt to make or break it.

    4. They’re not from California, they’re from all over but now live in California. If I won they wouldn’t report a winner from Jersey they’d report another ‘shocker’ for you by listing me as LA-based.

  2. Miller,
    Actually, I’m not from Culver City. I’m from Kansas City. Abel and Burlee are from Laos. Chris is from Australia. John and Tianna are from England (both have lovely accents, btw). And Dion is originally from Florida, though he now lives in Oklahoma.

    If there is one interesting result from this year’s Nicholl, it’s that NOT A SINGLE ONE OF US is originally from Cali, though 6 of the 7 were serious enough to move here. Weird, huh?


    1. Congrats Matt. What a great honor.

      Thankfully for everyone, where you are born, where you live, and where you move don’t dictate what kind of writer you are.

      Congrats again.

  3. Out of curiousity, does anyone know what genre that these script are classified? Based on past winners, does the Nicholl Committee favor any particular genre?

    By the way, congrats to this year’s winners!

    1. It used to be on their website somewhere. From what I recall westerns and horror scripts had the least amount of wins.

  4. Check again miller. Two of the winners are from the UK and Australia and the other two while born and raised in Cali are part of a minority. Perhaps, you might ask, candidates from non-English speaking countries have weak writing skills in English? The scripts after all must be submitted in English.

  5. Guess what I’m wondering is why these judges are all so Old School? Gale Anne Hurd? Eva Marie Saint (it’s not so much that’s she elderly, just that she represents a different era, and so you can only imagine her choosing the sort of squarer scripts)?

    And Naomi Foner, the biggest non-starter of them all–she just gets so much incredible mileage out of being someone’s mother: I saw her on a panel once and it was extremely under-whelming, she really couldn’t hold the room’s interest, nor did she say anything that the paying crowd hadn’t already heard, yet she’s considered a “seasoned pro,” having barely eeked out like two scripts, I think, as well as two kids.

    Once again, the Academy sticks to tried, true, really square, and in some cases, almost dead–can’t they resolve this membership problem? The members of this list makes it sound like the judges met at a country club. Just adding one or two people under AARP age might help mix it up a little.

  6. Taken from:

    Genres of Nicholl Fellows’ Entry Scripts (1989–2010)
    action-adventure – 8
    animated comedy – 1
    comedy – 7
    romantic comedy – 5
    comedy-drama – 10
    coming-of-age drama – 8
    drama – 30
    romantic drama-fantasy – 2
    horror – 3
    science fiction – 2
    thriller / crime / caper – 18
    war / terrorism – 11
    Western – 3

    Typically, they provide stats on the most recent year via the Facebook page for the fellowship. I’ve also seen Greg Beal share stats on Quarterfinals scripts, by genre in other forums. They’re very good at communicating and sharing data.

    Also from the FAQ section, for Miller, the commentator complaining about California winners, see below. I’m guessing this data has not yet been updated with the newest winners’ stats:

    Q: Where did the various Nicholl winners live when they entered the competition?
    A: 75 of the 126 fellows resided in California; 14 hailed from New York; 5 were from Virginia; 5 from Texas; 3 each from Illinois, Pennsylvania and North Carolina; and 1 each from Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington; as well as 1 each from Ontario and British Columbia, Canada; and 1 each from London, England, and Tokyo, Japan.

    Q: Why so many Californians?
    A: Three reasons: first, in its initial year the Nicholl competition was open only to California college students; second, over the years about 37 percent of all entrants have resided in California; third, talented writers who want to break into the movie industry are apt to relocate to California.

    Q: How have foreign entrants fared over the years?
    A: Foreign entrants, more from Canada than from any other country, have reached the Nicholl quarterfinals and semifinals a number of times. Five Canadians have reached the finals, and two of them won after reaching the finals a second time. An Australian, a British citizen and U.S. citizens residing in Japan and New Zealand have also reached the finals (with the British citizen and the Japan resident becoming fellows). About 5.5 percent of all entries have come from countries other than the U.S.; about 4.4 percent of the Nicholl quarterfinalists submitted their entries from a foreign country.

  7. Well, clearly I was wrong, I’m sorry for that, I didn’t mean to offend anyone. The list – based on the facts stated in this article – simply seemed strange, that’s all. Matt, thank you for the background info, congratulations and best of luck in the future!

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