Nicholl Fellowship

I’ve gotten some hits from Search Engines about the Nicholl Fellowship, so I thought I’d do a little post explaining what it is and how I’m doing in it.

Last summer (2008) I wrote a screenplay called “Bible Con,” the logline is as follows:

“Bible Con – A Mockumentary”

Every year a convention is held in celebration of the Bible where Christians gather to buy Holy Merchandise, compete in costume competitions and reenact the Crusades. This year, the keynote speaker is an atheist, the Con is surrounded by protesters, and the competitors dressed as Jesus and Mary Magdalene are falling in love…

I submitted it to maybe 3 or 4 contests through withoutabox and placed in most of them, but never won.  I decided that I should try my hand at the Gold Standard of screenplay competitions, which is the Nicholl.

“The Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting is the world’s most esteemed screenwriting competition. Each year up to five $30,000 fellowships are awarded to authors who have previously earned less than $5,000 writing for film or television.” — Their Website

It’s run by the Oscars people and it’s a ton of money to take a year to write another screenplay.  It also has the reputation of getting agents, even for people who place in the quarter finalist round.  They’ve also had a lot of films made from their scripts and their finalists.

So, I’ve made it to the semi-finalist round, which I am shocked by.  Not because I don’t like my script, but because the genre (mockumentary) isn’t necessarily popular and the sheer weight of numbers of the Nicholl (6k+ entries) make it feel a bit like a lottery.


JAN 28, 2009 – Started an account with Nicholl so they’d alert me when they were open for entries

MAR 24, 2009 – The Nicholl begins accepting entries, I submit

MAY 1, 2009 – The Nicholl closes

JUNE 2, 2009 – I receive an entry confirmation

Bible Con
Entry # 2056

Dear Ms. Miller,

Welcome to the 2009 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting competition, a program of the Academy Foundation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

We have received your screenplay, Bible Con, application form and entry fee in proper order. If you contact us regarding your submission, please include your entry number — 2056.

Thus far, we have received 6,378 scripts for this year’s competition. We hope to complete first-round judging by the end of July. We will then tally the results as quickly as possible.

We expect about 5% of this year’s entrants to progress into the quarterfinal round of judging. If all goes smoothly, you will be hearing from us near August 1 as to your status in the competition.

If you encountered any difficulties with our new online application system, please accept our humble apologies.

Thank you for entering the 2009 Nicholl Fellowships competition. Best of luck in it and with all your screenwriting endeavors.


Greg Beal
Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting

JUL 28, 2009 – I receive notice of Quarter-Finalist standing

Dear Ashley,

Congratulations!  You have advanced into the Quarterfinal Round of the 2009 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.  In so doing, Bible Con is one of only 321 entries to survive the First Round.

With a record-breaking 6,380 scripts entered, the initial round was more competitive than in any previous year. To let you know something about the selection process, Bible Con was evaluated by three judges drawn from a diverse group of local film professionals.  After scores were tallied, the highest scoring scripts advanced to the Quarterfinals.

During the Quarterfinal Round, your script will be read by at least two judges.  As was the case in the First Round, these judges will read the scripts without seeing application forms; they will know nothing about you other than what is on your script’s pages.  We expect that about 110 to 120 of the Quarterfinal scripts will advance to the Semifinal Round.

For a list that will be forwarded to agents, development executives, managers and producers who request it, we shall use the contact information that you have given us.  Check the information below to make certain that it is as you want it.  If this information is incorrect — or if earnings have recently made you ineligible — please let us know as soon as possible via email to or fax to 310-247-3794.  Over 200 copies of the list were distributed last year.

Good luck through the remainder of the competition.


Greg Beal
Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting

AUG 2009 – I begin to use every contact I have to try to get people to read the script based on it placing in Nicholl.  I get 3 people to agree to read it, though, to date, none have actually read it yet

AUG 28, 2009 – I get notice of Semi-Finalist standing

Dear Ashley,

Congratulations!  You have advanced into the Semifinal Round of the 2009 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.  In so doing, yours is one of only 114 entries to survive the Quarterfinal Round.

During the Semifinal round, four Academy members, drawn from a variety of branches, will read Bible Con. Over the past half dozen years about ten Semifinalists have progressed into the Finals; the number will be similar this year.

Remember: if you become a Finalist, by early October we will ask you to send a short, informal letter telling us about your immediate and future screenwriting plans.  If a producer is badgering you to option or sell this or another screenplay, hold off receiving any money for another month or so.

For a list to be forwarded to agents, development executives, managers and producers who request it, we shall use the contact information you have given us.  Check the information below to make certain that it is as you want it.  If this information is incorrect — or if earnings have recently made you ineligible — please change it via your online account or let us know as soon as possible via e-mail to or fax to 310-247-3794.  Over 200 copies of the lists were distributed last year.  Lists will be distributed in October.

Good luck through the remainder of the competition.


Greg Beal
Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting

So, I want to win, obviously, but my name will already be on a list that goes out to people in a coveted spot.  And it’s validation.  And 4 Academy Members will have read it, which is pretty damn cool.  In the mean time, I’m polishing up some treatments, working on a new draft of “Bible Con”, and trying to get the next script off the ground.


About ashleyfmiller

I write, give occasional speeches, and am currently getting my PhD in Mass Communications from South Carolina. Before going back to school, I worked in Los Angeles in reality tv, web series, and film.

Posted on September 8, 2009, in nicholl, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Before picking a topic for Nicholl, read the script for “Catch and Release” by Susannah Grant, who is now the chair of the Nicholl Judging committee. For the last two years, most of the winners have followed the format she used for her own work. First, the story is set in the real world. Not the Imaginary World of Bible Con. Second, in the first ten pages, something terrible happens. One script “Giants” began with a boy being rushed to the ER and learning he would need an immediate heart transplant. “Snatched” was about the grief of a father when his daughter was kidnapped in London. Think of how much suffering you can inflict on your hero in the first ten pages. In “Catch and Release,” Jennifer Garner learns, on her wedding day, that her fiance has just died. It just doesn’t sound like anything terrible happened to your heroes at Bible Con, and the current judges want real-life suffering. One script began with a young girl being put in a car, when the family farm was buried under ten feet of dust storm in Oklahoma, and driving to California, having to choose between food and new tires. And then, if you’ve seen “Catch and Release,” not much happens. Garner has some witty banter with Kevin Smith, before she moves into a Malibu beach house (about $3 million at current market value) with a photog she barely knows. Problem solved on page 101. There has to be a “Good story,” meaning the hero has to show “True Grit” to reach the end. If you go to the Herrick Library, you can read the Finalists, and for the most part, they’re all from the same genre. True life where the hero suffered some enormous problem in the first ten pages, and I mean enormous.

    • Oh I know, Bible Con is in no way a Nicholl script in any usual sense, I was surprised it got as far as it did. It is set in the real world, but it’s a comedy, and a mockumentary at that, so the terrible things that happen aren’t tragic, they’re funny. I can’t say that the Nicholl formula is something I find particularly compelling to write.

  2. You said the keynote speaker was an atheist. Anthony Flew is a prominent atheist who recently changed his position. And yet, he’s still not a Christian. I just can’t imagine a Christian convention asking, or allowing, an atheist to speak. I attended a lecture given by William Lane Craig at UCLA, sponsored by a local Korean church. I was told by the Korean pastor that if I asked more than one question, he would call security and have me arrested. I asked Craig if the most logical explanation for “exorcism” was Jesus asking one of his friends to pretend to be possessed, screaming words in an unknown language, so Jesus could walk in and command the demon to leave, and make a reputation for himself. If Bible Con is a comedy and a mockumentary, maybe it could investigate how an atheist could perform a successful exorcism during a seminar on Spiritual Warfare when the Christian pastor giving the speech failed. Steve Martin did “Leap of Faith” which exposed how the faith healing game works. Your approach sounds like more fun. Some atheists decide to have some fun at Bible Con and two of them pretend to be possessed by demonic spirits so the third one can perform a successful exorcism? Hey, it’s only $30 to enter, and there’s something about the script that the judges liked.

  3. nichollreader


    I’m afraid you misunderstand how the reading process works. Susannah Grant is chair of the committee, but she doesn’t pick the scripts, and the (numerous and professional) readers aren’t looking for a “formula.” Plenty of scripts have advanced or won that are nothing like type of script you describe. I can’t go into details here but I have inside knowledge of how the culling process works, and your speculation misses the mark. Please don’t discourage people from entering this respected contest just because they have an unusual script. There are about 6,000 entries every year, and a WIDE variety of scripts from all genres make the quarterfinals (approximately the top 5 percent). In any given year you can try to extrapolate what the Nicholl is supposedly “looking for” due to coincidental similarities between the winning scripts, but really, they’re just looking for the BEST — sometimes those five scripts have a lot in common, and sometimes they are very different.

    Congratulations for making the semis, Ashley! That’s certainly an accomplishment!

  1. Pingback: Weekend Wasted, but lovely just the same « Ashley F. Miller

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