John Cho, Alia Shawkat, Cary Elwes, and Aja Naomi King celebrated on-the-rise screenwriting talents at the 2016 Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting Awards Presentation & Live Read on Thursday at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, where they acted out select scenes from scripts by the winning fellows.
Those scripts and excitable fellows (pictured below) are as follows: “Dinner with Friends” by Geeta Malik, which tells the story of a teenage daughter discovering her feminism; “Talking about the Sky” by Michele Atkins, which centers on an aging and formerly famous country musician; “Death of an Ortolan” by Justin Piasecki, which follows a chef feeding death row inmates, one of whom is on a hunger strike and the chef believes to be innocent; “Photo Booth” by Spencer Harvey and Lloyd Harvey, which tracks a married couple grappling with a failed adoption and the possibility of taking in a child the husband conceived when cheating; and “Tween the Ropes” by Elizabeth Oyebode, which looks at a family coming back together.
“Every amazing writer comes from someone who is young, writing their first script being like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this or not,’ so the fact that the Academy can support them, it gives a lot of young writers real strong confidence,” explained Shawkat (the TBS comedy Search Party). “I started writing a lot this year. I think it’s the hardest craft to have confidence in because you don’t get an immediate response. Somebody reads it separately and then talks to you about it and they have notes. It’s very personal, you’re alone doing it, so any field that we can be like, ‘Keep writing stuff no matter how personal or weird it is, just keep doing it and you’ll get better.’”
King echoed, speaking to the importance of the fellowship. “We all know that this industry is so difficult to break into, so the fact that they even have this kind of fellowship to just give people in the arts a leg up,” the How to Get Away with Murder and The Birth of a Nation star said. “It’s so challenging to be able to make a living and follow your passions especially when your passions tend toward the creative and so we need organizations like this that can give people the opportunity to really, fully embrace their artistic side and see what they can create in that time and be given the financial support to be able to do it.”
Elwes, who will soon appear in The Queen of Spain and We Don’t Belong Here, spoke more generally about helping newcomers to filmmaking. “It’s important to support anyone who’s new coming [into] the business. I think that’s the point of our industry is we’re supposed to…the new person comes in, you help them, you show them the ropes. I think that’s part of it. We’re a part of an apprenticeship. Whatever we learn we hopefully pass onto others, right? Isn’t that the point?”
The presentation was dedicated to late actor Anton Yelchin, who performed at the first Nicholl Live Read in 2013 with Elle Fanning, Taraji P. Henson, and Jason Isaacs. A video tribute was played, showing clips from some of his credits, including the Star Trek series, Charlie Bartlett, and Like Crazy.
Academy Nicholl Fellowships Committee members Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 3), Eva Marie Saint (On the Waterfront), Peter Samuelson (Arlington Road), Misan Sagay (Belle), and Julia Chasman (25th Hour) presented to the fellows, and the event was directed by Rodrigo Garcia (In Treatment) and produced by Effie Brown (Dear White People). More than 6,900 entries were submitted to the competition this year.
Elwes said of the significance of the fellowships, looking ahead to promising futures, “To have their work honored by the Academy basically means that they are going to have a long career, which is exciting, so to be here at the beginning is always a good thing.” Then, years from now, when they’re winning awards and continuing to succeed…“I knew that person. I read for him!”