Nicholl Fellowship
Credit: Jordan Murph / ©A.M.P.A.S.

The founding fathers have lost the Declaration of Independence. After a drunken night of celebratory debauchery, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson discover a stark-naked Benjamin Franklin tied to a bed in a brothel without the document. They realize they must find it, or else there will be no America. Hilarity ensues.

The scene is from The United States of Fuckin’ Awesome, performed by Jack O’Connell as Washington, Ansel Elgort as Jefferson, Clancy Brown as Franklin, and Tessa Thompson as the narrator at the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting awards presentation. Director Rodrigo Garcia and producer Julie Lynn, brought Alisha Brophy and Scott Miles’ script alive with a live read Thursday night at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

Brophy and Miles were joined by three other winning fellows: Sam Baron for The Science of Love and Laughter, Sallie West for Moonflower, and Melissa Iqbal for The Death Engine. The winners were selected from a record 7,511 script submissions.

The Science of Love and Laughter follows a husband who has fallen out of love with his wife, but decides he wants to be with her upon discovering she has cancer. Moonflower tells the love story of a woman who makes cellos by hand and sends one to a Scotsman she’s never met. Set in a world where people are unable to have children and immortality can be bought, The Death Engine tracks a 100-year-old man trapped in the body of a 12-year-old boy who is hired to act as someone’s son. The actors performed a select scene from all four winning scripts.

To Elgort, the scripts stood out for their uniqueness. “They’re special and they’re different, a little fantastical but they still feel real,” he said. That’s what a good script needs, something that makes it different.”

The narrative of the evening ultimately spoke to the power of screenwriting. “One of the biggest challenges for a writer must be to be in the head of several different characters all trying to engage with each other, and keeping with their own mannerisms, characteristics. I think all the pieces tonight do that well,” O’Connell said. “Also, I think being in the midst of Hollywood, as actors there’s a lot of limelight, which we’re susceptible to, and I think to be able to nudge that across and pay some homage to the people who have given birth to our projects, essentially, it’s crucial to be here doing that.”

Moving forward, recipients are expected to complete a feature-length screenplay during their fellowship year. Brophy explained that rather than writing on nights and weekends, as she and Miles did for The United States of Fuckin’ Awesome, the pair will be able to make screenwriting their full-time job. Maybe, if we’re lucky, more drunken antics from historical figures will ensue…