The Nicholl, as it's often called, is the most prestigious screenwriting competition in the world. Sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, it provides up to five $30,000 fellowships each year (not to mention the fact that it generates a large amount of interest from producers and agents). There are typically around 4500 - 6000 entries (the peak was a little over 6000, but I'd guess that the average over the last few years is closer to 5000). But anyway you slice those numbers, the competition is intense.
JONESING was a quarterfinalist once upon a time (that put it in the top 250 scripts that year). Amusingly, I submitted the first draft of the script (under an old title); I've since submitted the streamlined, lean-and-mean rewrite...
...only to have it not even make the first cut. That's the way these things go. I had stopped entering the competition, mostly because I haven't had a new script to submit, and I was getting tired of resubmitting stuff that I'd sent before. This year, I have ENDINGS, about which I'm feeling pretty good (I just finished a rewrite).
So, you know, since I'm so sure it's good, it probably won't advance.
Actually, I'm not being pessimistic here. ENDINGS is an unsually structured script, with some disturbing elements and a not-wholly-satisfying ending (that's intentional). I am not trying to be anti-commercial with it; just writing what feels real. I really like how the story has developed, and my hope is that some contest readers out there will feel the same. But I've learned not to hold out any great hope for these things. The year I was a quarterfinalist, I was (privately) convinced that this was the year for me. It was the best script I'd ever written, and I knew it was going to go far. But it was DINKED after the quarterfinalist round.
This is not a unique story. I'm on a email list/community of writers who have advanced in or won the Nicholl, and I'd say my story is about as common as they come. In fact, any screenwriters out there who read my blog are probably bored silly by this post. I'm going into detail for those of you who aren't as familiar with the Nicholl Fellowships.
Side note: past Nicholl winners include Andrew Marlowe (Air Force One, Hollow Man); Ehren Kruger (Arlington Road, The Brothers Grimm); Mike Rich (Finding Forrester, The Rookie); Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich, 28 Days); and Patricia Burroughs (also known as "pooks," a Dallas-based screenwriter and e-friend of mine who I should have met in person by now, seeing as we live all of 90 miles away from each other).
Now, I'm not saying those writers are all successful BECAUSE they won the Nicholl. Arguably, with their talent, they would have found success anyway. But winning a Nicholl Fellowship certainly raised their profiles in the industry.
Anyway, here's hoping this is a good year for my entry...