Some 2004 Nicholl comp notes



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  • Some 2004 Nicholl comp notes

    Thanks for the kind words that have appeared in various posts. I have attempted in the following to clarify the Nicholl process and to address questions and concerns. If you have others, ask away and I'll do my best to answer them.

    The Nicholl application form promised that a second letter advising you of your status would be sent before August 1. Thus far, we have never missed that deadline. If you happened to call during the period when we were mailing the letters, you probably would have been told that letters would be mailed no later than August 1. It may not work, but we're trying to ease the anticipation anxiety.

    In 2003, there were 6,048 entries and 320 quarterfinalists. This year, entries totalled 6,073 and quarterfinalists 323. To be exact, that would 5.29% in 2003 and 5.32% in 2004.

    Unlike some other competitions, this one continues on. If you reached the quarterfinals, your script is currently being read. A letter announcement of whether you reached the semifinals will be sent in late August. Then notification about the finals will arrive in October. No one can now know that they reached the quarterfinals but not the semifinals. That has not yet been decided.

    Notes written on the bottom of letters included:
    "Better news to follow" on dupe entry regret letters (and I would hope that the message is evident);
    "Just missed -- next 50 scripts" on those scripts from #324 to #384 (including ties);
    "Just missed -- next 100 scripts" on those scripts from #385 to #432 (including ties);
    "Close -- top 10%" on those scripts from #433 to #653 (including ties);
    "Close -- top 15% on those scripts from #654 to #952 (including ties).

    Reaching the top 15% or higher is a good result. It means that at least two judges responded positively to your script. It means, that in terms of score, there was not that much difference between your script and those that reached the Nicholl quarterfinals.

    While we have thus far decided not to distribute scoring information to additional entrants, another 800-plus entrants received at least two (low) positive scores but fell short of the top 15%.

    FYI, letter notes are not written to encourage writers to reenter the competition; instead they are intended to let writers know that they received positive reactions in the competition. I write all of the notes and sign the letters myself.

    As stated in the letters, this year all of the scripts were read once; over 3,000 were read twice; over 1,200 were read three times. That's more first round reading than we've ever done. (If it were possible for my instructions to translate to what happens at a production company or agency, based upon the first scores, about 300 to 500 of these scripts would have received the equivalent of an initial positive response at an agency or production company. In my estimation, we're considerably more generous in reads and rereads than would be found in a professional submission situation.)

    Many entrants have asked why we don't provide scores or number of reads or both. It would be possible for us to embed scores and/or reads in a line in the letters. As I have explained in previous years, I am just not certain that the scores/reads would be particularly helpful or all that meaningful. An extreme example: which script is better? One receives a 58 as its only read (when 60 grants a second read). The other receives a 80, then a 40 and another 40. The result is what it is; in another competition, in another year, at a production company or agency, the result could well be different. That's why it is necessary to continue to submit your work when it is ready.

    It takes us about a week to print all of the envelopes and letters and then to sign and stuff them. As they are completed, we hold the letters, and then, as possible, try to get the letters out on nearly the same day. The date an entrant submitted has nothing to do with the mailing of a letter. Some years we have sent foreign regret letters a day earlier than all other letters. We do hold printing congrats letter until last. Some years, those do make it out of here on the same day as the other letters. Some years it's the next day.

    Some entrants must not have noticed that we sent quarterfinal and regret letters in the exact same envelope as the we've-received-your-script letter. We now only have a single Nicholl envelope, with a colored yellow-gold Oscar as opposed to the gold foil Oscar that was on the fancy Academy Foundation envelopes and stationery.

    Multiple entry letters are sent in the same envelope -- though the regret letters are separated from the congrats letters (hence the "better news to follow" note).

    I am afraid that I attempt to ease up on my cramping hand by only signing one in a package of multiple entry regret letters. Sorry about that, but somehow I don't think my signature has that much value. This year, I did sign each letter for a script that received a top 15% or better note. In the past I had combined those notes on the first letter in the pack.

    Someone claims that an Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated script did not advance in the Nicholl competition. I do not believe that this is true, but I am more than willing to be proven wrong. So far as I know, no film nominated as either Best Picture or Best Screenplay has ever had its script entered in the Nicholl competition.

    Is it possible for "bad" scripts to advance in the competition? I know that I have read scripts in the quarter and semifinal rounds that I thought should not have advanced that far. Other judges have told me the same thing. But at least two judges in the first round and then, for the semifinalist scripts, at least two judges in the quarterfinal round thought these scripts were good. Something in the script touched them, the story, the characters, the dialogue, etc. And so they gave the scripts scores that sent them forward. To second-guess every score at every level of the competition would drive a person crazy. So, I don't do it. The scores are what they are; the scripts advance or not based upon those scores. We play no favorites here.

    One poster claims that most readers are "minimum-wage wannabe losers" and that contest readers are "frustrated writers who will try to kill a good script just to validate their own inadequacies." I won't speak for most production company, agency and studio readers but the dozens (or is it hundreds) that I know are not "losers." And, to say the least, Nicholl readers are not looking to kill good scripts for any reason. Instead, they are truly gleeful whenever they find a script they love. Among the first and quarterfinal round Nicholl readers this year are current and former executives, produced writers, producers and directors.

    I don't have anything close to complete stats developed yet, but since these two genres have been mentioned frequently, I'll offer these numbers: 72 scripts with the words "comedy" or "comic" in the genre slot advanced to the quarterfinals. 19 scripts with the word "horror" in the genre slot also advanced. While 72 doesn't seem like a bad total, it is an underperformance based on entry numbers. 19 is an overperformance.

  • #2
    thanks greg

    Very much appreciated. Your response is but one example of why this contest is an excellent one to enter. Thank you.


    • #3
      Re: thanks greg

      Very much appreciated for that long post (hope your hand didn't cramp up from writing all that lol).

      Now I wish I had read through the whole letter instead of getting rid of it after I read that I didn't make it through to the quarter-finals - it would have been interesting to see if I made it to the next 15% (not that it'd make much difference in the end, but it sure wouldn't hurt my ego :lol ). Eh, like I said in the other thread, there's always next year!


      • #4
        Re: thanks greg

        Thanks for the note Greg. I would have still liked to know where I placed in general even if it's just to console my ego ... or maybe to get back at that teacher that told me I'd never learn to read (I was very dislexic a child...a still little today.)



        • #5

          ABZ, my writing partner Mike and I made the cut, and Mike is dyslexic. He always had to deal with the emotional issues that go along with dyslexia.

          As partners, it's probably easier for me to play around with words and know how to spell them, but he's definitely the one with more innate sense of story, drama and emotion. He has the skills one needs most for screenwriting, and it's likely because his mind is wired a little differently than most people's. Whether or not Nicholl recognized it this time, you may have that same feel for story. TV writer-producer Stephen Cannell does.


          • #6
            Thanks, Greg


            I think you're incredibly generous to sign every letter and write notes on the ones who earned some sort of distinction.

            I'm one of those who enters contests (only this and Austin) as a way to keep deadlines in focus. This hasn't been the best writing year for me but once I get moved and settled (next week is moving week), I plan to get back to it in a big way. Knowing that you're there running a good program is one incentive.

            See you in Austin!



            • #7
              Re: Thanks, Greg


              Thanks so much for taking the time to explain the process.

              Would it be a violation for you to explain the judging criteria and the weight for each category?

              Also, do you utilize volunteers in areas other than as readers?



              • #8

                I am a little confused. Are these hand written notes written on all the letters because last year my letter didn't show up and I called Greg. He told be over the phone that my script was not advancing but in the top 10%. Two days later my lost letter showed up with no note about the top 10%. And the new letter than Greg sent replacing the missing one didn't have a note on it either. I don't understand. If it was in the top 323-600 area why wasn't something on the letter. Or does he just put the note on some???

                Please answer me this. This was the only reason I re-entered this year.


                • #9
                  Re: CONFUSED

                  If this was you, I apologize. If your experience was some variation on this theme, I apologize.

                  I remember last year speaking with a woman on the phone whose letter seemed to be lost. I looked her up, glanced at the score and said (probably) "you were in the next 10%." As soon as I hung up, I realized that I had mispoken. While the scores were close to placing the script in the next 10%, they didn't actually do it. And so when I printed and signed the new letter, I did not add the note. I guess I should have added the note "I misspoke over the phone; you were actually just outside the next 10%." But that did not seem like a nice note to write.

                  I have to add. None of us enjoys looking people up because their letter seems to be lost. Almost always, the news is bad, and it is not enjoyable to deliver the negative result personally.

                  On the reentering front, I would not suggest reentering because your script received a note or even reached the quarterfinals. I would reenter because it makes sense in terms of your overall strategy for breaking into the industry.


                  • #10
                    Re: CONFUSED

                    Thanks for the explaining that Greg


                    • #11
                      First round judging instructions

                      While categories appear on the scoresheet, there is no weighting of categories. I expect the judges to use their experience in reading scripts to deliver an appropriate score based on a 1-to-100 overall scale. Otherwise, scoring is obvious: 90-100, exceptional; 80-89, very good, should advance to the quarterfinals; 70-79, good; 60-69, average to above average; 50-59, just below average towards average; et cetera.

                      The median score was 60 (half of the scores were 60 or higher; half were 60 or lower).

                      These are the basic instructions that I give to first round judges:

                      What are we looking for?

                      The best scripts, the best stories, the best storytelling, the best craft, the best writing, the best execution, the most intriguing characters, the sharpest dialogue, etc. You should reserve your highest scores for those scripts that you believe to be the best that you have read during the competition.

                      There should be no prejudice for or against any particular subject matter or any genre. It should not matter whether a script is about terrorists or the holocaust or about a talking dog or dumb teenagers. It should only matter whether the script is good -- in your opinion. Similarly, a serious drama should not score higher than a fantasy comedy simply because the former is serious and the latter is not. The quality of any script is all that should matter.

                      You should not hold a script's commercial potential or lack of commercial potential for or against it. If you believe that a particular script could be made tomorrow and it's good, then you should give it a high score. If you believe that a particular script could never be made because of its subject matter or approach but you love it, then you should give it a high score.

                      You should also not consider a script's potential budget. It should not matter whether a script, as written, would be the biggest, most expensive studio movie in history or if it's a tiny, independent film that could only be made on DV by a writer-director as a personal project.

                      You could consider these scripts as "writing samples." It's as if the competition were a production company with an endless slate of open writing assignments. And that we plan to find the writers to fill all of those assignments through the competition. So, we're not seeking scripts; we will not buy any of the scripts submitted to us. Instead, we are seeking writers -- and the only means we have of identifying the talented writers is through their scripts.


                      • #12
                        Re: First round judging instructions


                        Do you utilize volunteers in areas other than as a reader?


                        • #13

                          We don't utilize volunteers (other than the Academy members who read in the semifinal round and those that sit on the Nicholl Committee and judge the finals).

                          Readers are paid, and all other work is done by staff.


                          • #14
                            Re: Volunteers

                            Darn, I make pretty good coffee.

                            Still, thanks for being so available to answer our questions.


                            • #15

                              If a script doesn't advance to the quarterfinals, is that an indication of serious flaws? Either in the script or with the writer? Do you have a sense of some of the most common mistakes (and how to fix them)?