Archives for category: Academy Nicholl Fellowships

This is one of those years that make me want to just pretend I didn’t enter the Nicholl, maybe even pretend it doesn’t exist. No entry, no results, no blog post.

But, it does and I did, so here it is. 2019 is one of the rare times when neither of my two feature length screenplay entries moved the needle at all. Not a single positive read. There’s usually at least one, often more.

There. It’s out.

This blog is intended to not only cover the good things that happen to me, but also the not so good to out right bad. The good for obvious reasons. The bad so someone else dealing with something hard in their lives may stumble across it and feel a little better being reminded that we’re not in whatever it is alone. Sometimes just thinking of even one stranger sharing our pain or disappointment from afar can make enough of a difference to actually help. From Alzheimer’s caregiving, to grief, to the events that take peripheral positions to that kind of thing, we all carry burdens. Even if the “only” burden you carry today is a disappointment, a setback in your writing life, don’t ever forget that’s a legitimate thing to deal with. In some ways it’s actually a grief within itself. We put our whole selves into our scripts and stories and novels and poems. Of course the setbacks are hard to deal with.

This year I have an “advantage”. A compressed sciatic nerve is pretty much consuming my life. That kind of physical pain can outscream just about anything else. So, I was upset about my screenplays performing so poorly, especially after doing so well other years, for a few hours, then shrugged it off and carried on, as must be done when you’re addicted to screenwriting competitions.

We carry on, while running an internal question-with-no-answers session involving a loop of “why?”, “how?”, and “when will things turn back around?”. We think and hope and wonder, and keep on writing and learning and dreaming. That’s the writer’s life. Sometimes we curse it . Hopefully, briefly. The rest of the time we love it. We live it. We make happen whatever we can. If all we can make happen is our writing world, that’s enough. Where else would we want to be?

After sitting out last year’s screenwriting competitions, I’ve entered two this year. I have two dramas in the Nicholl and a drama in Big Break. 

It’s interesting how deciding to forego the stress that comes with waiting for, then getting the responses for a year sort of rebooted the experience for me. For whatever reason, some years I do better than others. I can’t make sense of the very real fact that the same script can do really well, even several times in a row, then suddenly tank another year. It may well get a good response the very next year. Or not. 

Eventually, the see saw burnt me out to the point that removing myself from it seemed like the best move. Takng care of my mom for so long, then finally getting us both through the end of her life introduced an element of deeper stress than I’ve ever experienced. It will be three years since her death in July. I’ve realized that recovering from all that will take me as long as it takes me. Basically, I need to rest. A lot. I have and I do and I can feel it helping. 

I can also feel that taking last year off from screenwriting competitions helped too. I feel more normal now about anticipating whatever happens, and accepting it as part of the experience that’s mostly enjoyable. So onward, hopefully upward, and always loving screenwriting.

I’ve entered a lot of screenwriting competitions. So many in fact that I can’t say off the top of my head how many years I’ve been doing it. I actually got kind of addicted to it. It’s helpful to keep yourself setting and meeting goals, keeping up your A game, and with the right attitude it’s fun.

I’ve hit some pretty high highs, as far as advancing goes, with three dramas and a science fiction, all feature length. The dramas have all been Moondance finalists, one twice, and one was a semi-finalist. Two have made the top 25% of the Page Awards, while the science fiction one was a Page Awards quarter-finalist twice and a semi- finalist once. A drama made the top 10% of the Nicholl, the science fiction one the top 15%, and they have all had several variations of one and two positive reads. Not bad at all.

So why did I suddenly put a freeze on all competition entries this year? Under slightly different circumstances I’d call it competition fatigue, reached at last. Rejection fatigue certainly plays a part in it. Between this and fiction rejections, I have endured a near constant barrage for many years. There’s a lot to be said for what the human spirit rises to when properly motivated with a high enough reward potential dangled at the end of a long, rocky road. However, bluntly put, this human spirit is exhausted.

I’ve learned that endurance tests are not necessarily meant to be endured without pause virtually forever. It is perfectly acceptable at some point to break what you’ve seen as a never ending test of talent and character into separate phases of the same journey. Interstates have rest stops for a reason.Some people are good for the long, unbroken haul, no matter how long it takes. I was. But then life throws something in that makes you reevaluate, regroup, and sometimes replan.

Life threw my mother at me. She got Alzheimer’s. I got the responsibility of caring for her. Until you face it yourself, it’s impossible to grasp what that means. As the disease progresses, so does your role in your loved one’s life. Eventually becoming completely responsible for a beloved parent is life shattering. You have to dig deep and deeper, you change into a deeply mature adult, as they change back toward childhood. I became stronger than I was, more mature than I was capable of being, and learned that words like limits and strength and courage have no real meaning, because the meanings are redifined as time passes. Love becomes redifined as well, becoming the reason for everything. As difficult as it was, I would do it again, even knowing what I faced, because such a wonderful parent deserved the best possible wind down of her life, even held submerged in the depths of the weighted enemy called Alzheimer’s.

By the time she slipped away from both of our lives, on July 15, 2016, I was more exhausted than I would have thought possible. Even as I readjusted to being only responsible for myself, I missed her every day. I still do. I rest, I recover, and I’m just so glad that I got through it.

Somehow through it all I managed to write. Not prolifically. Not really steadily. But I wrote short fiction and I submitted it. This was my piece of myself that I retained throughout. I sold a story to Analog in time for my mom, my greatest support, to know and briefly understand. I continued to enter screenwriting competitions. Eventually I narrowed my focus to the Nicholl. I entered three screenplays a year. At least one would get a positive read every year, sometimes two, at times they all did at least some little miracle of a positive read or two, occasionally not so miraculous.

A couple of years ago, I checked email on my phone in a grocery store parking lot. Hammered, nearly in public, by three responses that were not as good as I’d hoped. Okay, expected. It had started to seem that I went backwards some years. Had for a while in other years, other competitions. That was when the need for the symbolic rest area became undeniable. I entered three again last year and only one got anywhere at all, with two positive reads.

Backwards.

I don’t understand how levels of success can fluctuate so widely, from competition to competition, from year to year. It seems to be, loosely put, the nature of the game. That’s okay. I know I’m not alone in it and that I’m very fortunate to consistently do so well, for so long.

I also know that I needed a break. The moments of opening competition results emails, followed by the jolts of recognition that nothing big was happening for another year needed to be followed by a break from said moments and jolts. The realization that the sheer joy of knowing a screenplay I’d written, a story I’d told, had received two positive reads in the most prestigious, highly competitive arena in screenwritingland was overshadowed by the disappointment over the two that received none. Even though they’d gotten notice several other times. I wasn’t fun anymore. It was painful.

Somehow, stepping back for a year was the right thing to do. It lowered my stress level. It gave me a measure of peace, turning the leadup to the results announcements away from dread to a space of peace. As the time to start thinking about 2019 entries approaches, I’m doing just that. I’m not sure the fun will fully be back in the game. After going through such a life altering experience as being an Alzheimer’s caregiver, a new gravity settles over my life. It’s not always at the surface, but it colors the way I consider everything. All I can do is enjoy testing myself as much as possible, while I hope.

I can’t help but remember how much my mom loved movies, when they were coming of age together. She would be so proud if my name someday appears on that beloved silver screen. The thing about wonderful mothers, though…she would be just as proud of me if that never happens.

So, onward. Above and beyond, always…with necessary rest stops on the way toward the stars.

This year the Nicholl initial results weren’t quite as early as last year, but the timing was both good and bad for me. The emails came four hours after I got home from my mom’s funeral, which made the fact that my science fiction entry got absolutely nowhere not be as upsetting as it would have been at another time. After the initial shock of disappointment, I really didn’t care too much. Beyond the timing, it was the first time any of my screenplays hadn’t received at least one positive score since I started entering the Nicholl again a few years ago and the sf one has been a Page Awards Semi-Finalist once and Quarter Finalist twice, so it’s not like I don’t have plenty of proof that it’s good. It’s just the capricious nature of subjectivity and individual reader’s taste. Not that I’m happy to have had it bomb out, but other things have taken precedent over such concerns this year.

My other two entries made up for it, for the most part. In keeping with that capricious thing, the drama that got one positive score last year got two this year and the one that got two last year got one this year. This kind of thing can drive you bonkers, if you let it. Not letting it can be a struggle, but if you can remember the bits about subjectivity and individual taste it gets easier. With the Nicholl in particular, it helps profoundly to keep always at the front of your mind that out of the 2016 competition’s 6,915 entries, only 357 made QF. With those kind of odds in the most prestigious competition of them all, I’m really, really pleased with the positive scores I got again this year.

This year the Nicholl early entry deadline loomed on my personal horizon, daring me to hit it in time. With so much going on in my nonwriting life, as my mom’s health started to decline at a rapid rate, I was afraid I’d miss all the deadlines entirely.

So of course I took advantage of an unusually quiet night to make sure I got my requisite three entries in and confirmed well before the early deadline. That turned out to be just ahead of the point where we reached real crises mode, so it worked out the best it could have.

I’m still happy to be a part of the Nicholl experience. The waiting. The fun of reading the anonymous reader comments on their Facebook, imagining too many of them could be about my scripts. The waiting. The breathless anticipation of announcement season. Um, did I mention the waiting?

There’s also the wishing I’d had a new script ready to go in time. Maybe next year.

I think I have too much on my mind this time to be as devoted a waiter, wisher, and maybe–er as I usually am. That could be a good thing, because all of those other things come with an extra dose of stress I don’t need right now. Anticipation a little less coated in stress is a welcome bright spot.

Three dramas.

Three virtually hole punched dreams, bound with two shiny imaginary brads, all PDFed and waiting for their closeup…scrutiny.

The Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting Competition sprang the Quarter Finalists announcement early this year. I think that’s a good thing. Find out, celebrate and wait again, or deal with not advancing and move on.

Though my screenplays didn’t make Quarter Finalist, I did a bit better than last year. Both in results and attitude. Last year each of my three scripts got one positive read, which crushed me after they’d all done well in other competitions. This year I did some attitude adjusting.

I decided that if I’m going to place myself into the biggest, most prestigious competition out there, and enter into fierce competition with thousands of entries (7,442 this year), knowing full well that only 375 would be Quarter Finalists, I’d better get over myself. Particularly, since I did it with three scripts!

So, here’s how I emerged.

Drama–Two positive reads
Drama–One positive read
Science Fiction–One positive read.

And here’s how I feel about it.

First level… terrible. Of course. I enter everything I enter to win. I know the odds are against me, but I dream big and aim high. If I didn’t it wouldn’t be worth the effort and stress.

Second level…better. It starts to sink in that some Nichol readers like my screenplays.

Third level… happier. Once I put it into common sense perspective, I realized that I really accomplished something encouraging. With three scripts I got six reads, four of which were positive. Four out of six, in this extremely competitive arena, means I’m doing something right. Something I can be proud of. And I am.

I’m at a much better place than I was last year, when the initial results came out. Realizing that it would be very wise to mentally set the Nicholl apart from all other competitions and just try as hard as I can to do the best I can within its rarefied confines has really helped me. It’s fun again to anticipate. And I’m happy to embrace my four positive reads out of six.

I’m very grateful that any Nicholl readers liked my writing. It means a lot and gives me incentive to keep reaching for the stars.

When the screenwriting competition results season comes around this year, I can’t bemoan having all my screenplay eggs in the Nicholl basket like last year. The ScreenCraft Sci-Fi Screenplay Contest recently came to my attention and I entered my feature length science fiction screenplay in it.

This one doesn’t have the huge cash prizes of some of major players, but the top prize is four figures, which is certainly not too shabby. Along with that comes a phone call with a top Hollywood literary manager. With my history of almosts, winning is not likely (this is my hard won survivor’s attitude), but the other prizes are nice too. Plus, the finalists are judged by an impressive featured judge.

My main thing this year is that I’m diversifying my chances of better results than last year. Somewhat. This is one of the scripts I already have entered in the 2015 Nicholl. It’s done well otherwhere, and sat out last year. And it’s been tightened (again) and polished (again), in hope that it’ll shine like the top of the Chrysler Building.

I could so easily segue into what a hard knock life it can be, or even rhapsodize about the possibilities cradled in the arms of our friend tomorrow. But it’s nearly three in the morning (which, coupled with insomnia is why goofiness attempts to hijack my brain), so I’ll just wrap this up with the one thing I am absolutely sure of.

I love writing screenplays. With a passion. Anything beyond that is icing. Once I get over the hard stuff that tends to come after Fade Out is typed. Living with my own movies in my head is its own prize beyond compare.