BY PATRICIA DUFF
Whidbey Life Magazine editor
Sept. 16, 2013
Two local screenwriters wait with bated breath to hear if they are in the next round of a prestigious contest.
WLM member/blogger Suzanne Kelman (Sue the Screenwriter) and her writing partner Rose Woods entered the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship Screenwriting Competition with their script, “Held.” The script tells the story of a reclusive professor who deliberately contracts a deadly disease in order to find a cure for a Jewish student stricken with a life threatening illness in Nazi-occupied Holland. (“Held” means “hero” in Dutch and is also a common Dutch name.)
The Academy’s Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting is an international screenwriting competition established to identify and encourage talented new screenwriters. Up to five $35,000 fellowships are awarded annually. This year, the competition received a record 7,251 entries and “Held” made it to the quarter finals!
“To get the Academy Nicholl Fellow would be a pretty cool achievement,” Kelman said.
“We started out with the 7, 251 entries and we’ve made it to the quarter finals, the top 5 percent.”
Kelman said that of the 371 entrants who made the quarter finals, only 105 of them were women writers.
“Rosie and I were two of those women!”
That’s pretty exciting for this dynamic writing duo, who calls their writing partnership Goody-2 Productions, which penned another already optioned script called “Violet Skye.” Kelman also wrote three other scripts, “Maggie the Brave,” “Illusion,” and “Collision.”
The team is also familiar with the screenplay competition awards circuit, with Kelman or Goody-2 accepting various awards between 2010 and 2013, including at Script-A-thon, Amsterdam Film Festival, California Film Awards, Sacramento Film Festival, Beverly Hills Film Festival, Love Unlimited Film Festival, Los Angeles International Film Festival and the MovieHatch Competition.
Meanwhile, “Held” is presently being scrutinized by more judges, and Kelman said they should find out if they made the semi-finals any day now.
Entrants to the contest were presented with instructions to the judges about what to look for in a script. Here is an excerpt:
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 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 … Instead, we are seeking writers ─ and the only means we have of identifying the talented writers is through their scripts.
“This is the most prestigious competition run by the Academy,” Kelman said, “and if we reach that level, we’ll get lots of requests for the script.”
Kelman said that she and Woods are typical of the type of new screenwriters the Academy looks for — hardworking, new voices who have no connections and who need a boost to break into the business.
As a team, these writers bounce off each other and Woods said she is thankful that she has Kelman’s endless energy for ideas.
“Working with Suzanne is like breathing the sweetest air. It feels that natural,” Woods said. “We seem to have some kind of magic mojo when we work together. We are both writers in our own right, but when we work together, story seems to just flow out of us. There is always a ‘what if’ and then we’re off!”
Kelman said she’s learned in the past three years about how slow the business is and how getting a script produced, or even just bought for development, doesn’t happen overnight. (Not like it does in the movies.)
The Academy Nicholls Fellowship will be awarded sometime in November and, of course, both these writers have a lot of faith in “Held.”
“We loved writing this story. We had no idea how important the underground was to certain people during the Holocaust,” Kelman said.
“We all have it in us to save lives,” Woods added. “I think that the story of ‘Held’ resonates to that essential quality in everyone.”
Kelman thinks the script just needs to get into the right hands to be produced.
“It really takes time to get things produced,” she said.
“But that’s OK because I’m a screenwriter and you want to have a bagful of projects when someone comes knocking on your door. Even award-winners wait,” Kelman said.
Editor’s note: This just in … Kelman received an email after this story went to press. “Held” didn’t make the next cut; shoot! But hey, that’s OK. Women writing stories is the most important thing and a necessary thing for Hollywood right now as I see it; women writers, women directors, strong female leads. This is what Hollywood needs.
Go go go Goody-2 !
Patricia Duff is a freelance journalist, writer and editor here at WLM. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.