How To Win The Prestigious Nicholl Screenwriting Contest

Michael Werwie just won the Nicholl screenwriting contest.  He is one of the five Nicholl Fellows, each of whom is awarded $35,000.

Winning The Nicholl

His winning script is entitled, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile. Here’s a summary of the project by screenwriter Dana Stevens of the Nicholl Fellowship Committee:

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile takes us on a first-person journey with a likable, handsome guy named Ted who has a devoted girlfriend, a sharp mind, and a lot of bad luck with the cops.

It seems Ted keeps getting arrested for things he didn’t do, and he’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time. People misunderstand him, and we feel his panic at being cornered by the system. When he breaks out prison, we admire his ingenuity. Until we slowly start to realize that our main character, Ted, is the world-famous serial killer, Ted Bundy.”

Michael’s Acceptance Speech At The Nicholl Award Ceremony:

Here’s the video of Michael Werwie’s Acceptance Speech.  Here’s a transcript:

Thank you. I have been entering the Nicholl for ten years. Over those ten years I’ve submitted 29 entries. That’s over a thousand dollars in entry fees, more than three thousand pages of script, around ten thousand hours of work, and countless sessions with a very patient therapist.

My life has already changed as a direct result of the Nicholl, but the most gratifying part of this honor is not the recognition, so much as the validation. My twenty plus year pursuit of this career has been validated. It’s been a struggle along the way. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes really bad. Doubt, skepticism, cynicism, depression. I find it ironic to look back at the struggled I’ve endured to get to this point and feel thankful for them. They’ve made me the writer I am. They made me the person I am.

It’s no coincidence that it resembles the structure of a great story. The hero goes through hell to achieve a goal that at the time seems impossible, that at times is impossible, which only makes the victorious moment all the sweeter. I have to share this victory with my family and friends in Milwaukee and Kenosha Wisconsin, with my friends from USC, with all of my teachers, with my therapist, with all the great friends I made bar tending in West Hollywood for nine years and the constant inquiries of “Hey! How’s the writing going?” and my always deflective answer, “It’s good.” Even though it was usually anything but.

Thank you for the years of your support and your encouragement. I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you to the Academy, the Academy judges, Don and Gee Nicholl and the Nicholl committee, Greg Beal, Joan Wai, and Tara Curtis. A friend recently described to me the life of a writer as either crickets or whiplash. Right now I have the best case of whiplash you can imagine. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

A Pattern Of Success Over Time

Michael didn’t write 29 mediocre scripts over 10 years, then finally write something great. He had a lot of success along the way.

Here are some of the milestones Michael hit before winning the Nicholl:

  • 2002 Chesterfield Writers’ Film Project, Semifinalist
  • 2004 Radmin Company Screenwriting Contest, Special Honor
  • 2004 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, Semifinalist (top 30 of 6,073)
  • 2005 Filmmakers International Screenwriting Awards, Semifinalist
  • 2005 Century City Film Festival, Semifinalist
  • 2006 Century City Film Festival, Semifinalist
  • 2006 Scriptapalooza, Quarterfinalist
  • 2006 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, Semifinalist (top 2% of 4,899)
  • 2006 UCLA Extension Screenwriting Competition, Top 10 Finalist
  • 2007 UCLA Extension Screenwriting Competition, Top 10 Finalist

Good Is Sometimes Not Good Enough

I want you to be inspired by Werwie’s success. But I also want you to keep a realistic eye toward what it takes to break into Hollywood by entering contests.

There are plenty of contest winners who have not gotten representation or sold their scripts for lots of money.  It’s not an automatic ticket to success.

However, entering contests is a way to accumulate a pattern of success over time–and that, in conjunction with great material, increases your chances.

Think about this–in 2004, when Werwie was a Nicholl semifinalist, or in 2006, when he was a Nicholl semifinalist again, he was still hearing “crickets.” He kept writing and entering the Nicholl for five more years until he became one of the five Nicholl fellows of 2012.

Now, finally, he has whiplash.

Hearty congratulations to all the 2012 Nicholl Fellows – Nikole Beckwith, Sean Robert Daniels, James DiLapo, Allan Durand and Michael Werwie.

Thanks to Mark Martino for sharing the link.

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Discussion About How To Win The Prestigious Nicholl Screenwriting Contest

  1. Mark Martino

    Stephanie, thank you for sharing Michael’s story. The additional information you provided about his pattern of success is critical to understanding why he is a good role model for screenwriters. I’ve met writers who placed or won contests, including the Nicholl, who were unable to get representation or contracts. Screenwriting contest entries are not lottery tickets.

  2. Michael James

    Wow… I hope he reaches the stars, great lesson in perseverance. 🙂

  3. Ute

    20 years?! Here I am quietly freaking out so not to disturb my fellow artists in the studio. Are you trying to keep the field of aspiring writers small? 😉 What was he living on during those TWENTY years. Have to be off now buying a lotery ticket. Bye babies. xx