Although they are certainly best known for those other awards they hand out in February, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences do a lot more throughout the year. One of its prized events happened Thursday evening at a dinner at the Beverly Wilshire, where the 26th annual Don and Gee Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowships were awarded to what Academy president Tom Sherak described as the “Academy’s Magnificent 7.”
The Nicholl Fellowships were established in 1985 and are now chaired (and hosted) by new Academy governor Gale Anne Hurd, who told me she’s been on the Nicholl committee since 1989. Each of the writing fellows (or teams) will receive a $35,000 prize in order to continue developing their scripts (checks are handed out in installments with the understanding that the recipients will complete a feature-length screenplay during their fellowship year), and the Academy is not involved otherwise commercially with the scripts in any way and holds no rights to them. Even with the Oscars in the mix, Sherak opened the program by saying: “This is my favorite event. It’s nights like this that I wish I were an agent. You want to sign every one of them.” He added these few winners were chosen from among a record 6,730 entries by the 24 judges and committee members who read everything.
It was quite a night that also included a rousing keynote address from David Seidler, this year’s reigning Best Original Screenplay winner for The King’s Speech and “new Academy member” at age 74. At the reception before the dinner, I asked Seidler how the Oscar has changed his life at this age. He joked, “Producers now owe me more, but it takes them longer.” Seidler is red-hot, though, having completed two new scripts over the summer and now embarking on two rewrites. He asked me who I thought was the front-runner to win Original Screenplay this year and I suggested probably Woody Allen for Midnight In Paris. “Well, he has me beat then,” Seidler said. Allen at 76 would usurp Seidler as the oldest winner ever in that category, meaning that Seidler’s record could be short-lived. His speech, which he said was working on right to the last minute, won over the crowd and certainly provided inspiration for the writers in attendance.