What Criteria are used in Judging the Nicholl Fellowships?

Can’t think of much that’s more important than the answer to the question we pose in the title. Because if you can write to satisfy those brilliant taskmasters, hey, when you’re finished you’ll have something everybody can love.


by Scott Myers

The Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting competition is the most important of all screenplay contests. Founded in 1986, it is administered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and previous winners have included Allison AndersSusannah GrantEhren KrugerMichael A. Rich, and many others who have gone on to careers in the film and television business.

Nicholl readers use the following guidelines to judge and score screenplays during the competition.


Does the story have an original premise?

Does that story idea start the movie forward?

Does the story itself have a strong beginning, middle & end? How about two out of three? If the story is non-linear, does it make sense?

Does this script make you feel that the writer is taking you on a journey?

Does the story connect with you emotionally, whether it’s a comedy or drama or another genre?


Does the script have a distinctive and original voice? (Or do you feel that you’ve read or seen this movie before?)

Are the premise, story and characters new or fresh for you?

Does reading the script make you think, “This person genuinely has the potential to develop into a professional writer”?


Does this script have vivid characters who each speak in their own voice?

Do you want to know what happens to them?

Does the central character change over the course of the story? If it’s an ensemble film, does more than one character change?

Do the dialogue and tone seem consistent from scene to scene?

Does the way the people speak fit the tone and setting of the story?

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