Expert screenwriting tips by working screenwriters
Expert screenwriting tips
If you have not already, please read the Nicholl Fellowship introductory article.
The How to Win a Nicholl Fellowship is a series of articles:
All scripts are read twice in the first round.
Of the entries, approximately 10%, those with the best scores from one of the first two readers, are read a third time.
FYI, scripts advance to the quarterfinal round based on the best two of three scores.
60 or better on our 100-point scoring system is considered a positive score.
850 (approx 12%) [2013 Contest]
Don't know exactly what the average score was, but the median score for two reads was 172 (out of 200) - ie 86%. [2013 Contest]
...quarterfinalists have at least two scores averaging 81.5 [2012 contest] from experienced readers, that semifinalists have at least five scores averaging 82, that the top 30 have at least eight scores averaging 85, that the finalists have at least eight scores averaging 87.
I believe I've addressed this question in this forum a number of times over the years. Let me do it again.
There is no "rush" period. It is a little slower for individual readers when each begins because we build gradually into larger stacks. But the most scripts we ever assign is 24 a week, in separate groups of 12. A reader must finish a previously assigned stack before she will receive a new stack. Thus "full-time" Nicholl readers are judging 24 scripts most weeks throughout the competition. Many readers, though, are not reading "full-time" and only judge 8 or 12 or 16 scripts in a week.
As I've mentioned previously, other factors may be at work. Some readers may be a little tougher early in the competition, leaving "room" for higher scoring scripts they expect to come later. With scripts read later in the competition, it is possible that an individual reader will already have seen a script in the same genre dealing with similar subject matter. The second script may not seem as "fresh" as the script read earlier. Last year, there seemed to be a good number of zombie and vampire scripts. It is possible that some horror "specialist" readers (which means that they might have been assigned one horror script in every batch of 12 scripts) could have grown increasingly weary of vampires and zombies over the course of the competition.
Once the May 1 deadline passes, we also continuously mix early and middle and later submissions in every batch of 12. At that point, it doesn't matter when you entered - with the exception of scripts entered in the last hour or two prior to the deadline. Those will mostly be among the last scripts read during the first round.
In other words, negatives and positives are possible for any reader at any point in the competition.
The one suggestion I always make is not to wait until the final few hours. Even then, it doesn't really matter, as scripts entered early, in the middle and late have advanced in the competition.
Given that we're reading every script at least twice, that may change all of the above slightly. For instance, we could read every script once and then begin all of the second reads. If so, then the second reads will be totally mixed in terms of first score and arrival date. Or we might be assigning second reads simultaneously with first reads in order to keep readers reading prior to the May 1 deadline. We won't know this until we see how submissions arrive and reading unfolds.
My advice: if your script is finished and you're no longer tweaking, enter near the early March 15 deadline to take advantage of the lower entry fee. If you aren't ready for the early deadline, then enter in the area of April 25-29, so that you have plenty of time to tweak and so that you won't be among the last 1500 or so entries.
...we ask readers to stop reading immediately if they only have an inkling that they might have read a script before - wherever they might have read it - and we assign a different script in its place.
Our system doesn't allow us to assign a script title to a reader who has previously read that script and warns us if the reader has read the writer previously. By and large, we do not assign any writer's script to a reader who has read the writer in a prior year.
These days, new readers often are recommended by a current reader. Occasionally, a potential reader will cold contact us. Year to year, the turnover is fairly slight, as are the new hires. In fact, in some years we do not add any new readers. More often, we add about a half-dozen new readers in a given year. Nicholl readers' backgrounds vary. Many are writers; many are or have been script readers.
All of them have worked in some capacity within the industry, and all of them have resided in Southern California.
Over the years, the Nicholl reading staff has included writers, directors, producers, agents, executives, actors and development assistants. Several Nicholl fellows have read after winning; one fellow was a reader prior to winning. We even have a former production company president reading for the competition.
The biggest myth is that only dramas do well in the Nicholl competition. Actually, year in and out, scripts in all genres advance to the quarterfinals and beyond about as expected based on the number of scripts entered in those genres.
The competition is highly competitive and the margin between advancing and not advancing from the first round is slight. For instance, last year  a combined score of 163 (e.g., 82/81) advanced a script to the quarterfinal round. If a script only had a combined score of 162 (e.g., 81/81), it would not advance.
Plus the reading enterprise is highly subjective and readers often disagree about the quality of a script. Easy to be loved by one reader and disliked by the next.
BTW, scripts are not assigned to readers/judges who have read them (or the writer) in a prior year.
It probably means either you scanned a paper copy of your script or you're working in Final Draft 7.0. It's difficult to reduce the size of scanned PDF scripts but not impossible. One has to know their way around a good scanner to reduce the size.
For the Final Draft issue, there are two solutions. You could upgrade to FD 7.1 or later. If that's not possible, you can install a free PDF conversion program such as CutePDF, Primo PDF or PDF995. All work quite well with Final Draft and other programs and are relatively quick and easy to install.
Actually, the rules state that scripts should be approximately 90 to 120 pages long. The key word being "approximately." In fact, though, there is no hard upper or lower limit. Be aware that if we do not consider an entry to be a feature film screenplay, it will be guaranteed two low scores in the competition.
Yes and no. Those scripts that arrive earliest are more apt to be read first, but they aren't read in order. Scripts are always distributed to readers in batches mixed by entry number (the equivalent of by date).
For instance, if 1200 scripts were available to be distributed, one would be selected randomly from the first hundred, one from the second hundred, and so on. Thus the batch might have scripts numbered 57 / 123 / 278 / 362 / 409 / 586 / 655 / 734 / 851 / 927 / 1033 / 1196, and submission dates would range over at least four weeks.
In reality, a batch of first reads can currently range from a script numbered under 100 to one numbered just over 4000, which would include submission dates from January through yesterday.
No, we don't. All scripts in the first round are read as PDFs.
Due to production work we have suspended our coverage service for now.