Nicholl Notes and Depressing Comedies

It’s been a rough month for me. After I got word my LOST IN THE SUPERMARKET script didn’t make it into the semifinal round, I received more bad news. Two smaller fellowship programs — one for Asian-Americans, another geared to Hawaii screenwriters — notified me I did not make their cut either. The same LOST script that scored high enough to be in the top 5 percent of 7,251 Nicholl entries did not impress readers in other contests that don’t attract nearly as many submissions. But judging at any level is subjective, so none of this surprised me.

In any event, when I get depressed, I look forward to reading books or watching movies that might get me out of my funk. Something to make me smile, laugh, see the bright side of life in general. So I had high hopes for THIS IS THE END since most critics said it was hilarious, although there was profanity and a lot of “adult” humor. They must have seen a different movie than the piece of crap I saw. Okay, at first the idea of watching Seth Rogen, James Franco, et al, playing over the top versions of themselves was amusing… for about 15 minutes. Then it became a series of increasingly juvenile bits with them screaming “sh*t… what the f@ck… f@cking this/that/you” and other unimaginative putdowns that I hardly consider “adult” in any way, shape or form of writing. In hindsight, I wonder if they even bothered to “write” a script for this movie. It was depressing to think that this is the new standard for humor in modern American films.

Which brings me back to the Nicholl Fellowships. I guess their readers are out of step with Hollywood because the notes I got back from two of their contest judges said they liked my script because they felt it was funny, yet was “very mature” and had an “adult vibe” that made it stand out. This was the first year that excerpts from the readers’ comments were sent to writers who placed in the quarterfinals on up.  They did not send the complete reviews/scores or indicate who the readers were, so it’s sort of like incomplete coverage that only focuses on the positives.

The thing I found most funny — and flattering — about the comments was that one reader wrote: “I would bet money that the author once worked the same job as the protagonist in real life.” In the script, my protag works part-time in a supermarket as part of the security staff that monitors customers for theft and other potential problems in the store… a job I never had, but did research for the screenplay. I always strive for authenticity and try to find details in my characters’ occupations that will create a sense of verisimilitude, and give the illusion I know what the hell I’m writing about.

For what it’s worth, here’s the Nicholl notes in their entirety just as I received them on a single page Word Document. If you’d like to read my script, feel free to hit me up with an email…

2013 Nicholl Fellowships – QF Readers Comments for “Lost in the Supermarket” by Rich Figel

This script captures both the thrill of witnessing a born musical talent who has gone full tilt to fine tune his ability as well as the yearning for an artist’s beloved and realization that a life of artistic passion also carries many costs.

Phil’s honesty about his own lack of sheer genius or extraordinary talent as well as his open awe for those who possess them are touching. Through his perspective, we too both admire Davis’ gift, courage and choices as well as mourn the losses these choices have cost him.

Gen is flawed yet sympathetic as we ride the ups and downs with her, through Phil’s infatuated eyes while he covets his idol’s girlfriend. The writer adds welcome complexity to this love triangle: Phil loves Davis as an inspiring mentor and longs for his gift and girlfriend yet also feels her pain in loving an artist whose music comes first.

The story builds more and the craft improves as it progresses. Phil’s honesty is disarming. The humor is funny yet also feels genuine. This story is poignant, and the writer doesn’t compromise, particularly at the conclusion.


Reader 2:

There’s a very mature and adult vibe and tone to this story that makes it stand out.  The way the protagonist comes to care about and form a friendship with the musician feels different from what we usually see and the way he falls in love with the man’s girl is refreshing— though he longs for her, he respects the musician too much and keeps his relationship with the girl on a friends only level. 

This has a simple set-up and is easy to follow yet it has special touches that make it feel unique and fresh.  Humor is integrated expertly into the story and there are some great individual scenes and moments that add to the story without necessarily advancing it.  The central conflict is subtle yet still drives the plot slowly drawing us into the action.  We can’t help but fall in love with these characters and care about what happens to them.

The characters show real depth and personality.  They are likable.  Many of them are funny and provide a nice balance to the main drama which deals with the jazz musician and his girlfriend.  The way our protagonist becomes involved with the couple is worked into the story in a logical manner.  The dialogue is great — the conversations have a smooth flow and the lines sparkle with wit and realism.

The setting is used to good effect and there are a lot of “inside” moments about the way the supermarket works — I would bet money that the author once worked the same job as the protagonist in real life.  The descriptions are good and movement and action are laid out clearly — the reader easily forms a mental picture of what is happening on the page.

There were a few typos and some minor formatting issues but nothing to get worked up over.  All in all, this is a solid and tight work that shows a lot of creativity and skill.  I liked it a lot.

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3 Comments on “Nicholl Notes and Depressing Comedies”

  1. N.G. Davis Says:

    For what it’s worth, a script that didn’t even make the Nicholl QF wound up getting me repped by one of the top five spec-selling managers of 2012, who later got me an option for the same script with a big production company. The Nicholl is still the best contest out there and I don’t mean to knock it, but it’s definitely all subjective.

    And speaking of subjectivity, I loved THIS IS THE END!

    • richfigel Says:

      Re the Nicholl, even the director (Greg Beal) would be the first to say many writers that did not advance have gotten reps or deals off scripts that didn’t make the cut.

      Re THIS IS THE END, well, different strokes for different folks! I was repped by the manager who ‘discovered’ Tarantino, and what’s funny is she was a minister’s daughter who never used profanity… yet she recognized he (and his writing partners) had a unique voice — that happened to include lots of profanity. But when I reread stuff like PULP FICTION, there is more than just “f*ckin'” this or that. There’s some real wit and characterization behind the lines of dialogue.

      Maybe I’m just getting old, but whacking off jokes just don’t do much for me anymore!

  2. Wait until November.

    You will get emails from producers.

    There will be interest in your script just from having made it to the quarterfinal round.

    There is always hope.

    Never give up.

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