You have a screenplay you know is great. If only the right eyes could see it, you may just get your big break. You’ve tried sending emails to producers, or maybe you even considered using a screenwriting agent. Another option you’ve heard of is participating in a screenwriting fellowship.
What is a screenwriting fellowship? A screenwriting fellowship is a contest for amateur screenwriters that is offered by movie organizations, studios, or networks. If you win, you could work with professionals to sharpen your screenplay and maybe even get a writing spot on a major network.
As you can imagine, a screenwriting fellowship can be a huge launching pad into a possible career in film or TV. If you want to know everything there is about these fellowships, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’ll explain the basics and what you can expect if you get in. I’ll even share some fellowship programs to apply to.
Screenwriting Fellowships: The Basics
Fellowships exist in all sorts of fields, most commonly academia. As a simple definition, when you win a fellowship, you’re getting paid to do something in your industry. In the case of screenwriting, this would be finessing your script with the aid of a professional or even a team of professionals.
Many organizations offer screenwriting fellowships, from the Oscars to Austin Film Festival, CBS, Disney, NBC, HBO, Tribeca Film Institute, and countless others. These companies and organizations may open up a fellowship annually or more seldom than that.
If you apply to the fellowship, it’s usually open for a limited time. Sometimes, you get several months to put together your materials and other times, it’s just 30 days.
What materials do you need when applying to a fellowship? Well, it depends on which one you’re entering. At the very least, you must have your screenplay and a resume. Some fellowship programs ask for a cover letter or a letter of interest, others want a personal statement, and more still will ask for letters of recommendation.
Also, I want to note that some screenwriting fellowships do charge you a fee to apply. For example, if you wanted to get a fellowship through Humanitas New Voices, you’d have to pay $100 to enter. The Sundance Institute’s Episodic Storytelling Lab asks for only $40 as a “processing fee.”
Once you submit your application, you then wait to hear if you’ve been selected for the fellowship. While it certainly varies by program, few fellowships select just one aspiring screenwriter. Some may choose up to eight, which certainly gives you a shot at winning.
Another thing worth mentioning is that many fellowships have restrictions on who can enter. For example, you must always be at least 18 years old. If you’ve earned prior lifetime income from screenwriting or television and film work, you may also be prohibited from entering. Typically, this has to be thousands of dollars, but always read the instructions before applying.
What Can You Expect If You Win a Screenwriting Fellowship?
Not all screenwriting fellowships are created equally. Depending on the size of the organization or company, they only have so much money to allocate for the fellowship. For that reason, the experience you get if you win differs.
If you applied to be a part of the Warner Bros. Writing Workshop, for example, your fellowship would have you working with executives and writers at Warner Bros. After your time at the fellowship, you could earn a job writing for a Warner Bros. TV show.
Nickelodeon’s Writing Program fellowship winners may begin producing children’s TV. NBCUniversal Writers on the Verge has a similar objective, finding the next staff members for their writing team.
At the above-mentioned Humanitas New Voices fellowship, you’d spend three months with a mentor to work on your screenplay. Humanitas staff will even pass the finished screenplay to their network executives or studio partner to see if something gets off the ground.
If you won the HBOAccess Writing Fellowship, you’d be invited to Santa Monica, California to the HBO campus. There, you’d participate in a weeklong master class series where you learn more about writing characters, stories, and structuring your screenplay from real HBO showrunners and executives. There’s also a class on the business side of getting your screenplay produced into film or TV.
Programs and Fellowships for Aspiring Screenwriters
While I’ve touched on some screenwriting fellowships throughout this article, I wanted to take this section to highlight some of the top ones that you might consider applying to.
Oscars’ Academy Nicholl Fellowship
The Academy Nicholl fellowship is an Oscars program that selects five winners every year. Each earns a fellowship good for $35,000. Not only will the winner get to work on their screenplay, but they also get to go to the seminars and ceremonies during Oscars awards week and be part of the excitement.
To participate, your transcript must in English. You also should not have made over $25,000 in television or film work over the course of your life. There are entry fees beginning at $45 for the earliest application submission time and $85 for late entries.
NBCUniversal Late Night Writers Workshop
If you do comedy screenwriting, then you might consider the NBCUniversal Late Night Writers Workshop. This fellowship seeks screenwriters with talent but without industry connections. Through the workshop, you’ll learn what it takes to get a job as a staff writer for a comedy network.
As part of your application, you need sketches written in a Saturday Night Live style, desk bit ideas (up to two pages of these), and monologue jokes (another one to two pages). This fellowship does have an interview component for finalists before the winner is selected.
ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship
For more than seven years, the ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship has helped budding screenwriters get hired by many entertainment organizations. These include Lit Entertainment, Romark Entertainment, Bellevue Productions, Writ Large, ICM, Paradigm Talent Agency, United Talent Agency, 3 Arts Entertainment, WME, CAA, and more.
Fellowship winners will go to Los Angeles to meet agents, literary managers, producers, and studio executives. They’ll also have mentorship and meetings there. You only need to submit a cover letter and your script to apply.
Disney/ABC Writing Program
Each year in the spring, the Disney/ABC Writing Program begins accepting applications again. This fellowship lasts a whole year, in which you’re paid $961.54 a week. The workshop will teach you how to become a Walt Disney Television staff writer. You’ll also be in a great position to land a job there. If you’re familiar with Bryan Oh (Chicago Fire), Jane Espenson (Once Upon a Time), or Maria Jacquemetton (Mad Men), all are alumni of the Disney/ABC Writing Program.
Austin Film Festival Screenplay and Teleplay Competition
Another top-notch fellowship is the Austin Film Festival Screenplay and Teleplay Competition. Even if you don’t win, you will still get your screenplay read by film and television experts, guaranteed. Austin Film Festival also keeps up with email notifications and mailed letters so you’re never left guessing if they even received your application. That’s something you don’t find with a lot of fellowships.
If you make it to the second round, you could be invited to participate in workshops on the business side of producing films and finding representation. Winners get to network with representatives from Pixar, DreamWorks, Haven Entertainment, Fourth Floor Productions, Washington Square Arts, Nickelodeon, Seven Bucks Productions, and more.
Tips for Winning a Screenplay Fellowship
While there’s no guarantee you’ll win a fellowship you apply to, there are some things you can to increase your chances of success. Here are some tips:
- Follow all the application directions. Make sure you read and reread the instructions so you’re certain you’re not missing anything. Failing to adhere to the directions could cost you the fellowship, as can omissions of important details.
- Ensure your screenplay sings! You may want to shell out some cash to hire a professional editor to go through the screenplay with a fine-toothed comb. Not only are they looking for spelling or grammatical errors you may have missed, but issues like plot holes and untied loose ends.
- Start small and work your way up. While it’d be amazing to win the Oscars’ fellowship, that’s a pretty tall order. Set your sights on a smaller fellowship and see if you can win there. Yes, it’s often less money (and acclaim), but it’d look so much better on your Oscars fellowship application if you can say you’d won another fellowship prior.
- Keep at it. Not hearing back can be discouraging, as can getting to a certain stage of the application process and then being passed over. It happens, though, and you can’t quit. Take a break, dust yourself off, and keep applying. There are plenty of fellowship programs out there to try winning.
A screenwriting fellowship is an awesome opportunity to work with real executives and production staff on your screenplay. You could maybe even get your movie or show produced on the big screen. Other fellowships hire screenwriters to produce content for major television networks.
You’re now ready to put your best foot forward and apply for your first screenwriting fellowship. Best of luck!