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The Final Draft/New York Film Academy Fellowship

June 8, 2015
5 min read time

What happens after you win a screenwriting contest? For far too many writers, not a whole lot. Winners and finalists of the Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest have a very good track record for success, but the company wanted to do more to empower the winners in their efforts to start a career in screenwriting.

To that end, The Final Draft/New York Film Academy Fellowship in Writing for Film & Television was developed. A merit-based scholarship, the program was carefully designed to raise each Big Break winner and genre finalist to a higher level of storytelling craft and provide intensive real-world training to help deserving writers find success.

Chad Rhiness (Feature winner: 13.1) and Chris Iannacone (TV winner: The Blacklist - William Henry Booker, No.58) as well as the nine other genre finalists attended The Final Draft/New York Film Academy Fellowship in Writing for Film & Television as part of their contest prize package. NYFA created an intensive workshop for these winners focused on revisions, table reads, and classes centered on the business of selling your work. The goal was to help talented writers gain traction from their win and develop another excellent writing sample they can use to gain representation.

“Even people who win screenwriting contests have a lot to learn about screenwriting,” admits feature-winner Chad Rhiness.

Big Break Contest director and Final Draft VP of Events and Services Shelly Mellott adds, “We developed this fellowship because we felt that many writers won a contest and then sat back and thought their careers were made. Even after you sell a script for six figures, your career isn’t made. It takes a lot of hard work and a thorough understanding of how the industry functions. We wanted to give our genre finalists and grand-prize winners the tools to make their scripts even better and to then go out and get representation. Winning a contest validates you as a writer, but it doesn’t give you those skills to capitalize on that success.”

Taught by top NYFA instructors, the Fellowship offered writers individualized instruction and mentoring in their chosen medium of either film or television. The Workshops ran from weeks 2 to 12, 7:00 to 10:00pm. Screenwriters local to NYFA’s Riverside Drive location in Burbank attended in person while the other winners, scattered across the country, attended the virtual classes.

Crickett Rumley, author of Never Sit Down in a Hoopskirt and Other Things I Learned in Southern Belle Hell, created the screenwriting department for The New York Film Academy in 2002 with hopes of further guiding aspiring writers’ scripts and careers. Rumley is the primary professor for the Fellowship and works closely with each writer to develop both scripts and overall skills as screenwriters.

TV winner and Fellow Chris Iannacone says, “The quality of the instructors was outstanding. Their feedback and notes have been of tremendous value to both my current scripts.”

For the Rewrite Workshop, during the first week, and then from weeks five to 11, local Fellows met to discuss the process of rewriting their scripts. They each had actors come in for a table-read of their script and to give notes on plot, character, dialogue, and arc. After the table-read, the Fellows spent time creating a Rewrite Blueprint - a document tracking changes and alterations they would make to their script.

Rumley explains, “The class allows the writer to hear the dialogue and how it is working in the script. Does it sound like how people would talk in real life? You can tell if the dialogue is working or not when the words are said out loud.”

Each writer had the opportunity for an individualized experience in the Rewrite Workshop. “I had each of the writers give me their scripts and cast list. From there I read the script and had a conversation about who were the most important characters and what was their essence. I then reached out to my network of actors so they can read the writers’ scripts out loud and give them notes.” says Rumley.

Chris Iannacone, Big Break TV Winner, recalls his experience at the table read as one to remember. “The opportunity to have a table-reading for a script I’ve been working on was unbelievable. Being able to hear my work read aloud by a group of extraordinarily talented working actors was an invaluable tool in helping to revise and fine-tune my next draft.”

Chad Rhiness, Big Break Feature Winner, found the studying of the notes extremely helpful to his rewrite process. “My advice is to take every note and figure out what it really means for you. Even the worst notes have a kernel of truth.”

Rumley agrees, “It’s always challenging because as a writer, you are very vulnerable in the moment hearing your words read aloud. It is a very powerful experience to do a table read. You can really focus on the character as well as the dialogue and interaction.”

While a great script is the number-one asset you need to succeed in screenwriting, knowing how to find success is an equally important part of the equation. Business classes occurred throughout the Fellowship, in weeks four, six, nine, 10, and 11.  In the Business classes, Fellows focused on finding their brand as a writer, learning trends in the industry today, and how to pitch their work.

To supplement the Business classes, visiting industry VIPs provided first-hand, practical insights into the entertainment industry and how a writer can survive and thrive in it.

Rounding out the intensive schedule of classes and workshops, New York Film Academy offered three "Life In..." panels to the Fellows: Life in Transmedia, Life in Television, and Life in Features that the local Fellows were able to attend. The talented panelists, many of whom are instructors at NYFA, were all deeply embroiled in their fields and able to discuss the nuances of their medium as well as give insight on how to break in.

Iannacone recalls the visiting speakers as a highlight of the Fellowship: “The panels held by NYFA were incredibly informative and interesting. They’ve been a terrific opportunity to hear from working writers across a variety of mediums and get a variety of viewpoints as well as personal stories.”

During week 11, to round out the weeks of hard work, rewrites, table reads, and intensive classes on the craft and business of writing for film and television, the Final Draft Big Break winners were given a chance to ply their skills in the real world.

On Tuesday, May 12th the Fellows and a few select NYFA Masters Alumni gathered on the NYFA Burbank campus to pitch representatives from companies such as Paradigm, UTA, MTA, Gersch, The Radmin Company, and APA. The classes on preparing to pitch gave the Fellows confidence in their material, and they impressed these execs with their ideas and delivery. Many scripts were requested and several important relationships were established.

Now that the Fellowship has come to an end, each Fellow has been given a New York Film Academy Mentor to meet with once a month for the remainder of the calendar year for further guidance in script and career development.

“The support and encouragement from the entire NYFA team has been remarkable. They have really gone out of their way to tailor the program to the individual needs of the participants,” says Iannacone.

Rhiness encourages writers to enter the Big Break in hopes of winning the Fellowship. “I can’t speak highly enough of the NYFA staff and the experience as a whole. It’s a really exciting aspect of the Final Draft Big Break Experience.”

For more information on The Big Break Screenwriting Competition, click here!

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