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Two scripts from Western Australian writing teams have made it to the semi-finals of The Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.

Presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Nicholl Fellowship is an international screenwriting competition established to identify and encourage talented new screenwriters.

We asked Maziar Lahooti and Steven McCall (DIE WELL) and Aaron McCann and Dom Pearce (BIG RED) to tell us about their projects and their experience getting to the semi-finals.

DIE WELL – Maziar Lahooti and Steven McCall

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Maziar: “Well, I’m a Perth based Iranian/Norwegian/Australian filmmaker, an AFTRS masters graduate (which I’m very proud of since it was basically my life goal to get in).

“I’m currently attached to direct my debut feature film BELOW, which is financed by Screenwest and Screen Australia, produced by Veronica Gleeson and Nick Batzias via Good Thing Productions, and set to shoot early 2019. Under Veronica’s guidance as our creative producer, I’ve directed Ian Wilding through story development throughout the adaptation of his original stage play to the current shooting script.”

What is the history of your Nicholls Script?

Maziar: “DIE WELL is a long form adaptation of my AFTRS Masters 2012 Project Short Film HEAVEN.

“Aspects of the short seemed to really resonate with audiences in festivals so I developed the story over several treatments and drafts for a few years before finally arriving at the version of the story as it stands now in around 2016.

“At this point I asked Steven McCall to come on board as my co-writer, to draft the first pass off my scriptment. I then rewrote his pass, and we went back and forth, as we received notes on the script, until the draft got to the current Nicholl draft.

“It’s a process that works really well for us, and one we intend to continue with moving forward, hopefully on different projects too!”

What has the experience been like getting into the Nicholl Fellowship semi-finals?

Maziar: “Well, I mean it’s not over yet so who knows at this stage, and we haven’t even got the notes back yet, which is honestly the best thing about it.

“That said, a previous spec of mine – NOMAD – made it to the semi-finals in 2016, and the attention from that for getting readers, getting a manager in the states, and its eventual option by Causeway Films (BABADOOK, CARGO) did at least in some way occur via doors opened in part by its previous Nicholl Fellowship shortlist.

This is the last year I’ll qualify to submit since I’ll pass the eligibility requirements, but I’m hoping DIE WELL’s shortlist has a similar effect of attracting keen readers and raising Steven’s profile as well our profile as co-writers. I love co-writing, and it’s a really tricky story, so it’s a real confidence booster to even have got to the last 150 or so from a pool of around 7000!

What is the most exciting thing about being a semi-finalist?

Maziar: “Honestly, the most exciting thing is getting the notes back (which we haven’t yet) so we can make the script even better.

“That’s what I found the last time I was a semi-finalist with NOMAD, that it can imbue you (me) with a false sense of finality as to if the script is “finished” or not.

“It’s important for us to keep in mind that the best thing about making it to the semis is that several academy members have read the script closely, and at the very least will have very useful notes which will without a doubt be vital in taking it that next step.”

 

BIG RED – Aaron McCann and Dom Pearce

Tell us a little bit about yourselves!

Dom: “Aaron made a bunch of online web content, most of which got banned…”

Aaron: “Not my fault.”

Dom: “Then we both got offered a small TV spot for the 2016 World Cup.”

Aaron: “Which also got banned.”

Dom: “That was our fault.”

Aaron: “Not really…”

Dom: “Well, FIFA’s fault.”

Aaron: “Allegedly.”

Dom: “Then SBS offered us the opportunity to make TOP KNOT DETECTIVE…”

Aaron: “Which was originally meant to just be a small web series, but accidentally became our first indie feature film.”

Dom: “Accidentally is a subtle way of saying: by-design.”

Aaron: “Luckily that didn’t get banned, and then we got the opportunity to screen the finished film at Fantastic Fest in 2017 and since then we have just been writing specs and jumping from project to project under the different hats we wear from time to time. I work as an Assistant Director and also direct music videos.”

Dom: “… and I also direct music videos, dabble in advertising and edit other people’s films and docos.”

What is your project about?

BIG RED is about a desperate mission to colonise Mars that goes horribly wrong, leaving only two sole survivors: a pair of reality show contestants who are going through the world’s worst break-up.

Dom & Aaron: “We wrote the treatment for the screenplay while we were working on TOP KNOT DETECTIVE around the time of the 2016 US Election.

We wanted to make a comment on how sad it was that the world is now run by failing reality show stars, and it happened to coincide with Elon Musk announcing his plans to go to Mars.

It started out as a little joke and over the years it just became more depressing and real. So, we decided to write a sci-fi comedy that would tackle those issues.”

What has the experience been like getting into the Nicholl Fellowship semi-finals?

Dom & Aaron: “We’ve known about the Nicholl Fellowship for a long time and decided that, whilst it’s very early in our career, we should give it a shot, especially with this screenplay.

We heard that we were selected for the quarterfinals. There were 6,895 screenplays entered and the Academy chose 349 Quarterfinalists. We were really blown away. We honestly didn’t think that we would get much further as it’s just an incredible honour to be selected out of that many entrants.

Then, a month later, we got the notification to say we made it into the semi-finals. The academy picked 151 out of the 349 and it was huge for us. We honestly can’t thank the readers and the academy enough and just to be a part of the Nicholl Fellowship in this way is incredibly humbling and a little bit ridiculous.”

Dom: We’re very much still starting off in our careers, but we really hope that this screenplay will help get us some more exposure, and hopefully lead to some life changing events.”

Aaron: “Hopefully none of those life changing events are linked to reality stars and Mars or the eventual destruction of society as we know it.”

Dom: “But who knows; it’s been a weird year.”