“You know somethin’, Utivich? I think this just might be my masterpiece!”


Just saying the title makes me proud.


I recently completed the second draft of my epic sci-fi action/thriller script and…I could be happier.

Wait, what?

Yes. Even something that remains so gloriously imperfect can still serve as a source of pride. Shifter began as a raw concept in 2021 that eventually blossomed into what I perceive as an entertaining and relatable story. It took a while, but I completed the first draft about a year ago while on house arrest with my new golden pup, Jodie. I have since spent the last twelve months agonizingly rewriting and revising the script until I felt moderate enough to call it a second draft.

But here’s the thing: unlike other projects, I had to force myself to wrap the draft because I decided to enter Shifter into the Academy Nicholl Fellowship (yes, that Academy).

It may not be its best version, but it’s the best that I can do for now.

The Academy Nicholl Fellowship is the most sought after laurel in the entire screenplay competition circuit. Even though competitions are such a crapshoot to begin with, if there’s one that you’re going to enter and place in, this is the one. I don’t openly talk much about my screenwriting, and I think part of the reason is due to the fact that I’ve been held hostage in conversations with aspiring pros who are mindlessly chasing the pink elephant of fame in LA. If you’ve ever been trapped in one of those conversations, then you know how torturously boring they usually are:

“Yeah, I quit my job to move to LA to sell my script. It’s about a guy who does stuff and then he finds out that “stuff” is really an abstract concept…*15 minutes later*…and he goes on a journey to discover the penultimate block of cheese that will salvage the self-implosion of reality while blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.”

Oh, my gosh, those conversations are hell. But I’ll tell you what: if you place in the Nicholl Fellowship, suddenly you have yourself a nice icebreaker to at least start the conversation. Outsiders to screenwriting won’t know anything about the hundreds of bizarrely mediocre contests out there, but they will know about the Academy.

And so…this year’s competition is capped at 5,500 submissions and only one submission per writer. That meant that I had to make a couple timely decisions. First, I had to wrap up the second draft and/or even decide if I wanted to submit it. I always could have submitted Skull Creek Canyon, which is far more accomplished, polished, and marketable due to its high concept/low budget storyline, but I chose instead to take a leap of faith with the untested Shifter. Why? Well, why not?

I submitted the script at around the 3,500 submission mark and thought that I’d leave it alone for a while to focus on other projects. Much to my surprise, I’ve already begun work on a third draft. I just can’t put the damn thing down. All of these new ideas keep popping up that I can’t ignore.

I’m not going to say what Shifter is about, other than it takes place in the future and that right there presents a huge challenge because building the world is, quite frankly, a bitch on wheels. Logistical questions continue to arise during the writing process and once one plot hole is patched, another inevitably opens up. That’s science fiction for ya.

I’m not gonna lie; maintaining a positive mindset amidst a windfall of rejected job applications can be challenging. I mean, they always say “oooooh, being rejected for a job isn’t personal, don’t worry about it.” Well, yeah, but when you get rejected over and over, it messes with you a little bit. But when I think of this script and what it represents, I suddenly feel validated by my own creative accomplishment. Shifter hasn’t won anything. In fact, it hasn’t done anything at all. No one has read it, I haven’t conducted any table reads, and it’s not premiering on Netflix next month. But I still wrote it. I developed it. And I felt okay enough with this draft to submit it to the most prestigious competition on the circuit.

My masterpiece is growing up.