MOVIES | Minnesotan wins $30,000 Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship

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Micah Ranum of Minnesota is one of five writers selected Wednesday as a recipient of the 25th annual Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.

The Nicholl Fellowships are presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  Each writer will receive a $30,000 prize, the first installment of which will be distributed at a gala dinner in Beverly Hills on November 4.

“I am thrilled. It’s a tremendous opportunity. It’s the most prestigious screenwriting contest in the country,” said Ranum. “So many great scriptwriters have come out of the Nicholl Fellowship.”

Ranum, 32, was raised in Viking, about five hours north of the Twin Cities, and graduated from Marshall County Central High School in Newfolden.

“I claim both those towns. I always had a love of Minnesota,” said Ranum in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. “Way up north there isn’t much to do growing-up so I went to movies a lot.”

Ranum’s winning script, A Good Hunter, is a thriller set in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. “In an unforgiving wilderness, a reformed hunter tracks a vicious killer who may have kidnapped his daughter years ago” describes his Fellowship entry.

“It’s definitely a suspense thriller. [The script] is very much rooted in Minnesota,” he said.

Ranum began gravitating to movie making in his early 20’s and heard of the Nicholl Fellowship while attending Montana State University. “[MSU] has a very good natural sciences program and a great film program focusing on short films and documentaries.”

After graduating from MSU, Ranum worked at Starz Entertainment in Denver in video marketing. “But I still had a strong desire to make movies, so I went back to film school at Florida State University in Tallahassee where I got a MFA in film production,” he said. “I moved to LA and have lived here for the past couple of years.”

Although he has written eight scripts, this is the first time Ranum has entered the competition. “It had to be a really good script. It’s the first one I felt was good enough to enter.”

Ranum said his parents, who still reside in Viking, are happy for him. “My parents are and have been very supportive of my dream. They and my grandparents are rooting for me from afar.”

Ranum also has a background in directing and has finished another script and other screenplays. He acknowledged the community of local talent. “There’s a lot of talent out of Minnesota, people that really work hard. The state work ethic says a lot for Minnesota. I can think of the Cohen Brothers for one example. I’ll never forget Minnesota. I watch the Vikings play every week.”

This year’s winners are (listed alphabetically by author):

  • Destin Daniel Cretton, San Diego, California, Short Term 12
  • Marvin Krueger, North Hollywood, California, And Handled with a Chain
  • Andrew Lanham, Austin, Texas, The Jumper of Maine
  • Micah Ranum, Beverly Hills, California, A Good Hunter
  • Cinthea Stahl, North Hollywood, Calif., Identifying Marks

The winners were selected from 6,304 scripts submitted for this year’s competition from all 50 states and internationally. Quarter finalists also had a good showing from Minnesota. Nicholl Fellowship Administrator Greg Beal stated in an August interview only five percent of the 6,304 scripts even get to the Quarter Finals. “Minnesota, with seven of 52 entries advancing, is doing considerably better than average,” he said. Another Minnesota Nicholl Fellowship was 2008’s winner Jeremy Bandow for his script Hive.

Final judging of the competition was conducted by the Nicholl Committee, chaired by producer Gale Anne Hurd and composed of writers Naomi Foner, Daniel Petrie, Jr., Tom Rickman and Dana Stevens; actor Eva Marie Saint; cinematographers John Bailey and Steven B. Poster; executive Bill Mechanic; producers Peter Samuelson and Robert W. Shapiro; and agent Ronald R. Mardigian.

Fellowships are awarded with the understanding that the recipients will each complete a feature-length screenplay during their fellowship year.  The Academy acquires no rights to the works of Nicholl fellows and does not involve itself commercially in any way with their completed scripts.

Since the program’s inception in 1985, 113 fellowships have been awarded, and a number of fellows have achieved considerable success.  Mike Rich, a 1998 fellow, wrote Secretariat, which opened this month. Susannah Grant, a 1992 fellow, earned an Oscar nomination in 2000 for her Erin Brockovich screenplay.  Andrew W. Marlowe, a 1992 fellow, created and executive produces ABC’s Castle, for which Terri Miller, also a 1992 fellow, is a writer-producer. City Island, which was written and directed by 1991 fellow Raymond De Felitta, premiered theatrically in March of this year.