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January 26, 2015

SCA Alums Announced as 2014 Humanitas Prize Winners

By Kaiti Williamson

Nora Sullivan at the event

SCA swept the winnings for the Humanitas Prize in 2014, with two alumni being honored for their pilot scripts. Both winners are 2014 graduates of the M.F.A. Writing for Screen & Television program. Nora Sullivan was awarded the David & Lynn Angell Comedy Fellowship for her script entitled St. Anthonys, while Emily Brochin won the Drama Fellowship for her script entitled The Gatekeepers.

The Humanitas Prize celebrates writing that promotes ideals of human dignity and humanity. Sullivan’s script, St. Anthonys, examines a humorous and heart-felt relationship between mother and daughter as they adapt to a new life in a Catholic parish after joining the Witness Protection Program. Brochin’s script, The Gatekeepers, follows patients and officials through the immigration screening process at the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital in the early 1900s.

Sullivan said she wrote the pilot script for her thesis at USC after first considering potential story arcs and character developments throughout a series.

Brochin, however, focused on writing the initial pilot story and relied on the circumstances of the location to provide the development of the drama throughout a series. When asked what she felt was the most difficult thing about screenwriting, Brochin said she believes it is “when you encounter a story or character problem that seems like its going to derail the whole project. It can be hard to overcome that moment of total panic.”

When writing The Gatekeepers, Brochin said she had many moments of panic resulting from the size of the world that had been created along with the extensive research that went into developing realistic character motivations during that time period.

While Brochin said she takes long walks to unravel any problems in a script, Sullivan said she often begins again from a clean slate whenever she runs into roadblocks. “It was at USC where I really started to understand that rewriting usually means big changes, and I became comfortable throwing things out to make something better,”said Sullivan.

When asked what advice they would give to aspiring screenwriters, both addressed the importance of networking. “I was very afraid of reaching out to people when I first began writing,”said Sullivan, “But if you’re respectful and genuine, it’s amazing how many people will be willing to talk to you and offer some advice.”

Brochin also recommended that students “try and find mentors or a community of other writers who can all share experiences and shepherd each other through.”

Both winners said they are excited and honored to have been acknowledged for their works and have been surprised by the doors that opened for them to meet many talented and established writers and development executives. While neither of their scripts was picked up to shoot yet, both intend to continue writing for television in the future.

Other winners of the Humanitas Prize in 2014 include John Ridley for the script, 12 Years of Slave,and Damien Chazelle for the script, Whiplash.