Meet Renee Pillai, The First Malaysian Screenwriter To Gain Recognition In Hollywood!
Let’s give a big round of applause to Renee!
In November 2019, Renee Pillai, a freelance writer for many years, became the first Malaysian screenwriter to win the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, a renowned screenwriting fellowship programme by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (yes, the body that gives out the Oscars!!).
Her script, Boy With Kite beat over 7,000 film scripts from other parts of the world.
Armed with a passion for words and having dabbled in various writing jobs from infomercials to a local reality series and content for telcos, Renee finally decided to write her own script in 2014 as writing movies was her dream.
“Screenwriting is a very different form of writing and because I never attended a writing class or went to film school, I read up on books about them such as Syd Field’s Screenplay and Aristotle’s Poetics. I also read as many screenplays as I could online,” she told The Star.
According to her the main appeal of the Nicholl fellowship was “you just have to tell a good story”. Reflecting on her past struggles, she said, “It might be a warped perception. It could just be my own lack of ability. But it did seem like to get any play here, you either already had to be in the industry or you had to be rich, or you had to be connected. And I’m none of those things.”
No doubt, she was over the moon when her name was announced as one of the five winners of the grant given the strict and rigorous selection process – “I didn’t realise how prestigious this was. Just getting into the finals, as the Academy blasts out your name to the industry, you start getting calls from managers and agents requesting for more scripts.”
Through it all, Renee remains grateful to her friends who not only gave her the confidence to pursue her dreams but also financial support – “My friends, who are not rich either, all pooled in money and paid for my passport, US visa and various expenses to attend the award ceremony.”
Here are some quick insights on her winning script, Boy With Kite:
- The story is based in Nebraska – a place Renee has never visited!
- It tells the tale of a middle-aged woman, Stella who has to care for her orphaned young nephew, Ben, after the demise of her estranged brother.
- Forgiveness and redemption are central themes in the script.
- There is a twist of humour. As Renee puts it, “Human beings are a dichotomy between tragedy and comedy”.
Watch Renee’s acceptance speech below:
Thank you, Renee for inspiring us to never lose hope in the face of adversity!
*Featured image sourced from AMPAS