BANGOR, Maine — Andrew Lanham got his big break Tuesday night while walking into a Sufjan Stevens concert in Austin, Texas. The 26-year-old Bangor native got a phone call from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences telling him he was one of five winners of a Nicholl Fellowship, a prestigious academy screenwriting award for new, unproduced writers, for his screenplay titled “The Jumper of Maine.” The award comes with a $30,000 prize and a chance to launch a serious career in movies.
“I was literally on my way into the concert when I got the phone call,” said Lanham. “I was stunned. It kind of blew my mind.”
As if that wasn’t enough, on Saturday afternoon Lanham will find out whether “The Jumper of Maine” wins another award, this time at the Austin Film Festival, where the screenplay is up for prizes in the drama and independent categories. Drama winners receive a $10,000 award; independent winners receive $5,000. Lanham conceivably could win both.
“[The Austin Film Festival is] the same kind of big deal as the Nicholl’s award except for independent film,” said Lanham. “It’s considered the premier film festival in the country for screenwriters.”
It has been a whirlwind month for Lanham, who found out in late August that he was one of 10 finalists for the Nicholl Fellowship. The award has kicked off many fruitful careers in movies and writing: “Erin Brockovich” screenwriter Susannah Grant won in 1992, Pulitzer Prize-winning “Middlesex” author Jeffery Eugenides won in 1986, and Mike Rich won a Nicholl Fellowship in 1998 for “Finding Forrester.”
“Ever since I found out I was one of the 10 finalists, I’ve been getting three or four e-mails every day from agents and managers about setting up meetings with them,” he said. “It’s really been a huge foot in the door already. I’ll probably have a manager or agent within the next few weeks.”
Before he jumps into his career, however, he wants to finish his master’s degree in screenwriting at the University of Texas in Austin. He began writing the script for “The Jumper of Maine” earlier this year. The story takes place in Maine and focuses on a paramedic with Tourette’s syndrome — something Lanham knows well because he has it.
“When the character is on a medical call, his Tourette’s disappears, but when he’s not on call, he has a hard time dealing with life,” he said. “Over the course of the movie, he falls in love with a single mother. He can’t really fall in love because of his condition and how complicated it makes things. He kind of loses it for a little bit. I have Tourette’s, so part of the story obviously comes from my own story. Next time, I’ll try not to write myself into the script.”
Seeing his screenplay make it from page to screen may be a few years away, but in the meantime, his future in film seems much rosier than it did two months ago.
Lanham, a 2003 graduate of Bangor Christian School, is the son of Samuel and Stephanie Lanham. His father recalls his son as a constant reader of books, always writing something and absorbing information.
“When he was 7 years old, he’d check out seven books at a time at the Bangor Public Library,” said Lanham, a partner at the law firm of Lanham and Blackwell. “He’d have seven books up at the same time in different parts of the house. He was a voracious reader. He wrote his first full-length screenplay when he was 15.”
“I was always obsessed with movies,” said the younger Lanham. “I’d watch 10, 15 movies a week. I wrote a bunch of screenplays that I don’t dare to look at now. But I’d say that I’ve always had an interest in screenwriting and in film.”
Lanham said he is influenced by writer-directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson, director of “There Will Be Blood,” and Wes Anderson, director of “The Life Aquatic.”
Lanham doesn’t want to move to Los Angeles — he’d rather stay on the East Coast in New York City — but if things keep falling into place for him in his career, who knows where he might end up.
“It’ll take awhile to get the film made, and with an agent, I can get a lot more opportunities to do more things,” he said. “It’s a pretty amazing opportunity to have.”
“He’s a young man with a passionate sense of what he wants to do with his life,” said Samuel Lanham. “We’re all extremely proud of him.”
Andrew Lanham will find out whether he wins any awards at the Austin Film Festival on Saturday. The awards ceremony for the Nicholl Fellowship will be held Thursday, Nov. 4, at the Beverly Hills Wiltshire in Hollywood.