Press release

Michaela Coel awarded the prestigious Wellcome Screenwriting Fellowship in partnership with BFI and FILM4

  • 2016 Fellow Sally Wainwright embarks on project to unveil Anne Lister's 26 year journal
  • 2013 Fellow Clio Barnard's Dark River script transformed by Fellowship
  • Fellowship worth £30,000 and includes curated journey into a world of scientific discovery
  • Award explores intersection between screenwriting and science 

Award-winning screenwriter, playwright, actress and poet Michaela Coel (Chewing Gum) receives the 2017 Wellcome Screenwriting Fellowship, in partnership with BFI and Film4. The Fellowship carries an award of £30,000 together with a year-long tailored experience including unparalleled access to some of the most exciting scientific and humanities research in the world. 

Selected from over 100 names nominated by the film and television industries, the award is made in recognition of Coel’s remarkable screenwriting talent and distinctive approach to exploring the human condition.

Michaela Coel said: ‘This Fellowship couldn’t have come at a better time. Whilst retaining my individual identity as a writer, my next project will take me on a journey of discovery about brain chemistry, cognitive error, and memory, by the end of which I will undoubtedly have learned to create stories in ways that are currently foreign to me. Here at Wellcome I’ll be able to talk to experts about the diagnosis of personality disorders, cognitive patterns, how they’re formed and myriad other things.  I’m very grateful to have been chosen for this year, and can’t wait to get going.’

Now in its fifth year, the Fellowship is celebrated as a major annual award, which explores the intersection between screenwriting and science. The legacy of the programme is witnessed by the impact upon the work of previous Fellows particularly Sally Wainwright and Clio Barnard.

Last year’s Fellowship was awarded to TV screenwriter Sally Wainwright. During the year she has completed the scripts for the eight-part BBC and HBO drama Gentleman Jack about 19th century Yorkshire landowner and prolific diarist Anne Lister, who had a passion for science and medicine. Closely based on an eighteen month period of Lister’s diaries, painstakingly transcribed by Wainwright’s colleague Anna Choma, Wainwright’s plan is to continue the process of transcribing, digitising and publishing the full 26 year, 4.2million word, 6,600 page journal, one sixth of which was written in secret code. 

Sally Wainwright said: ‘It’s a wonderful opportunity that Wellcome has given me. The connections once established last longer than the year itself. The Fellowship is forever.’ Wainwright continued, ‘With the rest of my Fellowship I would like to begin the process – in conjunction with Calderdale Museums and Shibden Hall – of getting the whole of the Anne Lister journals digitalised and transcribed, so that they can go on line, reach and inspire the much wider audience that this vast and unique document surely deserves’.

During her Fellowship, Clio Barnard developed her new film Dark River and met with psychologists and psychiatrists working on traumatic memory, transforming the final script. Talking about the influence of the Fellowship Clio Barnard said: ‘The Wellcome Screenwriting Fellowship opened up a new world of scientific understanding, resources and expertise for me. This had a transformative effect on the script for Dark River and on my understanding of trauma, memory and perception. The impact and influence doesn’t stop here; I will continue to mine the resources of the Wellcome Collection and scientists for future projects, which is great privilege and honour’.

Highly anticipated, Dark River received its World Premiere at Toronto International Film Festival and European Premiere at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017, and receives it UK theatrical release on 23 February 2018, distributed by Arrow Films. It is backed by Film4, Screen Yorkshire, the BFI and Wellcome, produced by Moonspun Films/Left Bank Pictures and was developed by Film4, the BFI and Wellcome. 

Simon Chaplin, Wellcome’s Director of Culture and Society, said: ‘We’re delighted that Michaela Coel has accepted this year’s Wellcome Screenwriting Fellowship – this is the start of an exciting new journey which will allow her to dive deeper into the world of science and explore what it really means to be human. Coel joins Sally Wainwright, Carol Morley, Jonathan Glazer and Clio Barnard, who have each found unique ways to approach the challenges and joys of the Fellowship. This award has developed in ever more surprising and imaginative ways over the years and it is a delight to be able to see the legacies of it in the work that has been produced by these dynamic writers.’

The intention of the Fellowship is to give a screenwriter time and space to explore without the constraints of a specific project. In doing this, the partners hope to make the Fellowship’s influence profound and long-lived, and hopefully inspire films for years to come. The Fellowship is the start of a long-term relationship with Wellcome, with all fellows enjoying continued access and support.

The Fellowship, awarded by the Fellowship Panel, is chaired by Kate Leys with Lizzie Francke (Senior Development and Production Executive, BFI), Eva Yates (as part of her previous role as Creative Executive, Film4), Meroë Candy (Film and Drama Executive, Wellcome) and Iain Dodgeon (Broadcast, Games and Film Manager, Wellcome). 
Lizzie Francke, BFI Senior Production and Development Executive said: “This partnership with Wellcome has enabled us to celebrate some fantastic screenwriters in the last five years, not only supporting them with some serious creative playtime, but also giving them the fantastic head space and brain food that the ever enriching Wellcome Collection's resources provide. With this year's fellow Michaela, we have another brilliant talent – a raucously funny and fearless original voice that has so sensationally connected with audiences across performance, screen and even twitter. I really look forward to seeing what will come out of her relationship with Wellcome, having no doubt her vital and inventive sensibility will shape something for audiences to laugh and cry with as much as giving us fresh thoughts to chew on.....”

Sue Bruce Smith Film 4 Head of Commercial & Brand Strategy said: “We feel immensely privileged to be part of this Wellcome Fellowship and the mindset it encourages in us all to be endlessly curious and create an open space for debate.  Michaela is clearly a brilliant and fearless talent as evidenced both in her writing and performing, and we have no doubt that she will relish the opportunity this Fellowship will give her to dive deep into the human psyche and deliver us more unique pearls.”

Details of Fellowship 
•    A £30,000 bursary for one year

Plus Fellows can elect to take-up some or all of the following:
•    Access and introductions to leaders in the fields of science and medical history
•    Behind-the-scenes access to Henry Wellcome’s library, archive and collection of curios
•    Visits to research institutions and programmes which carry out work in areas such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis and mental health conditions
•    A personal MRI brain scan and genome analysis for insight into neuroscience and genetics
•    Direct access to contemporary science research trials
•    A new interdisciplinary space to work alongside scientists, scholars and creative practitioners – The Hub at Wellcome Collection.