A first-time screenwriter is the first Minnesotan to win the Nicholl Fellowship, the film world's most competitive prize for emerging writers. Jeremy Bandow, 34, of Minneapolis, beat nearly 6,000 entrants to take the $30,000 award for his screenplay "Hive," a wartime romance between an American soldier and an Italian journalist in Baghdad. The award will be presented Thursday in Beverly Hills.

Bandow, a graduate of Mankato East High School and the screenwriting program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, was confident that he had a winner. "They call this the land of 125,000 screenplays and 10,000 lakes, but I knew I had something. I researched the material until I could walk the streets of Baghdad, and I've never been there."

Bandow described himself as a genuine starving artist, and said he plans to use his prize "to buy some food, honestly, so I can write. Spice-crusted halibut sounds great." He will travel to Los Angeles this weekend to prepare for the awards ceremony and "meet with all the agents who are wooing me."