We just wrapped up our 2022 Diverse Voices Screenwriting Lab, in which the winners of the Spring 2022 Diverse Voices Competition took part in an interactive 4-day virtual lab with hands-on workshops and industry meetings to learn from working industry professionals and their peers. This event was hosted by top managers, agents, and writers, like Authentic Management literary manager Mohammed Ali, writer and showrunner Chuck Rose (The Art of More), Emmy-nominated writer Kari Stringham-Drake (Severance), career coach Jim Arnoff, and more.
But what’s it really like participating in an event like this? Well, I was able to attend the last one as an observer to get the full “fly-on-the-wall” experience in order to give you all an overview of what this amazing opportunity can offer you as an emerging screenwriter.
Table of Contents
Mentor Session: Understanding the Business
The business side of screenwriting and how an emerging writer can cut through the noise and get some attention are two very elusive issues in the film industry. Literary manager Mohammed Ali took his time demystifying some of those issues in this very informative session.
Mohammed Ali was very candid about his start in the business and how opportunities were presented to him to represent an artist before he was officially a manager. He quickly learned the ins and outs of the business and he continues to see the value in writers understanding the business side of being writers.
There was great advice about the business of being a writer. Some key takeaways are:
- We don’t live in a world where you can just be creative. You have to know the business.
- Always create a pitch deck to go with your screenplay.
- The easier you make it for your agent or manager, the better, so do some research and find out which companies make the type of material you are writing.
- Don’t be afraid to be a multi-hyphenate and produce your own material. Try everything to see what’s going to resonate with the industry.
The participants felt this information was particularly important. Jillian Ibarra stated:
“I learned a lot from the mentors. It was really exciting to hear Mohammed say, do everything. Act, produce, direct, something will open the door for you…They [the mentors] were really honest and really real with us”
— Jillian Ibarra (@JillianIbarra) August 1, 2022
Mentor Session: The Importance of Interpersonal Skills
Showrunner Chuck Rose talked about the importance of being easy to get along with as a newer writer. He stressed the power of listening carefully and understanding the requirements of the job, either as a writers’ assistant or a staff writer.
Mentor Session: How to Be a Great Writers’ Assistant
Emmy-nominated writer Kari Stringham-Drake, who was also a co-executive producer on Severance, stressed the importance of doing the job you are hired to do as a writers’ assistant. Understand that you might have a chance to make suggestions, but always be aware of what your job description is. She also suggested that writers become familiar with other writers’ pitches and read them as if they were screenplays because there’s a lot for writers to learn from that experience.
Peer Notes Session
Writing is often a solitary craft. Funny enough, it’s also one that benefits greatly from collaboration and peer feedback. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to meet fellow screenwriters willing to offer you helpful notes on your work, but that’s something that the Diverse Voices Lab offers right from the jump.
The selected writers have an opportunity to read each other’s work ahead of time and then come together and provide in-depth notes and feedback. Not only did they all learn from reading high-quality scripts, but the feedback exchange helped the writers dig deeper into their work and have clarity and a new appreciation for the material. Reactions to the sessions were of complete gratitude. Lab participant Storm Choi said:
“The most helpful feedback I’ve ever gotten on a script ever.”
Another participant, Teddi Shaffer, spoke about the process of getting notes and how the sessions helped her:
“Getting notes can be really daunting, but when you are in a group with people that are so nice and are not going to bring you down, but are thinking, ‘hey, you can make this even better,’ I thought that was really helpful.”
It was a fast two hours and everyone’s perspective on the work was amazing. The stories were diverse, complex, and compelling and the feeling of inclusion could be felt in the air, as Ibarra put it:
“It was so great to be in a room with a lot of people of color. I’m used to being the only one.”
Pitching During the Lab
Before the participants dove into their meetings and group sessions, they received some coaching from career coach Jim Arnoff. The overall reaction to that experience was that the pitching workshop set them all up for success. They each had to pitch themselves and their projects multiple times over the course of the lab and all felt that hearing each other pitch their projects gave them insight into the art of pitching.
How to Get the Most Out of a Lab Experience
Build Creative Relationships
With all of the strong, positive creative energy and insider knowledge from the mentors, it’s easy to forget one of the key benefits of these labs: building new relationships. New relationships were formed in both personal and professional ways. According to Shaffer:
“The most important part was the relationships that I formed, not only with the WeScreenplay team and all the industry professionals but also with my peers. I feel like that is now a network for life.”
But throughout all the excitement, participant Storm Choi urged writers to keep an open mind.
“You need to go into meetings open-minded because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Choi referenced a meeting with an executive where he felt like they wouldn’t be a good fit because of the type of material they make, but he had such a good experience that the work was requested at the end of the meeting.
Glean All You Can From Each Meeting
What is it like having all of those meetings with industry professionals? Desdemona Chiang explained it well:
“One word to sum it up: Exhilarating.”
Exhilarating — but also very practical and valuable to your writing career, complete with positivity and real-world advice that can actually help you on your path to becoming a professional writer. Christopher Isenegger explained:
“I was pleasantly surprised by the number of one-on-one meetings that were curated specifically for our work.”
With the sheer number of meetings you’ll attend during the lab, being present, participating, and taking notes is crucial to having the best experience.
Participant Advice for Other Writers
The participants feel like they’ve grown so much because of the lab, they had some great advice to share with other writers.
Hone Your Skills By Reading Scripts
When it comes to honing your skills as a writer, Teddi Shaffer said, “Read scripts that won competitions as well as produced scripts.”
Be Persistent and Prolific
As you get ready to hit the market make sure you are persistent and prolific with your writing, “Have more than one sample that showcases your voice. Keep submitting your work and choose the competitions and labs to feel right to you and that fit your voice and your material,” said Jillian Ibarra.
Just. Keep. Writing.
The advice uttered by all was to continue to write. “You will always need another writing sample, so keep writing,” said Keisha Prince
There are countless benefits to participating in the Diverse Voices Lab, from forming important relationships with fellow writers and industry pros to gaining the insider knowledge you’ll need to be successful in your career.
Also, WeScreenplay proudly offers feedback to every script submitted to our competitions, so even if you don’t make it into the lab, we’re there to offer guidance and support to every writer who takes a chance and puts themselves out there.