There’s a problem in Hollywood’s stories. Not plot holes or franchises, but the people telling these stories. The Hollywood Diversity Report 2018 found that in the top theatrical films of 2016, the screenwriters were 91.9% white, and 86.2% male. The statistics get even more dismal when considering sexual orientation, religion, people with disabilities, and other underrepresented groups.
The current homogenous group of storytellers doesn’t reflect the real world’s diversity. This imbalance means we watch a relatively narrow perspective on our screens. Screenwriting diversity, or lack thereof, has a ripple effect on what we see on screen, telling the audience which viewpoints are worth taking seriously.
This year, the financial success of Black Panther made Hollywood sit up and take notice. But other parts of Hollywood have been promoting diversity for years, with programs honed to elevate emerging diverse voices. Here are ten Diversity Screenwriting Programs training the next group of screenwriters, in no particular order.
1. UNIVERSAL WRITERS PROGRAM
The Universal Writers Program is a one-year paid program where screenwriters get classes, expert feedback, and access to representation. The screenwriters write two feature-length scripts under the creative guidance of executives, producers, and creative consultants. The classes tackle their creative approach, presentation skills, and knowledge of the Studio’s process.
Anyone working in the US, over 21, can apply. Though there are no specific diversity application materials, the mission statement of the program is “telling stories and creating films that reflect the vast diversity of our audiences.” Submission materials include a screenplay, treatment, resume, and personal essay, with optional letters of recommendation.
2. CBS WRITERS MENTORING PROGRAM
The CBS Writers Mentoring Program is an eight-month program for ten writers. The Program includes weekly workshops, mentorship, and observations across CBS’s slate of writers rooms and development departments. Over the course of 14 years, 104 writers have participated, and 61 careers have been launched.
Anyone with a diverse perspective, over 21, can apply, including writers from outside the US. Writing teams are allowed. Submission materials include a letter of interest, resume, a spec script, and an original script in a similar tone.
3. FOX WRITERS LAB
The Fox Writers Lab is a four-month program for eight writers that includes classes, coaching, and mentoring while developing original scripts. Participants are paid a small stipend. After completing the program, participants will get staffing meetings and a first-look agreement. One of the participants will also be awarded a blind script development deal. Past winners include Lena Waithe.
Anyone can apply, as long as they have not had a pilot produced. Submission materials include a resume, a bio, a personal statement, two letters of recommendation, an original pilot script, a script synopsis, and four loglines.
4. NBC UNIVERSAL’S WRITERS ON THE VERGE
NBC Universal’s Writers on the Verge program is a 12-week program for eight writers, where they meet weekly to create material, polish their presentation skills, get feedback, and get guidance from mentors. Past winners have been staffed on The Blacklist, Marlon, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, White Collar, and Chicago Fire.
Though the program isn’t specifically labeled a diversity program, most of the past year’s winners have been diverse. Writing teams are allowed to apply. Submissions initially include a resume and a spec for an existing show. Semifinalists will submit an original pilot in the same length (hourlong or half-hour) as the spec.
5. HBO ACCESS WRITING FELLOWSHIP
The HBO Access Writing Fellowship is a program where 8 diverse writers participate in a class for a week, and then mentorship and workshops for 10 months. Any diverse writer, over 21, can apply. Submission materials include a resume, essay answers, and a script. This program alternates yearly with HBO’s Directing Fellowship.
6. SUNDANCE SCREENWRITERS INTENSIVE
Sundance’s Screenwriters Intensive includes a two-day workshop for 10 or 12 writers and feedback sessions with mentors. Sundance also offers grants for fellows in the Intensive who are Asian American or Latinx. The FilmTwo Intensive is a similar diversity program, for second-time writer/directors, or writers working with second-time directors.
The program is eligible for writers, writer/directors, and writer/director teams from underrepresented communities, who are developing a fiction screenplay. International artists may apply, but typically the majority of artists selected are US-based. Submission materials include a cover letter, artistic statement, a bio, logline, synopsis, and the first five pages of your screenplay.
7. NATIONAL HISPANIC MEDIA COALITION TV WRITERS PROGRAM
The NHMC TV Writers Program is a five-week workshop where 10 writers write a spec script and create a mock writers room, lead by former NBC VP of Script Development, Geoff Harris. These writers receive a small stipend. This program was created by the National Hispanic Media Coalition. Past winners have been staffed on Jane the Virgin, The Catch, NCIS, Rosewood, and Elena of Avalor.
The program is open to people of all races and ethnicities. Writing teams are ineligible. Applicants must be employed in the US, and over 18. Submission materials include a resume, a statement of interest, and a writing sample. For the writing sample, TV scripts are preferred, but plays, pilots, specs, or books are allowed. There is no length restriction.
8. FILM INDEPENDENT’S PROJECT INVOLVE
Film Independent’s Project Involve takes 30 filmmakers through a program of mentoring, workshops, introductions, and experience to help produce their own shorts. The program also teams up with companies like Amazon, Focus Features, Fox, and Sony, to give participants grants and additional fellowships. Past winners include Justin Simien.
Anyone from an underrepresented community can apply. The program is meant for a mix of Filmmakers and Executives, so they want applications from Cinematographers, Directors, Editors, Producers, Screenwriters, and different types of executives – acquisitions/distribution, creative/development, film programming. Anyone from around the world can apply. Submission materials include a statement of interest, a work sample, a resume, and a professional biography. Screenwriters submit a script – a short, pilot, or feature.
9. WOMEN IN FILM BLACK LIST WRITING LAB
The Women in Film Black List Writing Lab is a four-week program where 8 women will go through a series of workshops, classes, and script development. Any non-professional writer can apply who is a member of Women in Film, and identifies as female. Submission materials include a pilot, short synopsis, resume, and a statement about yourself.
10. WESCREENPLAY DIVERSE VOICES LAB
The Grand Prize Winner and the First Place Winner in each category of the WeScreenplay Diverse Voices Lab are flown to Los Angeles and put up in an iconic LA Hotel for a Diverse Voices Four-Day Screenwriting Lab. The Lab includes hands-on development with industry executives, WeScreenplay staff, writers, and each other. It also includes meetings with executives and managers about the winners, their writing careers, and their projects in development.
Beyond that, the winners’ work is strategically sent to producers, agents, and managers with whom WeScreenplay has a relationship. All Finalists are publicly recognized through the WeScreenplay website and email lists.
This program is open to “writers of color, women writers, and writers over the age of 40,” and “writers with disabilities, writers in the LGBTQ+ community, and any other voice that is currently underrepresented by Hollywood today.” Applicants should be non-professional screenwriters. Writing teams are allowed, as are applicants under 18. There are three possible submission categories – Feature, TV, or Short. All finalists will be asked for a short essay on their diversity.
So get to applying! There are a plethora of programs looking for a range of screenwriters. You might be a perfect fit!
Charlotte Stauffer is an Atlanta-born screenwriter. She’s currently working at the Georgia Film Academy, and running a table read series called The Page On Stage with the Atlanta Film Society. She can be found on Twitter @goodwonky and Instagram at @charlielucile.