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Renuka Singh on Communicating in the Room

For 2020 Scripted Series Lab Alum, Renuka Singh, writing is a family affair. Her sister is also a working TV writer and the two of them have been hard at work on a new project.

For Renuka, time spent in the room was emboldening. “Near the end of the program,” she muses, “we were reflecting on our experience and Rob Cooper told me I had to get confident and throw my ideas out there. That’s how you get your ideas heard. Your ideas might get shot down but that’s part of the process – it leads to the next idea.” That advice extends to communication with the Showrunner as well. “At any point where you are bumping on something…don’t sit on it. Go to the showrunner and ask for clarification. They will tell you exactly what they are looking for, saving you from spinning your wheels and building up your relationship with the Showrunner.”

Her advice for future participants is practical. “The program is scary and uncomfortable and all encompassing at times, so set your personal affairs up first so you can take time for self-care. The room is so fun! But it’s a challenge too. Make sure you fridge is well stocked.”

 

Steve Neufeld on Throwing Spaghetti At the Wall

Scripted Series Lab 2020 alum, Steve Neufeld, has several projects on the go, but he’s especially excited to be working on his new novel. “It’s nice to really savour the language in a way that’s different from writing scripts. On the other hand, TV is so focused on structure, that I think it’s informed my novel writing in a positive way.”

Thinking back to his PSP days, Steve says, “So many lessons sound simple but you learn through the experience. For example, interrogate your first idea and dig for more ideas. Don’t just go for the first idea. The room is the perfect place to learn this and I try to remember it when I work on solo stuff.”

He thinks of the whole process from pitching to breaking as throwing spaghetti at the wall and not getting your heart broken when something doesn’t stick. “Learning not to let the ‘no’ get you down is so organic to the process,” Steve adds. “Those muscles get flexed every day in the room. I miss the camaraderie.”

Steve’s advice to this year’s participants is to keep contacting people. “Have lots of stuff that you can pitch. Try to enjoy the whole process as a process rather than looking at it as wins and losses. See the whole thing as the dream, not just getting the show green lit.”

Catching Up with PSP Alum Mike Orlando

Scripted Series Lab 2019 Participant, Mike Orlando, enjoys teaching screenwriting online for Vancouver Community College, as well as writing coverage for a local production company. He’s had an MOW optioned, as well as the script he developed while in the Scripted Series Lab. Of course, he’s always working on writing more scripts.

I asked Mike what his most lasting impressions from his time in the room were. Mike said, “I will always remember the naked person in the apartment building across the street from our room. The naked person always seemed to interrupt my pitching! But seriously, something I think about to this day is the incredible diversity of that room – the five of us and the Showrunner. Gender, orientation, ethnicity… It felt like everyone had a free-flowing role in the room. I really appreciated that and will always want to be in a diverse room.”

Mike’s main piece of advice for this year’s cohort is to maintain their relationships with both the group and the industry people they meet. He added, “When you hear how people get their breaks it usually ends up being a non linear line of relationships and putting yourself out there.”

Mike’s advice for people hoping to get into the program is to submit a sample that is “most unique to your voice.” He suggests that genre is less important than the script that shows specific strengths and is memorable. “Show something of who you are that a Showrunner would want to add to the room.”

Catching up with PSP Alum Todd Ireland

Todd is currently the executive vice president of Enderby Entertainment Canada where he helps oversee development and production. He recently completed writing the family animated feature film Sunny.

When asked what it was like looking at projects from the production side, Todd says that his writing experience gives him an informed POV on the development end. He loves working on the market side now, supporting writers. He’s exposed to all levels of scripts and makes use of his experience getting notes now that he’s giving notes.

Todd looks back at his time at the PSP Scripted Series Lab with the key takeaway that people can come together and create something solid in a short period of time. Diversity of backgrounds in the room is vital. (Age and background as well as gender and race.)

His advice for this year’s cohort? – Contribute as much as possible and learn how to listen. Lose the idea of competition. Listen to others. When you get an idea,  sit on your big idea for a moment. To make sure it’s really formulated.

For those who reach the interview stage for next year’s SSL, he offers this sage advice: “Your script and application got you this far. Tailor your pitch prep based on who that showrunner is as much as possible. Consider what that showrunner is going to need for this particular show. Take all your skills and abilities, being honest about who you are, but think through how you can best be helpful and prepared to be of use to this Showrunner. Whatever you can do.”

Screenwriter Ryan Atimoyoo on Waking up Eager to Break Story

 

 

How has your time breaking story with Will affected your understanding of writing for TV?

It’s made a big difference. Will gets into the minutae and small details that they can’t teach in books or school. His real world experiences are what’s gold for people like me trying to break into TV writing.

How do you feel about virtual rooms now that you’ve been in both a virtual and an in person version of the story room?

I have to admit I can see the value of an in person room. I really enjoy the small talk with my fellow participants in the program and just getting to know them and Will, but the virtual rooms make for less small talk and more of a straight to business mindset. It’s more efficient but it doesn’t make up for the teamwork you can find in person.

Is there any favourite moment from your first half of the program that stands out so far?

There wasn’t one single moment but I can still recall the excitement of waking up eager to talk to the team to break more stories. It’s kind of addicting when you get started. I haven’t woken up that eager for something for awhile!

Do you have any advice for future applicants as they prepare their applications or prep for an interview?

Hmm- that’s a tough one but just like I’ve heard from our showrunner and the PSP team, I would say present the version of yourself that sticks out. What makes you unique among all the other voices out there. Don’t exaggerate or embellish, but let them get to know you and your passion.

Screenwriter Katie Weekley Reflects on Time In The Room

 

How has your time breaking story with Will affected your understanding of writing for TV?

I now have so much more control and confidence in my writing. I remember in my interview telling Will that I wanted to learn more about outlining and writing to act breaks. At the time, it felt like a miracle when I was able to get anything comprehensible on the page – it just kind of happened. Now I have a much better understanding of the work involved!

How do you feel about virtual rooms now that you’ve been in both a virtual and an in person version of the story room?

I’m grateful to have experience in both (and grateful that the PSP took the safety measures so we could all be in a room together). Our group had the first week on Zoom, three weeks in-person and then finished breaking the final episode back on zoom. I think both are effective for different reasons. In a perfect writing room future, I hope it will be a combination of remote and in-person – a lot of the work can be done remotely with occasional in-person rooms to inspire or go on research trips. (Shout-out to Will, who crossed an international border, quarantined twice and got covid tested multiple times solely so we could learn from his in person wisdom. I will always be deeply grateful to him for that! )

Is there any favourite moment from your first half of the program that stands out so far?

The whole program has been amazing. I think what stands out the most is Will telling us early is that story is like water – it goes where it flows. We had thoughts about where our series would go when we first started breaking it. It was exciting to see the little shifts that would push it in a direction we didn’t see!

Do you have any advice for future applicants as they prepare their applications or prep for an interview?

First, your application will stand out if your script showcases your unique voice. There’s a lot of pressure to write “marketable” scripts. I wrote a script that required a lot of research and was well out of my wheelhouse, but I was deeply passionate about the story and wanted to tell it. I put in the work and my script stood out. Seeing the talent of my PSP cohorts is a testament to how competitive the program is!

Second, get your reference letters early. I took a different screenwriting course, got a reference letter from my advisor and it was so touching it almost made me cry. I think that letter helped push my application over the top.

Finally, talk to previous alumni about the program before your interview. I spoke with writer Gillian Muller, CFC TV alumni, about an hour before my interview and her kind advice put me in the right headspace. I also got the best advice on how to interview from Heather Taylor, also CFC TV alumni. She advised me to prep “soundbites” for my interview. The interview will go off in a direction you can’t predict, no matter how hard you prepare. But have a series of vignettes about yourself, your writing philosophy, your career goals prepped so you can pull those out. I had a cheat board behind my laptop during the interview – little headlines that would help prompt my answers.

Sarah Kelley On Putting the Puzzle Pieces of a Series Together

How has your time breaking story with Will affected your understanding of writing for TV?
Immensely! Before I always heard the term breaking story but I really had no idea, the in-depth process of really nailing down the main characters and going through each scene while tracking it all the way through the season. I’ve been able to take this process and use it with my own stories, it really helps put the puzzle pieces together!

Is there any favourite moment from your first half of the program that stands out so far?
Being in the room in person. I got to know Will and my fellow writers really well, we shared a lot of personal stories, some sadness and definitely lots of laughs. Also, I really like seeing all the cards for each episode up on the boards. I’m a visual person so seeing them all everyday helped me think of new ideas while revisiting what we already had.

How would you compare your virtual room with an in-person room now that you’ve experienced both?
I do like the zoom sessions as it helps not having to worry about travel, parking and gas, and picking my son from school. But it doesn’t beat being in the room in person, in person feels like ideas and conversations can flow better, and we get to know each other on a more personal basis too.

Do you have any advice for future applicants as they prepare their applications or prep for an interview?
Be open minded with ideas, know your showrunner and really do your research on the shows the showrunner writes for. Be specific on how and where you get your ideas for writing, and be humble.

Norman Yi Li On Working with Will Pascoe

 

How has your time breaking story with Will affected your understanding of writing for TV?

Working with Will has been eye opening to understanding the process of breaking story. My preconceptions weren’t as detailed. It’s been more technical in terms of how to organize the story. I don’t think I could have learned it from the internet! I also have a more expanded understanding of who’s in the industry now and how to approach them.  Will’s access to experts and industry has been great.

Speaking the internet, how would you compare the real room to a virtual room?

I don’t think you can be as spontaneous in a virtual room as you can in person. Our in person time was easier that way, but both styles of rooms can work.

Do you have any advice for future PSP applicants?

The mentorship and experience will leave you so much more prepared to apply for work in a room. The bond you develop with other writers becomes an incredible and valuable one. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re ready! You can’t know how your script will be received by the evaluators. Also, pitching is a skill, just like writing. It’s something to work on. 

 

Jordan Hall’s Advice to Applicants

Screenwriter Jordan Hall took a break from the PSP’s Scripted Series Lab 2021 to answer a few questions for us. She includes some sage advice for future applicants.

How has your time breaking story with Will affected your understanding of writing for TV?

It’s been really eye-opening to watch Will’s process. I love that he’s very transparent about what he wants and what he doesn’t. Even before the Lab began, he laid out his expectations for us clearly. He set priorities that were designed to keep the room healthy and fun, and to make sure that everyone felt safe and supported–which made for a terrific environment both online and in the room. It was a really important lesson that one of the first responsibilities of a showrunner is to create the environment for the room, and Will’s really committed to that environment being healthy and human.

He also does his own version of the Chris Carter cue-card plotting method, which I had never attempted before. It allows for much more flexibility than I was expecting. I’m kinda obsessed with structure as a writer, so it was fascinating to watch a compelling story emerge out of an extremely fluid process. That isn’t to say that we didn’t hit a point where we had to make some decisions about an end-point so that we’d have something to plot towards, but it was really exciting to discover how long we could just let the story flow. I feel like I’ve tucked away any number of new tools for television writing just from being a part of that.

How do you feel about virtual rooms now that you’ve been in both a virtual and an in person version of the story room?

I wrote almost all of Carmilla remotely–I was in Vancouver, the production team was in Toronto, our story editor was in the States–so for me the PSP Zoom Room was a big step up from sketchy Google Hangouts and weird time differences. And there are clear advantages to being able to collaborate across distance. As somebody who would really like to both write TV and stay based in Vancouver if possible, the rise of virtual rooms will hopefully expand work horizons for me, and for other writers in this city. That said, I’m still so glad we had three weeks in person. In a room you can feed off each other’s presence and energy in a way that takes more effort online. We had so much fun and broke so much story in those three weeks. And now that we’re back to remote work, it’s easier because we have the foundations that Will laid in the room.

Is there any favourite moment from your first half of the program that stands out so far?

I really did love being in the room. We were only in for three weeks, and socially distanced because of Covid, but I think that made it even more precious in a way. The effort of getting everyone there: You folks with all the safety protocols. Will having to quarantine two weeks on either end to make it happen. My partner and I have been pretty much locked down since last March(!)–our kid is in daycare, so with a few exceptions in the summer, we just don’t see other people in the real world anymore. So the presence of other writers was invigorating. And the whole crew is so supportive and smart and funny. Best three weeks of 2020 so far.

Do you have any advice for future applicants as they prepare their applications or prep for an interview?

Figure out what you have to offer that no one else does. More often than not, that has to do with why you’re writing in the first place: That vision of the world that only you can see. If you can show them that part of yourself in your writing, and in an interview– I’m not going to lie and say that it will get you every job– but it will probably get you the right ones.

Emma Peterson Nears the Midpoint of SSL 2021

We caught up with Screenwriter, Emma Peterson, to ask her about her time in the 2021 Scripted Series Lab with Showrunner, Will Pascoe.

How has your time breaking story with Will affected your understanding of writing for TV?

I didn’t have a lot of expectations going in but it’s been great. It really helps that it’s a great collaborative group. Seriously, I look forward to each meeting. Watching Will move through what we do next, talking through his process, I’m taking a lot of notes because it’s giving me so much more to think about when I write my own stuff in the future.

How do you feel about virtual rooms now that you’ve been in both a virtual and an in person version of the story room?

There’s convenience to a virtual room for sure, but I miss the energy of being in person after getting to do that for a few weeks. Also, there’s the the awkwardness of interrupting each other on Zoom. My cats get to interrupt us too. One in particular gets really jealous of the attention I give to the screen.

Do you have a favourite memorable moment so far?

The best moment so far was the first day in the room that we really started breaking an episode. Launching in to that was so exciting.