Date: Dec 9, 2020
Time: 7:00 PM (PST)
Elan Mastai is currently a writer and supervising producer on the Emmy-winning hit TV series THIS IS US. He won the Canadian Screen Award and the WGC Award for his screenplay for THE F WORD (released in the US as WHAT IF), starring Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, and Mackenzie Davis. It premiered at TIFF prior to its theatrical release in over 30 countries. He’s written four other features, including THE SAMARITAN, starring Samuel L Jackson, Ruth Negga, and Tom Wilkinson, and has written movies for Paramount, Sony, Fox, Fox-Searchlight, and Warner Brothers. His award-winning debut novel, ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS, has been translated into 24 languages. Elan was born in Vancouver and lives in Toronto and Los Angeles.
Jennica Harper, writer and Executive Producer of the hit show JANN will moderate.
We are excited to announce that award-winning Writer/Producer/Director Will Pascoe will serve as Showrunner-in-Residence for the 2021 Scripted Series Lab. Pascoe will mentor six up-and-coming BC-based screenwriters selected to participate in the program. He will lead the Writer’s Room as they develop his original series in the PSP’s flagship training program starting in January.
Will Pascoe most recently wrapped Showrunning the third season of Amazon’s hit series, Absentia. Previous to that, he wrote for Fox’s The Finder, Bell/SyFy Channel’s, Bitten; NBC’s drama series Chicago Med; BBC Worldwide/Starz’s Da Vinci’s Demons and Hulu’s Shut Eye starring Jeffrey Donovan and Isabella Rossellini. While working as writer and co-producer on Bell/BBC America’s Orphan Black, his episode “Variations Under Domestication” earned Pascoe a Canadian Writer’s Guild Award and nominations for an Edgar Allan Poe Award and a Hugo Award. A graduate of the Writer’s Guild of America’s prestigious Showrunner Training Program, Will has also developed television series for Twentieth-Century Fox, Playtone, and Universal Studios.
Going into its third year, the Scripted Series Lab will implement a hybrid-style Writer’s Room combining in-person and virtual meetings that reflect the current production protocols due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants will still get the full PSP experience including mentoring on their original pilot, additional workshops, and information sessions with other industry leaders to equip them with the skills, experience, and connections necessary to help establish a sustainable career in the province’s dynamic screen industry.
We look forward to announcing the selected 2021 participants in the next few weeks.
The news is out! Will Pascoe is going to be our Showrunner in Residence for the 2021 Scripted Series Lab. While this year’s selected group of participants prepare to enter the room in the new year, we asked Will to share some advice for emerging writers.
How did you break into writing for TV?
I started by directing short films and then documentaries. Then I started directing commercials. But I was still on the periphery of what I really wanted to be doing which was to write television. I went through the NSI’s Feature’s First program that gave me that first blush of credibility. But it was pure hustle. Writing and rewriting and trying to get people to read my stuff. I asked a lot of questions, asked to take people out to coffee to pick their brain. It’s a grind. There’s no instant success. It’s all little moves forward. But you have to treat it as a job – the hustle and perseverance part. Many don’t. Many think the phone will just magically ring and they’ll be a huge hit. I have yet to meet anyone that got started that way. Building out a network of trusted people is key. I was lucky to have a few mentors who helped give me a nudge along the way.
Do you have any advice for writers trying to break in?
You need to write all the time. If you treat your writing like a hobby, people will see you as a hobbyist. You can’t have one script. You can’t have two. You need a variety. Some writers trying to break in put all their energy into one script that they spend a year writing. That’s not going to cut it. You’re competing against people who have multiple scripts and are ready to share them at any time. Hustle and networking are more important than ever. Build out a network of fellow writers. Read each other’s material, give and get notes. Then go back and rewrite. Your first draft won’t be great. They rarely are. Even from pros the first drafts aren’t great. The hard work comes from rewriting. Every draft should get better. Sometimes in leaps and bounds and sometimes only incrementally. But that first draft should be only what you show a trusted friend or fellow writer. Ask them to be honest. Telling you your script is awesome when it isn’t is going to embarrass you when you show it to someone more integrated into the business. Sometimes you only get one shot with someone who is willing to read your script. It could be a working writer who might recommend you for a job or hire you or a prospective agent or a producer who is looking for material. But if you give them something rough and it has typos and other rookie mistakes you could be shutting a door that you want to push further open. So share that first draft with trusted people who aren’t going to make or break your career. Get honest – if not brutal – advice. Then work hard to make it better by rewriting it not once or twice but as many times as needed.
What can a junior writer do in the room to stand out?
Contribute. A lot of managers and agents tell their junior writer clients their primary job is to not get fired and advise them not to say much, which is the wrong advice. A showrunner has hired each and every writer on the presumption they are bringing something to the series and into the writer’s room, so junior writers should pitch ideas. They should try and help build the story in the room. That said, they should \be aware of their role and place in the room. Don’t suck up all the air. Don’t talk over the showrunner. Realize when you’ve made your case but the showrunner or the room are taking the story in a different direction so realize when it’s time to stand down. There’s a hierarchy to the room that is both meaningless and meaningful, so know which battles to fight. Also, see if you can find a mentor within the room. Someone a level above you who might be willing to take you under their wing and give you a little private feedback – how am I doing? Am I talking enough? Too much? Am I pitching succinctly or am I rambling? Is there anything else I can be doing? Basically, as a junior writer, you should be prepared to volunteer to do homework. If the showrunner asks if anyone’s seen a movie that she/he wants to reference, you should go watch that movie and then summarize it for others in the room who may or may not have seen it. If the showrunner is into certain movies/shows/books/whatever, your job is to get into those too. Your goal is to capture the voice of the showrunner and the voice of the show so anything you can do to get into their headspace before you write a word on the page is ideal.
Do you have any advice when it comes to receiving notes and tackling rewrites?
Accept them graciously. You may not agree with them, and you may have questions about them and it’s okay to ask for clarification, but for the most part, these are notes that need to be implemented in your script. If they aren’t, in most cases you will be rewritten. The goal is to always try and get as much of your words up on the screen, but ultimately it’s the showrunner’s job to implement a story across multiple episodes and to make the voice of the show consistent. If there’s a note you think might be a misunderstanding then it’s okay to ask about it, but do it in a respectful way and realize the showrunner’s word is final. If they want the sky to be red and you think it should be blue, understand that it will probably be red in the end. When you’re the showrunner of your own show you can make it whatever color you want it to be.
How has being the Showrunner on Absentia Season 3 changed your understanding of the craft?
I realized that writing is primarily left brain and showrunning is more right brain. Showrunning is about managing people, managing exceptions, managing politics while navigating egos and insecurity. It’s about running a multi-million dollar business that is both lovely art and harsh commerce. When you’re a writer, you aren’t thinking about those bigger picture things. You’re just focused on storytelling and writing a good script. When you’re a showrunner, it’s all about the people in many respects, so time management, strong leadership, financial sense, and people management all become critical skills you need to have on a daily basis.
As tv writers, it’s helpful to remember that we are ultimately writing for actors. We were very pleased to have Camille Sullivan generously visit the scripted series lab to share her perspective on engaging with the script as an actor:
To paraphrase David Mamet from his book, True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor, “It’s the writer’s job to make it interesting. It’s the actor’s job to make it truthful.”
The role needs to be interesting and it needs to be active.
You can even be active when it comes to character descriptions. It’s much more interesting to play a character described as “fussy, fidgety, etc” compared to “attractive.”
Every character in your script should have a different rhythm to their speech.
Actors enjoy having something to reveal as an undercurrent.
Make sure even your minor characters have arcs!
It’s fun for actors when they really want something and they don’t get it, so they change tactics. That’s human, after all. In real life, people are fluid and crafty.
Camille Sullivan is an award-winning Canadian actress. She has starred in several films, including the upcoming movie, “Hunter Hunter” directed by Shawn Linden. Notable TV series include, “Unspeakable”, “The Disappearance”, and “Intelligence.”
As aspiring TV writers are busily preparing their applications for those highly coveted Writer Mentorship programs in L.A, I thought I would put together a collated list of recommended reading from three of the prestigious mentorships.
For Canadian writers, I’m afraid I wasn’t able to find a recommended reading list for the CFC’s Bell Media Prime Time TV Program, but I suspect all recommended reading below would be helpful. Studying any of these titles would also be helpful for anyone applying to our PSP Scripted Series Lab!
*Please note that there are duplicate titles because I wanted to keep each list intact.
The CBS Writers Mentoring Program Recommended Reading List:
“Writing the Television Drama Series” by Pamela Douglas
“The Hero Succeeds: The Character-Driven Guide to Writing Your TV Pilot” by Kam Miller
“Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development” by K.M. Weiland.
“The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives” by Lajos Egri “The Hidden Tools of Comedy: The Serious Business of Being Funny” by Steve Kaplan.
“Hollywood Game Plan: How to Land a Job in Film, TV and Digital Entertainment” by Carole Kirschner.
Writer’s Wright Journal. A journal to help you stay motivated.
“Writing for Episodic Television: From Freelance to Showrunner” by John Wirth and Jeff Melvoin
“Small Screen, Big Picture” by Chad Gervitch
“Story” by Robert McKee
“Making a Good Script Great” by Linda Seger
“Created By…Inside the Minds of TV’s Top Show Creators” by Steven Priggé
“Inside the Room” by Linda Venus
“Change Your Story Change Your Life” by Jennifer Grisanti
“Creating Unforgettable Characters” by Linda Seger
“Successful Sitcom Writing” by Jurgen Wolff
“Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box” by Alex Epstein
Walt Disney Television Writing Program and the NLMC/NHMC Latino Television Writers Program Recommended Reading List:
“Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters” By Michael Tierno
“Creating Unforgettable Characters” By Linda Seger
“How to Manage Your Agent” By Chad Gervich
“Making a Good Script Great” By Linda Seger
“Successful Sitcom Writing” By Jurgen Wolff
“The Art of Dramatic Writing” By Lajos Egri
“The One-Hour Drama Series” By Robert Del Valle”
“Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box” By Alex Epstein
“Story Line” By Jennifer Grisanti
“Story” By Robert McKee
“Save The Cat!” By Blake Snyder
“Inside the Minds of TV’s Top Show Creators” By Steven Priggé
“Elephant Bucks” Sheldon Bull
“Writing the TV Drama Series” By Pamela Douglass
“Inside the Room” By Linda Venus
“Change Your Story Change Your Life” By Jennifer Grisanti
How important is the title of your spec script? A great title is like a great first impression. It’s invaluable. Can a great movie or tv show get the attention it deserves with an unmemorable or confusing title? I doubt it! “Parasite” … The title is disturbing, right? It’s an amazing film, and I was thrilled by its success at the Oscars. One of the many things the movie has going for it is a great title; one that is memorable, aligned in tone, and suggestive of its genre. So how do you come up with a great title?
In insightful her book, Good in a Room, pitching consultant Stephanie Palmer lists the five qualities of a great title with the acronym: “S.M.A.R.T”
Repeatable (it sounds good when spoken out loud)
Tonally Appropriate (meaning the feeling it evokes matches the expectations of the genre)
Consider these qualities in light of this year’s nine nominated features for best picture: “1917”, “The Irishmen”, “Jojo Rabbit”, “Joker”, “Little Women”, “Marriage Story”, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, “Parasite”, and “Ford v Ferrari”. Which titles play by the five rules? Which do you think is strongest? I think “Parasite” wins best title as well as best picture!
Coming up with a great title often takes time, so try not to settle with the first thing that comes to mind. Start brainstorming early and let your mind brainstorm and incubate as long as possible. Once you have a shortlist, make sure to get feedback. Also, it would be wise to scan imdb to make sure the title hasn’t been used already.
A great evening was had by all last Saturday at our Q&A event with Maggie Bandur. (Malcolm in the Middle, Community, Galivant, Deadly Class) We would like to thank everyone who came out on such a dark January night to meet Maggie. Thanks also to host, Sabrina Ferminger (YVR Screen Scene Podcast), for her energetic and fun questions, and of course, to Maggie for taking the time to share her story and advice with all of us.
Writing retreats can be a powerful tool when you’re struggling to make creative progress. What is it about going away? I’m going to put it down to creating space for deep work and recharge.
Last week I had the luxury of taking a four-day trip with my writing partner for the sole purpose of making progress on a project that has, up until now, felt frustratingly piecemeal. Both my writing partner and I were excited about this project but, it was very difficult to get more than a few hours at a time together to work on it. (It’s the kind of project that really called for hashing it out together, at least at the detailed outline stage.)
In a fit of frustration, we compared calendars and consulted our significant others to find a weekend that could work for a focused escape. At the time, it seemed very far away but soon the days passed and we found ourselves magically racing for the ferry. If I’m being honest, I was feeling a little guilty about the expense but all that was soon put to rest by the blazing pace of our progress once we settled in and got down to work.
I’m happy to report that during our self -designed retreat, we reached our target of a finished first draft! It was a huge success for us. Simplifying our “work” to one clear project with regular breaks for truly relaxing away from our regular duties proved powerful.
In his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport writes, “When Carl Jung wanted to revolutionize psychiatry, he built a retreat in the woods. [It] became a place where he could maintain his ability to think deeply and then apply the skill to produce work of such stunning originality that it changed the world.” (P.18)
I highly recommend getting resourceful and creating a personal writing retreat. Most of us aren’t able to build a vacation house as Carl Jung did, but you might be able to splurge on a cabin rental or hotel room for a few days. Maybe someone you know with property in a restful setting will let you borrow their place.
Going away to write creates a sense of intention and focus. Putting money and time into your intention adds positive pressure. Having only one clear thing to make progress on keeps life simple. It’s an efficient use of energy and creativity. You can allow yourself to rest, sleep in, eat well, get some fresh air and exercise, and buckle down to work.