Recently, the New York Film Academy’s Screenwriting Department, in cooperation with Final Draft, hosted the second in a series of “Life In” panels. This second panel arranged for NYFA’s Final Draft Fellowship (a 12 week Writing Fellowship for the finalists in Final Draft’s Big Break Contest), focused on “Life in Television” and saw the panelists explore television’s past and its ever-evolving future.
The Television panelists, consisting of former and current NYFA Instructors, included:
- Rachel Vine, animation writer, (RAINBOW BRITE)
- Justin Sternberg, half-hour and sketch comedy writer, (THE PAUL REISER SHOW, LOVEBITES)
- John Marsh, half-hour comedy and animation writer, (THE PROUD FAMILY, FATHERHOOD, ARTHUR)
- John Carr, reality TV writer, (THE BACHELOR, THE HILLS, VANDERPUMP RULES)
- Christina Weir, half-hour comedy and animation writer, (ARLISS, KIM POSSIBLE)
- George McGrath, half-hour comedy writer (TRACY TAKES ON, PEE-WEE’S PLAYHOUSE)
- Dan Kay, one-hour drama writer, (THE DIABOLIC, NOCTURNAL)
Adam Finer, NYFA’s Associate Chair of the Screenwriting Department, moderated and had several pieces of insightful advice from his years as a manager. He guided the panelists in an animated discussion of their path into the writer’s room and how they found their brand as a writer. John Marsh said,“Whether it’s being a PA on the show, being an assistant to an executive producer, figure out exactly what you want to do and try to gear yourself towards that. …Once you’re in there, use those relationships to help you.” Rachel Vine added, “I think there’s this myth that the industry is unapproachable, but I find that people want to help people. …Don’t be afraid to ask.”
The panelists also explored the differences in network and audience targets, pitching, and how the world of television is evolving to the point that there are shows and networks niche enough for all tastes. John Carr said, “With the proliferation of networks it’s increasingly niche driven. …When you’re talking about your voice, you’re really talking about what network are you on? What is the micro-niche they’re reaching out to? Those are the questions you can ask yourself as a writer.”
Dan Kay discussed the need to be savvy about the Business as well as the Craft, “Being a professional writer is not just writing. Although…you have to be writing all the time. But you also have to have a business brain. And you have to spend a lot of your time figuring out how to network and following up on your network and broadening your network. Part of being a writer is doing the business.” Adam talked about the challenges new writers face and the need to not give up,“It’s incredibly tough when you’re getting out of school to survive. To make a living doing what you love. And sometimes you take the jobs that sustain you while you pursue your career. But, you have to be tenacious. You have to keep going.”
At the end of the discussion the audience, made up of Final Draft fellows, NYFA students, and alumni, was invited to ask questions, which ranged from how to find an agent or manager, to pitching, to specific questions about the writing work of each panelist.
The ultimate bit of wisdom given to the attendees was to always be writing, to always be creating, and to write stories that speak to you and that you are passionate about. Christina Weir said, “…the focus is always on the story – how to tell a good story in the medium you’re doing it.” Christina’s comments were echoed by Justin Sternberg who said,“Tell your stories. Just keep writing and write you. Just be you.” George McGrath added, “What excites you? What do you want to see on TV? That’s what you should write. Whether that’s a sitcom, hour drama, kids show or animation, or a variety show you have to be excited to have that sense of ‘this is magic, this thing they handed me’ because it’s coming from a place that’s you.”
The Panel was the second in a series being offered by NYFA, and in cooperation with Final Draft, and was followed by a “Life In Features” Panel.