On August 20, 2018, the New York Film Academy (NYFA) partnered with Final Draft to host a live taping of Final Draft’s podcast, Write On, focused on women in comics. The panelists were Shannon Watters, Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, and NYFA screenwriting school instructor Christina Weir. The event was moderated by Pete D’Alessandro.
Shannon Watters is the senior editor at BOOM! Studios and co-creator and co-writer of the award-winning comic book series, Lumberjanes. Kirsten Smith is a writer and producer (Legally Blonde, 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s the Man, Ella Enchanted, The House Bunny and The Ugly Truth) and Christina Weir is a writer (New X-Men, Skinwalker, Three Strikes, Maria’s Wedding, Bad Medicine, Play Ball, Dragon Age: Deception).
The panelists were first asked what makes comics unique as an artistic medium. Smith said that, in her opinion, comics are special and intimate because they are “a work of art.” Weir added that, in the comic medium, it is essential to keep things moving; even if the scene is just a conversation, it’s important to keep it visually interesting to the reader. Watters shared that she likes using “the page turn” as a tool to surprise and entertain readers of comics in book form.
The production of a comic is similar to the production of a play or TV show or film because, to be successful, the comic has to tell a story and, in order to tell a story well, there must be trust and communication between all parties involved. Watters described the relationship between a comic writer and artist as symbiotic and “like a marriage.”
Weir added that comics are “great learning tools for screenwriting” because they “force [the writer] to get to what’s important… You only have so much space to get your point across.”
The panelists were asked what they believe the future of the comic industry looks like. Watters said that she believes that in the next couple decades, there will be more and more women, people of color, and LGBTQ comic writers and artists. Weir added, “We are in an age now where kids are encouraged to read comics… Comics are cool!”
Lastly, Watters’ advice for aspiring comic writers and artists is to “Get your stuff out there!” She encouraged students to share their work on the web and to meet other creative people to network, collaborate, and grow.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Shannon Watters, Kirsten Smith, and Christina Weir for sharing their experiences and advice for young writers.
The New York Film Academy (NYFA) Los Angeles recently welcomed Final Draft to the NYFA Theater for Write On: A Screenwriting Podcast. The live Q&A event featured Final Draft’s Pete D’Alessandro and writer Nevin Densham, executive story editor for Netflix’s original series, Altered Carbon.
NYFA and Final Draft, the entertainment industry’s standard screenwriting software, have a relationship that goes back many years. NYFA provides a 12-Week Fellowship for the winners of the Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest, yet this was the first time that Final Draft held Write On: A Screenwriting Podcast at the NYFA Los Angeles campus.
“We’re excited to extend our relationship with Final Draft and build upon the great work we’ve done with the Final Draft Big Break Fellowship,” said Dean of Faculty and Chair of Screenwriting Nunzio DeFilippis. “Having the Write On: A Screenwriting Podcast take place at the NYFA Theater provides our students with additional networking opportunities and even more chances to gain insights from podcast guests.”
Final Draft’s Write On: A Screenwriting Podcast provides listeners with insights into writing from industry experts and professionals, and in this case the audience of NYFA students and guests from Final Draft who were able to learn more about Densham’s journey as a writer.
Before delving into writing for Altered Cabon, Densham admitted that his path into writing for television was not traditional. He grew up in Los Angeles in a household where he had the unique experience to learn from his writer, producer, director father Pen Densham.
“I was mentored from a very early age on story and a love for storytelling,” said Densham. “At the time, in the late ‘80s, a version of a hero was a man who killed other men, and he did not want me to be raised seeing that as what a hero was. A hero was a man who fought for other people even though you didn’t necessarily get what you wanted. Selfishness versus, you know, being selfless. And from a really early age, those kind of things were made really clear to me because it was just what he believed.”
Densham shared that he learned early on that it was about “thoughtful storytelling. It wasn’t just ‘hey let’s make a buck.’ It was how do you tell a story that matters? How do you do something that hopefully leaves a little good left in the world? And I was encouraged to write.”
Although the lessons from his father shaped his story sensibility, Nevin decided to leave Los Angeles to study sociology. When he returned to L.A. he had the opportunity to jump into the deep end of the pool, but he wanted to understand the business of film and television and first.
“I came back to L.A. and I wanted to roll phones,” he explained. “I didn’t know how to do that and I wanted to take notes, ‘cause I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t know anything, frankly. I knew how to go have a meeting with a top level executive and talk and not be intimidated, but I could not answer a phone, and I knew that was a fatal flaw.”
During his time working “on a desk,” he took courses in television writing to learn the things he didn’t know. He wrote spec features and television pilots. His work got him some freelance writing jobs and an offer for a staff position, but his family friend, (and future Altered Carbon showrunner) Laeta Kalogridis told him not to take the job — but she couldn’t tell him why.
What Densham soon learned was that Laeta wanted him to join her as the story editor of Altered Carbon. Densham took a leap of faith and passed on an offer in hopes that Kalogridis’ project would come through … and it did.
Densham knew the Altered Carbon book series well, and over several months worked with Laeta to breaking down the show, learning a lot from Kalogridis during pre-production and production. He praised Kalogridis as the hardest working person, driven out of pure passion. Through her, Densham learned to not settle for something that could be better.
Densham spoke about how he approached some of his favorite spec scripts and pilots, saying that he kept giving himself permission to write it the way he wanted. This comment sparked a NYFA student to ask how far out there stories should be.
Densham responded, “My advice is to be out there to the degree you’re comfortable with, that you want to be. You have to be able to sell you. You have to be you to the most you can be, and as interestingly and effervescently or at least marketably as you can be. If I’m going to hire a writer or someone is going to hire a writer, they’re looking at not just, can they write?They’re looking at, can I bear to be with them — for hours and hours? Can I have conflict with them? You have to be you, because any kind of inauthentic you will ‘out,’ because you’re going to be working hard with a lot of people. Best to be yourself and to make that what is marketable about you.”
The final question to Densham was, what advice would you have given to yourself 10 years ago? After a moment, Densham said he would have told himself, “have a little be more faith. Have a little bit more confidence.”
His final piece of advice to himself would be to write more, be more industrious, and to know that “you don’t have to be the natural talent, you have to do it, keep doing it.”
This was the first Final Draft podcast recorded at NYFA but we look forward to hosting more in the future. Listen to the full episode of Final Draft’s Write On: A Screenwriting Podcast with Nevin Densham here.
In a world of podcasting and videocasts, it was only a matter of time until the New York Film Academy got on board with its own insightful and thought provoking show, “New York Film Academy Hour,” which deals with all things filmmaking, acting, entertainment and more!
The weekly podcast, hosted by Joelle Smith and Pegah Rad, is hosted by Popcorn Talk and welcomes industry professionals from all areas of the entertainment business. Guests have included British Cinematography Rock God Tony Richmond, who has worked with legendary artists like The Rolling Stones and David Bowie, and NYFA alumnus Michael Gallagher, who has made hundreds of shorts, started the YouTube channel TotallySketch, directed the television mini-series “Interns,” “How to Survive High School” and “The Station.” He’s also produced three films: “Smiley,” “The Thinning,” and “Internet Famous.”
We talked to hosts Joelle Smith and Pegah Rad about NYFA Hour and more. See below!
How did the idea for NYFA Hour first come about, and how did you get the ball rolling?
JS: We saw an opportunity to bring the master filmmakers from NYFA to the vast audience of Popcorn Talk. Together they could help inspire the next generation of creators through YouTube. Thus the NYFA Hour was born.
How did Popcorn Talk become the host of NYFA Hour?
PR: Since Popcorn Talk is a network with an already large audience of television and movie lovers, it only seemed fitting to host the show on this network.
Which movie stands out for you as the main reason you’re so interested in “popcorn talk” and the movie business in general?
JS: The movie that made me want to get into movies was “Gangs of New York.” At thirteen, Scorsese was one of my favorite directors. But this movie didn’t hit me like his others. I understood that movies were a process and that virtually anyone could make a movie; and there is probably an equal chance that it’ll be bad or good. If Scorsese can flop and come back better than ever, then I could at least try.
PR: It’s hard to pinpoint what movie did this for me, but I guess you could say after I Christopher Nolan’s “Memento,” I fell in love with the psychological thriller genre.
Do you both also work or aspire to work in any particular field of the industry?
JS: I’m a comic book writer, television host, and film critique who does a lot of re-writes and reviews for up and coming artists. Right now I’m enjoying just being part of the conversation, but in the future I’d love to be a part of a writers room for an hour long drama. Writing as a team is so much better than writing alone.
PR: I aspire to work as a journalist or host for entertainment news. Recently, I started thinking about getting into acting as well.
Is there a moment or piece of advice from one of your guests that has stood out to the most thus far?
JS: There’s been one piece of advice that remains the same no matter who is sitting in the guests chair and that is, “Keep moving forward.” It would appear that the best thing a creator can do is keep creating. Even if you don’t have money, even if you don’t have a crew — and especially when you’re not sure what you’re supposed to be doing — if you keep creating at least you have a product.
PR: All of our guests so far have said that passion is the reason they keep on moving and staying in this industry. I think it’s important to stay passionate about your craft because that will keep you going for years.
If you could have any guest in the business on an upcoming episode…who would it be and why?
JS: I’d love to get Issa Rae on the show. “Insecure”is such a brave and impactful series. I’d love to discuss her process in moving from YouTube, to trying to launch a show on network, to finding a home on HBO. Shaq is also a NYFA alum, and I’m desperate to show the world his artistic side.
PR: I’m with Joelle in wanting Issa Rae and Shaq in as guests. I’ve seen so many sides of Shaq, but I’d like to see his artistic and creative side as well.
Which Oscar noms were your favorite this year? Who did you want to win?
JS: If it were up to me “Moonlight would win every award and we’d all go home happy such a film exists. I’m also elated I’m Not Your Negrohas resonated with audiences. It’s a powerful documentary that need to be seen.
PR: “Moonlight” was hands down my favorite pick for this year and I’m so excited that they won! Also super excited that “The Salesman” from Iran won Best Foreign Film!
Which guests are coming up down the road?
JS: We’ve got a lot of really great guests coming up, but I’m most excited about Nunzio DeFilippes who is a prolific comic book writer and all around great human being. We’ve also got the head of Industry Lab, Kim Ogeltree, coming in to talk about all of the great projects being produced at the New York Film Academy.
PR: And Lamont Magee is coming up soon!
We’re looking forward to those podcasts and more! Be sure to check out NYFA Hour weekly on Popcorn Talk!