NHMC’s Latino Scriptwriters Intensive Comes to an End
On May 5, 2017, the second annual NHMC Latino Scriptwriters Intensive came to an end. The program, sponsored by Univision/Fusion, takes place once a year and the participants are hand selected from the group of 130 alumni who have previously completed NHMC’s Television Writers Program. Over the span of six weeks the participants complete a pilot that can be used to help them get staffed on a show, get representation or even pitch to production companies and networks. This year’s focus was on drama.
We asked a few of the graduates for their take on the program:
For me, writing is often a process of elimination. I need to try things, often multiple times and from different angles, before I can settle on what I feel works. This goes from the micro on up to the macro. Specifically, I had been beating my head against an idea that, while having a solid concept, had eluded me from a character standpoint. The fantastic group of writers in the program took one look at that idea and all but cried “Next!” While initially jarring, it was ultimately liberating and freed me up to write a project that had been percolating in the back of my brain for some time. Not only was the feedback integral to getting my new pilot where it needs to be, the connections I made with other Latinx writers are invaluable.
Considering that Latinx writers make up less than a percent of the WGA, I’ve been lucky to fall into writer’s rooms that actually reflect the world I grew up in. Having worked on shows like East Los High on Hulu I got a first hand lesson in seeing how valuable a room with diverse races, genders, and sexual orientations can be. The NHMC is doing important work by promoting diverse voices and championing Latinx writers. We’re nearing a majority population in this country. It’s time our media reflected that.
As a fledgling TV writer, this experience was like a boot camp, accelerated graduate program, support group and artist’s salon — all rolled into one lightning-paced six-week period. During the NHMC TV Writers Program, I completed multiple drafts of two scripts: Heteroflexible, a half-hour dramedy about a young Latinx couple dealing with cultural shifts and sexual fluidity in post-gentrification Williamsburg, as well as Dooley Street, a one-hour supernatural drama about two families living on a haunted block in a seaside neighborhood in 1980’s Brooklyn. During the Latino Scriptwriters Intensive, which was a TV writing intensive for drama writers, I focused my efforts on developing a semi-autobiographical one-hour drama, called From the Ashes, about a retired Latino firefighter who endeavors to strengthen his relationship with his family after he has been diagnosed with 9/11 Lung, an aggressive form of cancer that continues to plague many First Responders who were present in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks.
Playwriting groups and workshops were essential to my creative process in New York, where I’ve cultivated a close group of actors and directors whose instincts and collaborative insight make the work stronger. Geoff Harris and the other NHMC writers have been equally essential to my growth as a TV writer here on the West Coast. Without the structure and guidance provided by Geoff, I would never have completed three scripts in such a short period of time. It was also inspiring to sit alongside other extremely talented Latinx writers, all of whom came to the table with such broadly different backgrounds, personal experiences and creative aesthetics. We generously engaged with each other’s work during the workshop periods and have continued to offer moral and creative support since the fellowships have wrapped.
AN ANECDOTE: I had a long chat with another NHMC writer, during which we discovered that we both aspired to adapt the same short story into a full-length series. We had completely different takes on the material, both of which would have made for great television. After a brief lull in the conversation, he asked: “I’m not surprised that we both had that same idea, but… Do you see me as competition?” I thought about it and replied, “Nope. Here’s the thing: we’re both Latin, we’re both gay, we both want to be supernatural drama writers. We might “check off” many of the same boxes, demographically, but we’d never in a million years write the same script. Our voices, our perspectives and our aesthetics couldn’t be more different.” Then I added, “We’d be far better off as artists and people if we treat each other as allies.” That was the most important takeaway from my NHMC experience. As Latinx writers, we stand to gain far more (creatively, professionally and yes, spiritually) if we support one another, trust our individual voices and hope to Christ that this industry embraces us as artists with rich cultural backgrounds and great stories to share with the world.
Although screenwriting is traditionally seen as a solitary profession, television carries a more collaborative spirit with the use of the writers’ room. But for those of us still trying to break in, we must still face that blinking cursor alone as we toil away at our spec pilots in the hopes of getting staffed. Thankfully, NHMC’s Latino Scriptwriters Intensive has given me and my fellow writers the opportunity to develop our pilots in a setting that simulates a writers’ room experience. With an “All for one and one for all” approach led by Geoff Harris, the program provided me with a unique chance to share my work in a safe and supportive environment.
Having just finished NHMC’s flagship TV Writers Program in the Fall, I found myself getting right back into it when I was invited to join the Latino Scriptwriters Intensive. The group consisted of seven talented drama writers, including two of my fellow classmates from the Fall. In the program, we each developed an idea for a one-hour pilot and completed the first draft by the end of seven weeks. We then provided each other with thorough and thoughtful feedback. This experience has taught me a lot about working in a writers’ room. The most significant lesson was learning not to take feedback personally. It can be difficult to hear someone point out problems in a script that you worked so hard on. Being in a room with other writers going through the exact same thing really helped me put things into perspective. I tend to be very hard on myself when it comes to writing a first draft. If it’s not “perfect”, then to me it’s a failure and I chide myself for not doing better. This can be amplified by the perceived solitary nature of screenwriting. Geoff and my fellow writers helped me move away from that negative self- perception, allowing me to see my writing process as exactly that — a process. They gave me permission to make mistakes, reminding me that any issues can be resolved in the next draft. There’s a sense of freedom in that.
Another important takeaway from my experience in the program is that diversity is massively important in a writers’ room. The different perspectives other writers bring to the table can enrich your own work. Even in our program with seven Latino writers, there was diversity in experience and point-of-view. There is not just one way to be Latino. For example, I brought my unique sensibilities as a gay Latino boy from Florida. On the one hand, I was a theatre-trained actor and writer with a love of William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. On the other hand, I also grew up around the swampy Everglades and have seen more than my fair share of alligators and crocodiles. At home, I spoke Spanish with my two immigrant parents, but I could also bust out with “y’all” and “ain’t” when chatting with my friends. NASCAR races and Christmas tamales were yearly events in young life. Though the pilot I wrote in the program was inspired by my personal life experiences, it was made much stronger by the contributions of the other Latino writers who brought their own experiences growing up in places like New York, Minnesota, and New Mexico.
The pilot I wrote is a Southern Gothic thriller called INVASIVE SPECIES: A struggling python-hunter and a novice park ranger team up to uncover a nefarious small-town conspiracy, which has unleashed an ancient and relentless Everglades monster known by the locals as the “Swamp Ape.”
NHMC is currently accepting applications for the 2017 NHMC TV Writers Program, for more information please visit http://www.nhmc.org/writersprogram.