2020 in Screenwriting: NOT a Love Letter (but some things worth celebrating nonetheless!)

When I started thinking about my annual end-of-year blogpost this time around, a few different phrases immediately came to mind:

“What a long, strange trip it’s been… “

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

So true, and yet not nearly enough to encapsulate all that I think about when it comes to the – let’s face it – dumpster fire of a year that is 2020.

The onset of novel coronavirus and everything that followed, which included, to name a few, economic strife, heartbreaking social injustice, and a very consequent election, brought with them a slew of challenges both creative and practical. The shutdown of writers’ rooms and production was scary; the emotions stirred for many writers by current events and the state of things felt overwhelming; the lack of stimulation, the same reality lived day in and day out within – for the most part – the same four walls became debilitating creatively to some. There is no question that this was a year truly unlike any other, and I thank all of those writers who allowed me in on their journey, and shared the whole of their experiences with me. I truly don’t know how I would have gotten through it without you. 

On a personal level, this year brought my family a real blow, far beyond the factors that created the challenging reality of everything I named up top. My year that started with my regular, annual trip to see my then 94-year old beloved grandmother who was like a second mother to me, was brought to its knees when we lost her to the novel coronavirus in October, 2020. While I’ve learned to live in a new world that doesn’t include our daily phone calls and her constant presence in my life despite our physical distance, there is not a day that goes by when, at least for a moment, the sharp absence of her doesn’t take my breath away.

There’s no question. It’s been a hard year. For all of this. But…

I always tell my writers: You’ve got to celebrate the wins. And this year, that feels truer than ever. It’s been such a tough one for so many of us for such a broad variety of reasons. So with that in mind, I have to acknowledge that, heartache and all, this year was also in many ways also the best of times.

And for the record: These wins are, first and foremost,  a testament to the hard work that the writers I am fortunate enough to work with have put in, and to the industry that, despite everything that it’s been through, continues to exhibit growth and hunger for new storytellers creating fresh, exciting stories. 

So, that said, let’s celebrate the wins, shall we?

(and, for the record, I’m going to focus mostly on firsts here. First big sales, first staffing, first reps. You get the idea. And for competitions, I’m only listing the big ones, and only the winners, because otherwise, this list would be, in the most wonderful way, ridiculous).

Greta Heinemann, my ride-or-die, sold a pitch for her movie DAKAR to Amblin, for which she just finished writing the screenplay. She also wrote a killer 2nd episode for her show FRANKIE CASH in development at HBOMax. And she went above and beyond keeping me steady and sane, but that’s a different story for another day… 

Eileen Jones, one of my dearest friends and longtime clients, sold her pitch for HIGHWAYMAN to New Line after her participation in the super-successful female-forward Lepp (Lucky Export Pitch Program) incubator, in addition to working on FOX’s PRODIGAL SON.

Moises Zamora, who I originally met when he was still taking writing classes at UCLA extension, concluded his first show as Executive Producer, Creator and Head Writer: Netflix’s SELENA: THE SERIES, which premiered on Netflix on December 4th. He also started his own production company that landed its first deal in the fall of 2020!

Crosby Selander, who continued to work hard on his craft for the past three years while working with me despite getting little to no industry interest, sold his screenplay BRING ME BACK in an insane bidding war between Legendary and Netflix. You can hear all about it in the podcast we recorded, tracking his breaking-in story, for Final Draft. He was also named to 2020’s The Black List.

Pamela Garcia Rooney, who came to me by referral years ago when she was still on a quest to break in through the TV writing programs, sold her pilot WASTECASE to FX.

In a very challenging staffing season, Barbara Soares staffed on Apple +’s GHOSTWRITER, in addition to landing on The Black List’s LatinX TV List. She also won the Bad Idea Films Guaranteed Option as part of her win in Tracking Board’s Launch Pad Pilot Competition.

And speaking of this crazy staffing season… Rowan Wheeler, who was once a client and is today still a good friend, staffed on BIRDGIRL for Adult Swim, so a big shout out to her!

(There are a lots of repeat staffing too! but the list is long, so instead… I will just focus on firsts!)

Alan Horsnail saw his first feature, MIDNIGHT IN THE SWITCHGRASS, go into production starring Bruce Willis, Emile Hirsch and Megan Fox only to shut down due to COVID in March, and then come back to wrap up production in the summer. You can read all about how he sold his first feature without the involvement of a rep in my interview with him: Real Writers Break In: No Rep? No Problem! Alan Sells a Spec Script.

Ted Campbell, who has been with me ever since my ScriptShark days, is currently directing his first feature for MarVista.

Kim Garland landed in her first writer’s room for Syfy’s CHUCKY. She has since staffed on her 2nd show, this time for Netflix. You can check out her story in the blogpost Real Writers Break In: Kim Goes to Hollywood! From Funeral Home to CHUCKY TV Series

Paul Ditty, who goes back with me for more than half a decade was finally the bride with WB’s TV Writer’s Workshop, after 2 years as bridesmaid. I could not be more proud of the grace and integrity that Paul has shown throughout the year, not to mention his brilliant writing!

Still on the fellowship front, Hussain Pirani made it into NBC’s Writers on the Verge, while Janene Lin landed a coveted spot on CBS’s Writers Mentoring Program.

The very talented Robert Axelrod was a recipient of the Humanitas New Voices Prize, and also was named to the top of The A-List. He signed a shopping agreement with a producer for two of his pilots, and also went on to win ScreenCraft’s Playwriting Competition!

Michelle Steffes was accepted into The Black List/Women in Film’s Feature Lab with her script MAD, which just happens to be one of my favorite scripts ever, and also directed the short film SUMMONED for M&M. 

My longtime friend and old client Ayser Salman was named to The Black List/Women in Film Episodic Lab with her wonderful pilot, THOSE QUADDAM ARABS.

The wonderful Kris Crenwelge was accepted into the 5th Annual LA Skins Fest Native American TV Writers Lab.

Victoria Rau and Natalie Bergman, with whom I, ironically, work separately, won Tracking Board’s Launch Pad Pilot Competition’s Top Drama Pilot award with their pilot ANGELS OF WAR.

Lynda Brandish won The Tracking Board’s Launch Pad Pilot Competition’s Mentorship Program with her pilot THE WOODHULL.

Amadou Diallo was also awarded The Tracking Board’s Launch Pad Pilot Competition’s Mentorship Program with his pilot, KING OF LESOTHO.

Sarah Granger was named to Media Access Award/The Black List’s 2020 Disability List with her screenplay THE PAIN FREE DAY.

And so soooooo many writers got signed:

  • Michael Robin signed with Echo Lake
  • Kathryn Blaire signed with 3Arts Entertainment
  • Kenny Hillman signed with Heroes & Villains
  • Stephanie-Adams Santos signed with Kaplan/Perrone
  • Crosby Selander signed with Kaplan/Perrone
  • Bobby Marino signed with Bellevue Productions
  • Aarthi Ramanathan signed with First Friday Entertainment
  • Noah Thomas Grossman signed with Recon Literary
  • Ashlei Hardenburg signed with First Story Entertainment
  • Ana Brown signed with New Wave Entertainment
  • Jess Lane signed with Bellevue Productions
  • Sam Garcia Bernstein signed with Aghassi Literary Management
  • Ted Campbell signed with Zero Gravity

I am sure that I’m forgetting someone so… mea culpa! Please, if you are a client and I somehow left you off this list, whether you got signed, or won a big contest or… had anything huge happen that I somehow left out please please please email me and I’ll get you added to this list!

As I write this, there are still writers making decisions about which reps to sign with and waiting for results as they move up some big screenwriting contests. There is one writer deep in negotiations for her first overall deal with a major, prestigious network, and another waiting on paperwork for her first studio writing assignment but…  I can’t talk about those quite yet. You get it.

AND there are also all of those writers who worked hard, who submitted to fellowships and contests, who approached representation and even got their first showrunner meeting (looking at you, Tim!) without the help of representation, but didn’t ultimately net the results that they were hoping for. I know how frustrating that is, and I feel for everyone coming to the end of the year feeling like they didn’t get the results that they were hoping for. But if nothing else, I hope that the list above, these wins earned by other hard-working writers and directors, is a reminder that it very much is possible. You have to stay consistent. You have to keep fighting. You have to take all of your experiences, and put them to good use on the page.

(For the record, I am feeling very optimistic about what’s going to be possible for emerging and professional writers in the year ahead. To dig in further, check out the annual installment of my end-of-year rundown on Pilar Alessandra’s popular podcast, On The Page.)

AND AND AND this is where I have to stop and thank my writers for allowing me along on your ride, for letting me support you as you worked so hard, as you fought for your careers, as you stayed relentless and determined, despite all of the frustrations and disappointments and setbacks. Whether you’ve had a big year or one that has left you wanting, I am so incredibly grateful that you allowed me to be a part of it. What already was the best job I could ever imagine made this year so much more bearable, provided me with a sense of purpose and allowed me to find joy, satisfaction and fulfillment despite all of the big life challenges that effected us in 2020. 

So thank you for that. Working with you this year has made ALL the difference.

All of which is to say, yes, this year has been A LOT. The sort of year that, had a writer written about it in a screenplay before any of this had happened, reps and studio execs alike would have told her that it’s just not realistic. Just not believable. Too many back-to-back big lies for the audience to suspend disbelief for. But it happened, and so here we are. That said, good things happened too. Not just for writers I work with, but far beyond that, so for the remainder of 2020, and going into 2021, that’s what I choose to focus on.

Wishing everyone a peaceful and restorative holiday season, and a productive, healthy and harmonious 2021!