TWIC: EPs Take Writing Classes Too

Week ending 11/15/19. As before, all names have been changed to protect the innocent…

Last week, I got a call from one of my EPs. Benny. Benny was on set, on location, putting endless hours into the production of his show, for which he’s been at the helm for almost a year, taking it from script, from the room, to screen. We talked through some on-set politics, some upper level relationship management, touched lightly on whatever was going to come next once he was back, and then… off he went.

Only to then text me mid-day: By the way, just signed up for one of Pilar Alessandra’s classes. I need to get back in this feature I’m trying to finish. Wait, what??? But then… it’s not the first time one of my working writers decided to make such a move.

A short while after I met her, I found out that one of my EPs, who does a healthy amount of development on new pilots for BIG buyers between in-the-room gigs, regularly goes to weekend workshops put on by Joan Scheckel. Another one of my clients has, in fact, coined the term “To Scheckel”. Still, another writer jumped into one of Corey Mandell’s 3-month workshops between selling a pilot to NBC and starting on a feature writing assignment for Paramount. Yet another took a Script Anatomy workshop to jumpstart her new original pilot between TV seasons on her multi-season network show. Another working scribe of mine debated whether or not to become an instructor for the program because… would it be weird to both teach and take class at the same time? And… over the years I’ve known more than one working writer hanging out in the back of the class for Jen Grisanti’s annual virtual Teleseminar.  

All of which is to say… I should not have been surprised when Benny told me that his first weekend home was going to be spent in a class. For so many of my working writers, this is par for the course. Which is why it always surprises me when less experienced writers say things like “I’ve taken all the classes I need.” or, better yet, that they “don’t believe in classes.” or “don’t need class anymore.”

Don’t get me wrong. not every season is the right season to go sit in a class, and not every class is right for every writer. And at the end of every class, each writer needs to take what they’ve learned and apply it to the page, which more often than not means lots of solitary, non-class writing time. Plus, screenwriting class are not without cost, and for many writers, classes are not always in the budget. So… I get that.

However, it’s important to remember that screenwriting is a challenging craft – what worked for one project won’t necessarily work for the next – which means that the more tools you have, the more ways you have to tackle the work, make it fresh and new and exciting, the better off you are. In fact, it’s my writers who have  done this successfully many times – and by done this I mean wrote features and pilots that found industry success – who are in an endless search for the next book they should read, the next class they should take, they next method they should try.

Yes, there are periods when every writer feels “classed out” and needs to take everything they learned and see how it shows up in the work, but, in my experience, if financially feasible, classes is something that writers should consider investing in, at least every once in a while. 

As Manager Lee Stobby told me when I interviewed him for my book. BREAKING IN: TALES FROM THE SCREENWRITING TRENCHES:

“I think those MFA screenwriting degrees are really good… Not because they are necessarily going to teach you what to write and what not to write, but they are going to force you to crank out scripts. That’s it. You’re going to be here for three years? You need to write one script every three months.”

Whether in a full university MFA program, a 3-month, 6-week or 2-day class, classes provide not only accountability and writing tools, but community for those who are looking to build or expand those, and a way to immerse in a project and thereby jumpstart it, look at it in a different light, or re-break it in a whole new way if that’s what is called for. If it’s good enough for my EP and studio-writer clients, I figure it’s something that everyone should, in the very least, give some consideration to.