Good morning Stage 32 Creative Crew! We're kicking off another week of excellence at Stage 32 with an awesome success story. As many of you know, last year, Stage 32 launched the 1st Annual Diversity Springboard Screenwriting Contest. Since its inception in 2011 when we launched with our "One Love" initiative, Stage 32 has been committed to providing opportunities and a platform for unrepresented and underrepresented creatives from all backgrounds, including people of color, women, LGBTQ+, and those who are passionate about storytelling despite adversity.
This writing competition was over 18 months in the making and for the first time ever brought together a panel of mentors from across the industry, including NBCUniversal, Disney/ABC Television Group, CBSViacom, Lee Daniels Entertainment, MetaMorphic Entertainment (Amazon Studios), Artists First Entertainment (CRAZY RICH ASIANS, BLACK-ISH, MIXED-ISH), Alta Global Media (BLACKKKLANSMAN), Energy Entertainment, First Friday Entertainment and more.
Last week, we announced that Jeffrey Thompson was the winner of the competition with his original half-hour pilot "GILMAN". The pilot tackles issues surrounding diversity in such a unique, interesting, and fun way that the panel of industry judges and mentors instantly saw the potential for the series.
For my part, I am excited to move this project forward. In fact, less than an hour after Jeff was announced as the winner of the competition, I sent "GILMAN" to the office of the Vice President of Production at Sony Pictures Animation with a note saying, "this is right in your wheelhouse." They are reading and considering it now.
In the meantime, Jeff will start taking the mentoring meetings with the competition judges. We're excited to keep you posted on those meetings and his progress. It is an honor to introduce you to Jeff. I'm sure you will agree his positive vibes are infectious and he embodies the very best values of the Stage 32 community.
Take it away, Jeff...
Wow, so it’s definitely really weird for me to be writing one of these. For years, I’ve seen these blogs pop up in my inbox and read the stories of other writers having their breaks and successes and felt pretty detached from their experiences. Even though writing professionally was always my goal, every year that passed made it feel less likely that I would gain any traction.
I’ve done a good chunk of the things that you’re supposed to do as an aspiring writer: wrote sketches in college and afterwards (and performed some of them too), studied at all of the improv schools in LA (yep, even that one), crafted my Stage32 profile so that it’s funny yet professional, wrote and produced short films (a few of which have screened in festivals), did the CBS Diversity Showcase (shoutout to class of 2017), and submitted my scripts to contests and fellowships. I’ve probably written more pages of in the past three years that I have in my entire college and graduate school career.
Contests and fellowships always feel like such a crapshoot, regardless of how proud I was of a draft. And there was the constantly disheartening experience of reading the list of semifinalists and scrolling through the numerous scripts to see if you can find your name or the name of your script. Then scrolling again to see if you missed it. Then using the search function to see if you can find your name that way. Then spelling your name a few different ways just in case they misspelled your name in the list. And then realizing, that you weren’t a semifinalist.
At first, the Stage32 Diversity Springboard Screenwriting Contest was just another contest in a long list of submissions from last year, but I realized pretty quickly the uniqueness of the opportunities that Stage32 presented. Jason did a great job of checking in during the process, I remember the first time I got an email from him which said “I gotta be honest, I am super pumped to write this email! I just saw that GILMAN has officially been selected as a Semifinalist in the Stage 32 1st Annual Diversity Springboard Screenwriting Contest!” I assumed that it was just a mail merge, copy-paste yadda-yadda, but then I realized as I read the email that it wasn’t. From the beginning, Jason was invested in my script’s story and in me as a writer. It felt good to get that acknowledgement after years of work poured into my craft (I love when people refer to it as “the craft”).
Jeffrey Thompson reacts to winning the 1st Annual Stage 32 Diversity Springboard Writing Contest
Looking back, I can see how my writing has evolved over time. How I learned the importance of writing dialogue that is clear and concise, how I learned to kill my babies and get rid of scenes that don’t serve the plot (even if I loved them dearly), how I finally gave in and started to outline (at least a little bit) before I started writing, and how I learned to really listen to notes (like REALLY listen to them). Each one of those struggles seemed insurmountable at the time, but I’m glad that I never gave up because had I done so, I wouldn’t be writing this blog today.
So my advice to you (and I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before) is to keep on writing. I hate not being good at stuff, and I’ve had to push through a lot of frustration in order get this script to a polished state: page-one rewrites, cutting characters and scenes, and just staring at a note that I knew was good, but couldn’t figure out how to implement. It’s hard! But you’re not alone in this; we all deal with it! And we all push through and our scripts are better for it.
I also am fully aware that my success is not fully my own. I’ve learned how to write better by swapping scripts and notes with friends (I want to shoutout all of you, but I’m 100% going to forget someone and then that person will never forgive me), by taking classes (and listening to way too audiobooks about writing), and by just putting stuff out there and seeing what sticks. You have to have a community of people around you, because you need to know how people respond to your writing. Get honest feedback when you can and learn which notes you resist because they’re not great notes and which notes you resist because you are too attached to what you’ve written (this is mostly a reminder for me, not for you).
Love the writing process, hate the writing process, or feel relatively neutral about the writing process. Whatever you do, just keep on writing. And find people who like your writing, because they’ll push you forward and help you get through the tough times (cuz… those tough times do happen). But keep on writing and also submit to those Stage32 contests, so I can see your name pop up in my email inbox some day soon.
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