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Screenwriting Resources for Underrepresented Writers

Jonathan Hogan

Screenwriting, similar to professional creative writing, constitutes a small and highly competitive profession. Because of this, the internet is full of suggestions that come from highly privileged places. One website, for example, recommends quitting your job and writing 9 – 5 while also moving to L.A. (“How to Become a Screenwriter”). Such a focus on individual solutions to the restrictive nature of screenwriting obscures larger structures that make entry into the industry especially difficult for those with oppressed identities. The unhelpful nature of websites such as these is especially frustrating when one considers the most recent report on diversity in Screenwriting by the Writers Guild of West America.

According to the report, 56% of the industry identify as white men, 21% as white women, 13% as men of color, and 10% as women of color (Robb). When compared to demographics in the U.S. population, white male screenwriters are the only over-represented group, whereas representation of Native/Indigenous writers and Middle Eastern writers equates to “near-total erasure.” In light of the dual difficulties of a both restrictive and seemingly unaware industry, aspiring to become a screenwriter might seem an act in vain. Nonetheless, there are screenwriting programs that look to explicitly support underrepresented groups. I will explore three of these programs below, however, a full list of 10 programs is available here.

  1. Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment – New Writers Fellowship

The Coalition of Asian Pacifics (CAPE) is an organization seeking to “champion… diversity by educating, connecting, and empowering Asian American and Pacific Islander artists and leaders in entertainment and media” and dates back to 1991 (“CAPE’s Mission and History”). CAPE hosts multiple programs focusing on helping Asian Americans and Pacifica Islanders break through barriers in areas ranging from directing to screenwriting. Their New Writers Fellowship takes place in the Spring and sees accepted writers attend workshops while matching them with “a high-level industry mentor to help them revise their original script into professional-level writing samples” (“CAPE New Writers Fellowship — Developing Asian & Pacific Islander Screenwriters in TV and Film”).

2. The Black List WIF Feature Residency

The Black List Women in Film Feature Residency provides “six promising non-professional screenwriters who are of underrepresented genders (women, NB/GNC and/or trans, and others) to participate in a one year residency” (“2021 Black List / WIF Feature Residency | The Black List”). The residency’s focus is twofold. Namely, it focuses on improving residents’ writing skills, while also connecting residents with production companies (“2021 Black List / WIF Feature Residency | The Black List”). Although the program focuses on pursuing gender equality in screenwriting, it should be noted that “Women in Film,” the sponsoring organization, has a recently formed Black Member Forum and thus seems to at least be aware of the importance of an intersectional understanding of oppression.

3. Native American Media Alliance – Native American TV Writers Lab

Native American Media Alliance hosts a “5 week intensive scriptwriters program that prepares Native Americans for writing careers at major television networks” (“Native American Media Alliance | 6th Annual Native American TV Writers Lab Application”). During the program, writers will “complete an original plot… and receive feedback from peers and an experienced writing instructor” (“Native American Media Alliance | 6th Annual Native American TV Writers Lab Application”). At the end of the program, writers will then pitch their scripts to executives from various production companies. Although the program certainly focuses on getting Native American’s into the industry, a further goal of the program is “to improve media portrayals of Native Americans” (“Native American Media Alliance | Mission”).

Bibliography

“2021 Black List / WIF Feature Residency | The Black List.” The Black List, https://blcklst.com/partnerships/opportunities/94. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.

“CAPE New Writers Fellowship — Developing Asian & Pacific Islander Screenwriters in TV and Film.” CAPE, https://www.capeusa.org/cnwf. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.

“CAPE’s Mission and History.” CAPE, https://www.capeusa.org/mission-history. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.

“How to Become a Screenwriter: A Pro’s Ultimate Guide.” Script Reader Pro, 14 June 2018, https://www.scriptreaderpro.com/how-to-become-a-screenwriter-one-day/.

“Native American Media Alliance | 6th Annual Native American TV Writers Lab Application.” Native American Media Alliance, https://nama.media/6th-annual-native-american-tv-writers-lab-application/. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.

“Native American Media Alliance | Mission.” Native American Media Alliance, https://nama.media/mission/. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.

Robb, David. “WGA West Screenwriting Inclusion Report: Women & People Of Color Continue To Make Progress In Hiring But ‘Remain Significantly Underrepresented.’” Deadline, 5 Nov. 2021, https://deadline.com/2021/11/screenwriting-inclusion-report-women-people-of-color-continue-progress-underrepresented-wga-west-1234869192/.

Jonathan is a Third Year German and Government major. He works as a Peer Educator to assist students in the CJW and GLI career communities. In addition to professional development, Jonathan is interested in the cultural construction of the modern nation-state, normative constraints on rational behavior, and all things German. You can schedule an appointment with him here to improve your resume, learn more about the CJW and GLI career opportunities, and work on anything else professional development-related.

Screenwriting Basics

              

By Jonathan Hogan

If you are someone who is inspired by amazing movie scenes and imagines your creative writing not within the reams of a book, but rather on flickering lights dancing across white vinyl, it might be worth considering a career in screenwriting.

Screenwriting most basically entails writing scripts for movies or television shows. There is, of course, a lot that goes into this simple definition. For one, aspiring screenwriters need to be intimately aware of how they format a script. This very specific form of writing, which allows ideas to translate clearly from a computer screen—to a set—to a film ready for release, requires a concerted effort to learn. There are many courses, books, etc. available on the internet that can help a writer learn how to format their scripts, however, as an enrolled Lawrentian, one can also take FIST345: Screenwriting, which culminates in the writing of “one or more short screenplays” (“Film Studies Course Description | Lawrence University”).

After learning the basics of how to write screenplays, things become a little less clear. In 2020, the Writer’s Guild of America, the union that represents screenwriters, reported that 6,108 writers received earnings from screenwriting (Annual Finance Report). That’s it. Because of this, discussing career paths for getting into screenwriting is a little like discussing career paths for professional athletes—at its core, it’s about having the resources to become really really good, and then making one’s skills known to the industry. Nonetheless, there are some things that nearly all screenwriters do on their way into the industry.

The first thing that nearly all screenwriters do is write “spec scripts.” A spec script is essentially a script written at the screenwriter’s initiative. For new screenwriters, spec scripts exist not so much to be sold, but rather to demonstrate to potential employers that the writer is skilled enough to take on a preconceived creative assignment such as working with a team to write an episode for a series. It is typically said that three spec scripts constitute a good portfolio (“How to Become a Screenwriter”). If a writer becomes well established in the industry, they may return to spec writing, as they can rely on their reputation to get the attention of producers.  

After writing three spec scripts, writers are often told that they need to get representation through an agent, who manages contracts and closes deals, and managers, who work to establish relationships that lead to deals and more broadly to guide the career of a screenwriter (HOORAE Media, An Issa Rae Company). Amy Anoibi,, an executive producer for Emmy-nominated Insecure and a head writer for season 1 of 2 Dope Queens, puts a different spin on agents and managers, stating that “representation isn’t something that you should be running after,” arguing instead that screenwriters should “do the work”  until representatives start calling them. According to Anoibi, this approach ensures that screenwriters get the right representation—agents and managers that share the goals and ambitions of the writer (HOORAE Media, An Issa Rae Company).

Aside from multiple spec scrips and considering representation, there is not much more that can be said for typical screenwriter career paths. In general, screenwriting is not for the faint of heart. As said before, it’s about having the resources to become really good. One of these “resources” is an undying love for the process of screenwriting. This keeps writers going even without the structure and certainty of a 9-5 job. Yet despite the romanticism of a passionate writer forging their path in a difficult industry, there are underlying structural barriers that prevent even the most passionate writers from getting ahead. Money, for example, more than passion, is a critical resource for screenwriters. Money allows a screenwriter to dedicate significant time to their craft without worrying about food, rent, childcare etc. Money allows screenwriters to pay for an MFA in screenwriting which, in addition to honing skills, ideally creates connections in Hollywood. Money allows one to move to L.A., where it is easier to establish connections to the industry. As a result of the significant amount of privilege that one needs to make it in the industry, those with marginalized identities can find it to be disproportionately difficult to get into the industry (something reflected by the demographics of the industry (Robb)). The next article in the CJW newsletter focuses on a list of writing fellowships that seek to elevate various marginalized identities with the hope of mitigating some of the effects of structural oppression. Keep your eye out in the coming weeks.

Jonathan is a Third Year German and Government major. He works as a Peer Educator to assist students in the CJW and GLI career communities. In addition to professional development, Jonathan is interested in the cultural construction of the modern nation-state, normative constraints on rational behavior, and all things German. You can schedule an appointment with him here to improve your resume, learn more about the CJW and GLI career opportunities, and work on anything else professional development-related.

Works Cited

Annual Finance Report. Writers Guild of America, West, Inc., 29 June 2021.

“Film Studies Course Description | Lawrence University.” Lawrence University, https://www.lawrence.edu/academics/college/film-studies/course-description. Accessed 29 Apr. 2022.

HOORAE Media, An Issa Rae Company. 5 Tips on How To Become A Screenwriter w/ Emmy-Nominated Screenwriter Amy Aniobi. 2020. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3Pp_l7r0c8.

“How to Become a Screenwriter: A Pro’s Ultimate Guide.” Script Reader Pro, 14 June 2018, https://www.scriptreaderpro.com/how-to-become-a-screenwriter-one-day/.

Robb, David. “WGA West Screenwriting Inclusion Report: Women & People Of Color Continue To Make Progress In Hiring But ‘Remain Significantly Underrepresented.’” Deadline, 5 Nov. 2021, https://deadline.com/2021/11/screenwriting-inclusion-report-women-people-of-color-continue-progress-underrepresented-wga-west-1234869192/.

Sample Behavioral Interview Questions

It’s time to practice for your interview! While knowing what experiences you have had in the past is very important, knowing how to answer behavioral questions can make the difference between being hired or not. Behavioral questions are designed to learn how you would respond to a specific workplace situation, and how you solve problems to achieve a successful outcome. Here is a list of possible behavioral questions that they could ask you divided into different sections.

Teamwork

With teamwork behavioral questions, interviewers get a sense of whether or not you like working on a team, how well you work in groups, and what role you tend to take on a team project (leader, mediator, follower..). These questions also show whether you are easy to get along with, which is important in almost any work environment.

  • Talk about a time when you had to work closely with someone whose personality was very different from yours
  • Give me an example of a time you faced a conflict while working on a team. How did you handle that?
  • Tell me about a time you wish you’d handled a situation differently with a colleague

Client-facing skills

Client-facing skills behavioral questions give interviewers a way to see how you react to different kind of clients. What would happen if the client is frustrated, or if there a large number of clients waiting and how you can handle that pressure.

  • Tell me about a time when you made sure a customer was pleased with your service
  • Describe a time when you had to interact with a difficult client. What was the situation, and how did you handle it?
  • When you’re working with a large number of customers, it’s tricky to deliver excellent service to them all. How do you go about prioritizing your customers’ needs?

Ability to adapt

The ability to adapt is a very important soft skill that is required in any job. The way you answer these questions will give a sense of how you are able to adapt in a new working space and how flexible you are to change and adjust to new situations.

  • Tell me about a time you were under a lot of pressure. What was going on, and how did you get through it?
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to think on your feet in order to delicately extricate yourself from a difficult or awkward situation
  • Tell me about a time you failed. How did you deal with the situation?
  • Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure

Time management skills

Time management is another very important skill to have. When one of these questions is asked, make sure you are clear about how you managed your time carefully, what tools did you use and why did those tools help.

  • Describe a long term project you managed. How did you keep everything moving along in a timely manner?
  • Tell me about a time you set a goal for yourself. How did you go about ensuring that you would meet your objective?
  • Tell me about a time you had to be very strategic in order to meet all your top priorities

Communication skills

The ability to communicate is closely evaluated in a job interview. Some recruiters will not ask questions directly related to communication in the interview but just see how the candidate is able to communicate during the interview. However, other recruiters might ask you behavioral questions that show the candidate’s communication skills with a real life example.

  • Tell me about a successful presentation you gave and why you think it was a hit
  • Tell me about a time you had to explain something fairly complex to a frustrated client. How did you handle the situation?

Motivation and values

Motivation and values behavioral questions are asked to see what values and what kind of personality the candidate has. It is important to always be honest and show how your personality could be an asset for the company. 

  • Tell me about a time you saw a problem and took the initiative to solve it rather than waiting for someone else to do it
  • Tell me about your proudest accomplishment in work or school
  • Tell me about a mistake you’ve made. How did you handle it?
  • Tell me about a challenging situation you overcame at work
  • Tell me five things that you are NOT

How to prepare to answer behavioral questions

Read the job description carefully. Make a list of the top skills or qualifications it calls for. Think of a story that demonstrates your ability in each area. Following the STAR technique, write your stories down, including the situation, task, action and result. Then, practice saying them out loud several times. Your answers should only take about 1 ½ to 3 minutes. In order to make a good impression, telling stories that are related to each one of these questions is crucial. Telling stories is the best way to be remembered by the recruiter.

Practice is the best way to succeed at behavioral interviews. If you would like to practice doing behavioral interviews, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me (oliver.decroock@lawrence.edu) or Grace Kutney (grace.kutney@lawrence.edu).

Oliver De Croock ’24, Student-Athlete at Lawrence University majoring in Economics and Career Peer Educator. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

Job Prospects for Humanities Majors

By Jonathan Hogan

If you’re a humanities major, you may have received some pessimistic or rude comments about your choice of major. As a German major, I am personally sick of people thinking that all I do is study the language of German, and I’ve heard people tell English majors that they’re “majoring in a language that they already speak fluently.” Regardless of your humanities major, whether it be History, Gender Studies, a language, or something else, I hope you haven’t internalized the discourse that demands that your prospects are dim. As this article will demonstrate, humanities majors have the widest array of careers to choose from, making your problem not a lack of opportunities, but rather the difficult decision of which path to take.

Before delving into some of the main career paths taken by humanities majors, it’s worth mentioning that one of the distinct specialties of those holding humanities majors is finding niche positions to work in that likely won’t be enumerated because of their specificity. Thus, if nothing listed is in your interests, don’t fret! This is merely a broad and by no means an exhaustive list. If you know with all your heart that you want to work as a religious advisor at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, then go for it! 

Law

               One of the most common majors that apply and are accepted to Law school is English. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as both humanities majors and law degrees require a mastery of language, as well as the ability to analytically read and critically think about texts. If a law degree sounds interesting to you, click this link to read an article on the first step to applying for law school—the LSAT.

Publishing

               Similar to Law, the field of publishing plays into a strong connection with written language. In comparison to Law, publishing places more of an emphasis on a love of books, networking abilities, and editing skills. For an article on what it’s like to work as an editor, click this link, and for an article on how to break into the relatively tight-knit industry, click here.

NGOs

               Okay, NGO can mean a lot of things, ranging from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative political think tank, to Médecins Sans Frontières; however, the humanities can also mean a lot of things, making NGOs a potential place of work for essentially any major. The Center for Reproductive Rights, for example, would pair nicely with the Butlerian gender theorist out there, and Public Allies, an NGO dedicated to social justice through representative leadership, would pair nicely with a History major, or really any major that focuses on inequality in general.

Journalism

               Another popular path for humanities majors is journalism. Because of the broad range of subjects that are written on, the only real requirement for Journalism is strong writing skills; however, Journalists are most effective when they can pair their strong writing skills with deep background knowledge in another area. For this reason, humanities majors are especially well-positioned to go into the field, as they typically command a deep well of knowledge on a specific topic, as well as immaculate writing skills.

Academia

               For those of you who have read the above career industries and are struggling with the idea of giving up theorizing and researching for more general use of skills developed at Lawrence, academia might be for you. One of the major advantages of going into academia is that, if a doctoral program really wants you, they will ensure that you aren’t losing money when pursuing your degree through fellowships and undergrad teaching positions. That being said, academia in general, is going through a major upheaval in the U.S. and the humanities appear to be suffering more than STEM and Social Science Departments. When asking your favorite professor for advice about pursuing a doctoral program in a humanities field, a question that will likely come up is: “would you still choose to pursue your doctorate even if you knew that it wasn’t going to lead to a job in academia?” If the answer is no, then it’s probably advisable to find a different outlet for your passion. If the answer; however, is yes, then you’ve just determined your next step for after Lawrence.

               A short list of five broad industries in which humanities majors typically find themselves working likely has not solved all of your professional development problems; however, hopefully, it has pointed you towards an industry that you might want to learn more about. In the worst case, however, this article can serve as a good tool for fending off anyone who’s mocking your decision to major in the humanities—just say you’re planning on going to law school 😊. 

Jonathan is a Third Year German and Government major. He works as a Peer Educator to assist students in the CJW and GLI career communities. In addition to professional development, Jonathan is interested in the cultural construction of the modern nation-state, normative constraints on rational behavior, and all things German. You can schedule an appointment with him here to improve your resume, learn more about the CJW and GLI career opportunities, and work on anything else professional development-related.

Breaking into Publishing

By Jonathan Hogan

If you are certain that the publishing industry is right for you there is likely one question on the tip of your tongue: how do I break into the publishing industry? Unfortunately for those aspiring, the publishing industry is nearly as exclusive as the film industry; however, if you’re an especially determined (or curious) soul, read on for my overview of how to break into the publishing industry.

For the best chances of breaking into the publishing industry after graduating from Lawrence, you’ll want to have some experience with the field before applying to your first position. Internships, especially internships with one of the Big 5—Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster—are highly desirable. Most publishers’ websites will have information on their internships and their application processes so make sure to keep an eye out for new opportunities. Before applying, however, it’s important to do your research. The publishing industry is not only very exclusive, it also revolves around a passion for books. To apply successfully you will likely need to have a passion for the books that your target publishing house has published.

If you fail to land an internship, either because the cost of spending a summer in New York is prohibitive or because you aren’t one of the lucky few, fret not! An alternative method of getting the necessary experience required to enter the field comes in the form of masters or certificate-level courses such as those from NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies or the Columbia Publishing Course.  These programs generally offer hands-on experiences with magazine, digital, and book publishing and are often available as summer courses. In addition to hands-on experiences, these courses offer an extremely valuable commodity in the publishing industry: an address in a major city and the ability to network.

In addition to experience, networking is essential to break into the publishing industry, thus, names and relationships carry weight. While conducting an internship or higher-ed course (ideally in New York City) it is important to attend social events (or virtual social events should there be a global pandemic). If you don’t know the first thing about networking in the publishing industry, the Young to Publishing Group (YPG) website is invaluable. YPG, in their own words, “strives to give junior employees a chance to build a community outside of their own publishing houses and to educate themselves about the industry as a whole.”  They do this by posting upcoming social events in the publishing network in most major cities.  If you find yourself in a major city, especially San Francisco, Boston, or New York, be sure to keep an eye on YPG!

If both internships and higher education courses are unappealing, don’t be afraid to forge your own path. Freelance writing allows you to build a resume while potentially holding a more stable job. For more information about freelance writing and the publishing industry, I recommend reading the brief article “10 ways to break into the publishing industry” to hear first-hand from someone who has successfully navigated the freelance industry.

Jonathan is a Third Year German and Government major. He works as a Peer Educator to assist students in the CJW and GLI career communities. In addition to professional development, Jonathan is interested in the cultural construction of the modern nation-state, normative constraints on rational behavior, and all things German. You can schedule an appointment with him here to improve your resume, learn more about the CJW and GLI career opportunities, and work on anything else professional development-related.

The LSAT

Jonathan Hogan

The LSAT can make or break one’s application to law school, and it can earn a law student thousands of dollars in scholarship funding. It should thus be no surprise that law school applicants prepare religiously for this test. But what exactly is the LSAT? Why does one need to start studying the LSAT two years before they enter Law School? And what are some common strategies for preparing for the LSAT?

Most basically, the LSAT, or “Law School Admissions Test” is designed to test prospective students’ ability to succeed in Law School. It is comprised of four sections: (1) logical reasoning, (2) analytical reasoning, (3) reading comprehension, and (4) a writing section, and students receive scores ranging from 120 – 180. Since 2019, the LSAT, which takes 3.5 hours, has been administered on a tablet.

As is evident in the different sections that comprise the LSAT, the test places a high emphasis on students’ ability to reason, as well as their reading and writing skills. It is largely for this reason that studying for the LSAT often begins in the Winter of one’s Junior year—there is simply no cramming when it comes to the demonstration of skill. Students aspiring to transition directly from Lawrence to Law School will typically study from the Winter of their Junior year until June before their Senior Year when they take the test. Should the first test go poorly, students typically take the LSAT one last time in October before adding their LSAT to the rest of their application and submitting it in November or early December.

Because of the importance of the LSAT, there is a large industry that exists solely to prepare students for the LSAT. From paid courses like the “LSAT Bible” and Princeton Review’s LSAT prep to free courses such as those offered by Khan Academy, there is something for everyone’s price range and ambition. Generally, however, LSAT preparation begins with a practice test that determines an applicant’s baseline and continues with an education on common test-taking strategies as well the drilling of thousands of practice questions that are meant to simulate the LSAT while also exposing students to new formats and concepts.  

If the challenge of the LSAT and Law School in general sounds exciting rather than terrifying, consider attending Lawrence Pre Law Society and scheduling a meeting with Ty Collins here, our wonderful Career Advisor for those interested in Law!

Jonathan is a Third Year German and Government major. He works as a Peer Educator to assist students in the CJW and GLI career communities. In addition to professional development, Jonathan is interested in the cultural construction of the modern nation-state, normative constraints on rational behavior, and all things German. You can schedule an appointment with him here to improve your resume, learn more about the CJW and GLI career opportunities, and work on anything else professional development-related.