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Friday, June 05, 2009

Every year the CFC Prime Time Program takes under a dozen students (nine this year) and trains them to be TV writers by actually having them write a show. They also get to meet a ton of professionals in the biz. That's why a ridiculously high number of TV professionals -- writers, producers, network execs -- in Canada went to the CFC at one point or another. After the program's over, the new kids are flown to the Banff Worldwide Television Festival where they get to experience the market up close.

I thought you might like to hear from them about what they learned.

Adam Higgs's career began in comic books with the publication of a Spider-Man story for Marvel Comics. Since then he has written several plays and short films, including the 2006 Whistler Film Festival Best Short Script, OPPENHEIMER PARK. In 2008 he completed his MFA in Screenwriting from the University of British Columbia's Creative Writing Program.

Q. What are you pitching at Banff?

Charisma Demona World's Worst Super Villain - a kid’s animation program about the world’s worst super villain: a ten year old evil genius who constantly schemes to take over her town but always ends up doing good by mistake.

Group - a low budget dramedy that follows the weekly group therapy sessions of six diverse individuals each living with a terminal illness.

The Rag - a one hour drama about young reporters as they struggle to stay competitive in a rapidly changing newsroom – with dwindling readership, blogs, and podcasts – while their personal lives become entangled in office affairs, friendships, and betrayal.

Q. What's the most important element of screenwriting craft you learned at the CFC?

What makes a show or closer: what doesn't make a show. That a good idea is not a show and that you have to think of longevity, feasibility, audience and a host of other factors.

Q. What's the most important bit of career advice you got at the CFC?

Patience. That things will happen if you work hard and give them the time to do so. It sounds relatively obvious but it's a good thing to remind yourself during the slow periods and the fast ones.

Before attending the CFC, Elise Morgan got an MA in Popular Culture from Brock University. She studied audience interaction with Television, and the Web 2.0 experience. During that time she constructed and wrote a grassroots ARG (alternate reality game) solo.

Q. What's the most important element of screenwriting craft you learned at the CFC?

How to accept criticism. Period. The end. Hold the cheese. It's hard to hear your work - otherwise known as "deathless prose" - slandered without taking offence, or responding in a crazy-cat-lady-from-the-Simpsons-esque way, but critiques are there to make the work better. It's also such a mainstay in television, where everything is collaborative, the CFC really prepares one to accept the critiques, criticisms, etc. with an ear to make things better. And there's always more to be had, so the notes were incredibly helpful.

Q. What's the most important bit of career advice you got at the CFC?

Keep writing. And while you're writing make sure not to hide out and not get out there and talk to people. It's a people industry, but if you hide in your office no one will know who you are.

A Winnipegger who is impervious to cold, Kim Coghill has worked in production on shows like QUEER AS FOLK, DARCY'S WILD LIFE and CROWN HEIGHTS. Before that, she spent more than a decade as a journalist, bringing real-life stories to CBC Radio and publications across North America.

Q. What are you pitching at Banff?
I'm pitching a couple of half-hour comedies focusing on women and their incomprehensible, confounding, and downright nutty relationships.

Q. What's the most important element of screenwriting craft you learned at the CFC?
Learning to speak loudly enough to be heard over nine other people? ;) No, honestly, the collaborative aspect of the story room was a phenomenal experience. Seeing the dynamic of the room, and which ideas are picked up or shot down - and why (sometimes it's not about having the good idea; it's also about pitching the good idea when the room is ready to hear it) - was such a great experience. My time at the CFC was one of the best times of my life, and the story room was a big part of that.

Q. What's the most important bit of career advice you got at the CFC?
The five-year business plan is invaluable. It really forces you to envision what you most want to be doing, and lay out concrete steps to get there. It's about strategy, setting goals, and identifying & solving obstacles that might otherwise slow you down. It's a chance to make realistic plans and carve out a path in life you are genuinely passionate about following. (And on those days when you wake up wondering what you're doing with your life, it's a hell of a way to kick your own arse.)

A double-major in screenwriting and production at York University, Rebecca Sernasie is an award-winning writer/director who has been writing for over ten years. She has written about teenage boys, strippers, army wives, dysfunctional mothers and daughters and is now trekking into the world of nuns. She was a staff writer on CBC’s 11 CAMERAS and wrote and directed the OMDC Calling Card short by Charlie Walker which screened at festivals across North America winning a Golden Sheaf Jury Prize at Yorkton and a Bronze Remi Award at World Houstfest. Rebecca is also working on a young adult novel titled, “Year In The Basement” and recently received Harold Greenberg and Corus funding for the feature film romantic comedy KUSH KUSH IN THE BUSH for Buffalo Gal Pictures.

Q. What's the most important element of screenwriting craft you learned at the CFC?
1. Writing is rewriting and you need to be flexible and fluid.
2. Stay true to first instincts; trust yourself.

Q. What's the most important bit of career advice you got at the CFC?
To have spec scripts in the genre you want to write in ready to go. I know this sounds really basic, but I didn't know how important they were until this year. I spent most of my time working on original concepts.

Jeff Detsky is a writer, producer and director. He attended Ryerson University’s Radio and Television Arts program, where he received the Ivan Fecan Award for Excellence in Dramatic Writing, and won the CityTV Pitch Competition. Jeff’s development experience includes a stint in Showcase’s content department. After getting a taste of Hollywood as a writer’s assistant for Len Blume on the first draft of the Dreamworks feature OVER THE HEDGE, Jeff spent a few years writing, directing and producing short films and sketch comedy. Most recently, Jeff wrote for the YTV/France 2 series FAMILY BIZ.

Q. What's the most important element of screenwriting craft you learned at the CFC?

A. The first half of the program was spent in a writer's room. It was my first time in a story department. I've written freelance scripts before, but it's only now that I understand why I had to write so many damned drafts of those beat sheets and outlines - scripts aren't written by writers, they're written by rooms full of story editors, each with their own perspectives and ideas that shape every script.

I certainly wasn't the loudest guy in the room, so I figured out pretty quickly that to get my ideas to stick on the board, I needed to pick my spots. If an idea got shot down more than twice, it probably wasn't a good one. Also, a well-timed, nuanced dick joke transcends all genres.

Q. What's the most important bit of career advice you got at the CFC?

A. We got a lot of advice from a number of disparate view points. Writers, producers, broadcasters, agents - it all seemed to conflict. But the advice that resonated most with me was from Jana Sinyor. I'm paraphrasing here, but essentially this is how she got her first series (DARK ORACLE) on the air, and eventually got BEING ERICA up and running after only a few years out of the CFC.

The first step is to pitch High Concept. Unless your name is Aaron Sorkin or David E. Kelley, the only edge you have over other creators who are far more experienced than you is a wild, unusual, and wholly original concept the broadcaster has never heard before. Shows about kids that live in a parallel comic book universe, or a woman who can travel back in time are far more intriguing concepts than misfit middle schoolers or a chick that goes to therapy.

The next step is to hitch your wagon to the right star. DARK ORACLE wouldn't have been picked up if Jana hadn't hustled Heather Conkie to champion and then run that show. The same goes for BEING ERICA and Aaron Martin. If a broadcaster bites on your idea, you'll be paired with a senior writer anyways. So it's better to find that person yourself and know that you work well together. Two seasons into co-running what looks like CBC's flagship show, I don't think Jana will run into this hurdle again. But for someone who was in Jana's shoes 5 years ago, this was great advice.

Peter Rowley graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in Political Science and Classical Studies. While at UBC, Peter started writing for the theater, co-founded a theater company and staged several successful plays. He transitioned to the film and television world in 2005, writing and producing three short films. He has interned with Keatley Entertainment and spent two years working with the development team at Screen Siren Pictures.

1) Best piece of screenwriting craft I picked up at the CFC?

I think the most important thing I learned during the Prime Time Program, was to really embrace the collaborative process. I can't emphasize enough how much my writing improved by talking things through and sharing early drafts with my fellow residents. It really was an incredible experience working with these awesome people.

2) Best bit of career advice?

That there really isn't a "right" or "wrong" way to break in. Everyone did it differently, the best thing you can do is to just keep writing. When your break comes you want to have some polished writing samples to show.


Not going to Banff are Alex Levine (already workin on THE BORDER), Andrew De Angelis (working on 18 TO LIFE) and Bob Mackowycz (working on a feature).

Hire them now! Maybe they'll throw you a script in a decade or so.

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3 Comments:

Hey Alex!

Thanks for plugging me and my fellow 2008 Prime Time Television Residents. I really, really appreciate it, and I'm sure the rest of my colleagues do as well.

I didn't get a chance to answer your questions, but I hope it's okay if I add some thoughts in the comments here.

1) Best piece of screenwriting craft I picked up at the CFC?

I think the most important thing I learned during the Prime Time Program, was to really embrace the collaborative process. I can't emphasize enough how much my writing improved by talking things through and sharing early drafts with my fellow residents. It really was an incredible experience working with these awesome people.

2) Best bit of career advice?

That there really isn't a "right" or "wrong" way to break in. Everyone did it differently, the best thing you can do is to just keep writing. When your break comes you want to have some polished writing samples to show.

3) What about Banff?

I've got a couple of darker, 1 hour crime dramas that I'm going to be walking around, but I'm looking at it more as an opportunity to pitch myself than specific projects.

Thanks again for the plug Alex!

Cheers,

Peter Rowley

By Blogger Peter, at 4:51 PM  

Can anyone give me an idea of what the CFC is looking for aside from the writing samples? The website says they require, among other criteria, "a dramatic TV series project in some stage of development; [and] a proven commitment to television writing." If anyone knows what exactly they mean by those two things, I'd really appreciate the heads-up as I hope to apply next year.

Thanks!

By Blogger Michelle, at 12:52 AM  

@Michelle: why don't you call them and ask them?

But I'm guessing a pitch doc and a spec pilot for the first, and some experience working in the TV biz.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 8:26 AM  

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