The Writers Guild of America, East, and two New York City agencies opened a new writers room fellowship to better include women and minority groups in the television industry.
In an effort to diversify television writers’ rooms, the Writers Guild Of America, East (WGAE), the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME), and the New York City Department of Small Business Services have announced a new six-month writing fellowship.
The “Made in NY Writers Room” program will give 12 up-and-coming writers—individuals or teams of two—a chance to work with well-known TV writers such as House Of Cards’ Beau Willimon, Empire’s Lee Daniels, and Law & Order: SVU’s Julie Martin, as well as access to professional development opportunities and feedback on their own drama or comedy pilot script.
“Increasing access to opportunities for people from all backgrounds in New York City’s thriving entertainment industry is one of our agency’s top priorities, and the Made in NY Writers Room program is an important initiative in furtherance of that goal,” MOME Commissioner Julie Menin said in a statement. “Recipients of this fellowship will receive unparalleled opportunities to learn first-hand from leaders in the entertainment world, and receive useful feedback on their works-in-progress.”
According to a study from WGA West, as of 2014, minority writers only comprised 13 percent of television employment, and women made up only 29 percent. This program—which focuses strictly on shows produced in New York—will try to increase these numbers to include more underrepresented groups in the writers’ room. Further diversifying the writers behind television shows will likewise diversify the perspectives and people represented on the screen.
“As a matter of social justice and industry self-interest, it is imperative that stories told on television—and its digital equivalent—reflect the diversity of audiences. The best way to do that is to have diverse voices in writing rooms,” WGAE Executive Director Lowell Peterson said in the release.
The application, which opens September 15, is only open to New York City residents who are members of or recommended by a series of organizations that include the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, New York Women in Film and Television, and the Black Filmmakers Foundation.
While only 12 recipients will be selected, the first 500 applicants are guaranteed to have their scripts read by two experts and to receive feedback—a promise that could help the future careers of even those not chosen.
“The goal is to deepen the bench, to identify diverse writers with talent and skills, and to bring their pilot TV scripts to the highest level and to help these writers navigate the process of moving good ideas forward towards actual production,” Peterson said in an email to Associations Now. “This is always a challenge, especially for people of diverse backgrounds who don’t necessarily have the same social and professional relationships as already-established writers and show creators.”
The lack of diversity in writers’ rooms and screen roles has been a highly publicized issue facing the television and movie industry this year, namely when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ only nominated white men and women in the top four categories to win Oscars. The fellowship could be one further step to address the discrepancy by opening opportunities beyond pre-existing relationships, Peterson said.
“More diverse writers’ rooms make better stories that appeal to audiences that are themselves increasingly diverse,” he said. “We asked ourselves what we could offer and realized that our experienced TV writers and show runners are a real resource. And they are committed to sharing what they know and expanding opportunities for writers.”