Carver Diserens here, blogging about my second year serving as Writers’ Room Assistant for the Episodic Comedy Colony. From June 8th-25th the Colony, a partnership with Nantucket Film Festival, was hosted at Almanack Arts Colony in Nantucket, MA. This is a unique and special place where good work and strong bonds are formed. For each of their programs, Screenwriters Colony looks to nurture strong, diverse, eclectic writers with original voices. This year’s artists-in-residence were Joe Keohane a long time journalist from Boston who now resides in New York and is forging a new path dedicated to screenwriting, Meg Favreau a writer and sketch comedian who got her start in Philadelphia before moving to Los Angeles, Kaitlin Fontana a former rock music journalist turned improv comedian turned television writer originally from Alberta, Canada who now lives in New York, and Jai Jamison a talented up-and-coming writer/director from Richmond, VA.
A word from Joe Keohane:
While I certainly enjoyed living in a farmhouse on a spectacular plot of land in Nantucket, and having a private chef, and hanging out with great people for two weeks, and having access to industry veterans, and of course the whole film festival, the true genius of the Colony is its mix of rigor and supportiveness. You sit in a writers room for hours with other extremely talented writers and a couple longtime industry vets, and have your work totally broken down, live, right in front of you. You’re made to question nearly every choice, character motivation, structure, tone–everything. Yes, to some, this sounds like a horror movie, but it’s done in an incredibly positive, supportive way. Bad habits are broken, not spirits. In the end you emerge a better writer and a better collaborator, not only able to bring your vision to life, but to help others do the same with theirs. That strikes me as invaluable training.
Essentially, the Colony functions as a Writers’ Room for each of the original 30-minute pilot scripts the writers brought to the lab. Creative Director and veteran comedy writer Eric Gilliland lead the residency and designed intensive workshop sessions, assisted by yours truly. Eminent industry professionals come in for intensive sessions to mentor the writers and share war stories and insights from the field. This year we were fortunate to have Joe Gangemi (Red Oaks) and Ed Yeager (Roseanne, Last Man Standing) as advisors and collaborators in the the Writers’ Room. The Colony also held a pitching workshop with producer and longtime talent manager Tom Lassally (Silicon Valley, True Detective). The program culminated in a staged reading of scenes from each pilot with White Heron Theatre actors at the Nantucket Film Festival.
As Meg Favreau declares:
Screenwriters Colony was invaluable. My script is better– even better than I thought it would be–but the experience is so much more than that. I left Screenwriters Colony with a lot of confidence–in my skills, in my work, and in the future of my career. It’s such an incredible gift to be able to spend two weeks in a beautiful place, working on a project with talented, dedicated, and giving people (and get to count those folks as friends after, too). I can’t express my gratitude enough.
The goal of the lab is to help each writer develop their scripts to the point where they are ready to take them out and pitch them, or submit them as samples for staff jobs. Each script was closely analyzed in workshop sessions for strength of character, cohesion of story, and quality of humor. The “room” is a warm, nurturing environment where all of the participants become true collaborators. Having each of the writers participate in the workshops for their peers’ projects allows them to each get great and varied feedback on their own work and help their fellow writers in the same time period. Through spending so much time working together, the writers grow to see similar issues and patterns that each of them learn from to ultimately make their own pieces exponentially better. This is an essential element of the Episodic Comedy Colony experience.
To wrap up my dispatch, a word from Kaitlin Fontana:
Returning to the real world in the days after this incredible experience is, to be blunt, a huge and terrible shock. I’ve never felt so warmly welcomed, cared for, and encouraged as a writer and as a human being. The Episodic Comedy Colony not only improved my script, it improved my life. I have made life-long friendships with my fellow colonists and with the program director, Eric Gilliland. The Almanack Arts Colony is an extremely beautiful and unique setting in which to grow and change as a writer. I don’t believe I’ll ever have quite another experience like this one again, much to my chagrin. Thank you to everyone who made it possible, and I hope to see you in Nantucket again very soon.
We hear that. Until next year…