Nearly three months after the death of a bill meant to incentivize television productions to hire minority writers and directors, the city has launched a fellowship program aimed to attract writers from diverse backgrounds.
On Thursday morning the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, the New York City Department of Small Business Services and the Writers Guild of America East announced the launch of “Made in NY Writers Room.”
Beginning September 15, 2016 up to 500 New York City-based writers can apply for the program by submitting an original drama or comedy pilot. Applicants must be an alumnus, a member of and/or recommended by one of 11 organizations, which include the Writers Guild of America East, New York Women in Film and Television, Ghetto Film School, the National Association of Latino Independent Producers and the Black Filmmakers Foundation.
Each applicant will receive written feedback from the two WGA members. Twelve winners will be selected to participate in a six-month fellowship and be assigned to a mentor who is an established New York City-based showrunner. Confirmed mentors include Sarah Treem (The Affair), Lee Daniels (Empire), Beau Willimon (House of Cards), Julie Klausner (Difficult People), Julie Martin (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), Brian Koppelman (Billions), David Levien (Billions) and Richard LaGravenese (The Divide). In addition to script feedback, participants will establish contacts in the New York entertainment industry.
WGAE executive director Lowell Peterson, MOME commissioner Julie Menin and House of Cards showrunner and creator Beau Willimon were on hand at Thursday’s launch. They made it clear that the overall goal of the initiative is to increase the number of television productions written by New York City-based screenwriters and to give women and minorities a voice in writers’ rooms.
During the 2015-2016 season, 52 television series were filmed in New York City but, according to supporters of the TV diversity bill, that surge in production has not led to work for New York City screenwriters. Authors of the legislation (Assemblyman Keith Wright, D-Manhattan, and Sen. Kemp Hannon, R-Garden City) pointed to the disproportion. They cited 15 prominent TV productions filmed in New York in 2008 that collectively employed 122 writers, but only 24 who lived in New York. That number has remained stagnant for eight years, according to Writers Guild representatives.
In addition, a recent study by the WGA West indicated that television productions shot in the five boroughs or elsewhere predominantly hire white males. The study, which analyzed entertainment industry employment data through 2014, showed that the share of television employment of minority writers was 13 percent, while women writers made up 29 percent of the workforce.
“You can get on a (New York City) subway and hear five different languages and there is a rich history of storytelling that reflects every sort of perspective that you can possibly imagine, Willimon said. “TV isn’t there yet but it can be. And if it’s going to get there it’s probably going to come more from New York than anywhere else.”
Peterson said that while the “Made in NY Writers Room” was not a reaction to the TV diversity bill failing in Albany, that piece of legislation isn’t over.
“We are definitely going back to Albany,” he said.