SXSW 2016 Day 2

THE HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

 KARAOKE CRAZIES

 THE OTHER HALF

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“You have the power”: Diversity in Progress Panel at ATX TV Fest

On Saturday during the ATX TV Festival, I attended a panel entitled, “Diversity in Progress,” sponsored by the Writers Guild of America (WGAE) Diversity Panel.

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It was moderated by WGAE council member/HOUSE OF CARDS showrunner Beau Willimon (who I also saw speak at Hopkins).

According to the panel moderator, Beau Willimon, here are some of things that the Diversity Council does:

  • Outreach to underrepresented groups
  • Events like this panel
  • Showrunners’ workshops
  • Tax credits
  • Working with the DGA and SAG-AFTRA
  • TV Writer Access Project (which Ms. Calhoun mentioned)

He started the panel off by sharing some statistics in three categories: gender, minorities, and age. Women comprise 34% of the membership in the WGA and minorities are underrepresented 3 to 1. I actually thought that women comprised even less of a percentage, so that was slightly encouraging to hear but it is still disheartening that women are not more equitably represented.

The panelists were Wendy Calhoun (EMPIRE), Courtney Kemp Agboh (POWER), and Jenny Bicks (THE BIG C), all female television writers and/or executive producers/showrunners.

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Wendy Calhoun: “You have to keep checking in with your personal voice” 

Wendy Calhoun asserted that, in Hollywood money drives everything, so it is possible for issues of gender and race in employment to take a back seat as the general idea is that, seeing as Hollywood is obsessed with money, “the only color is green.” As an African-American woman, she said that she benefited from diversity programs and was a “diversity hire” but didn’t know it (which she lamented was probably a good thing), and this allowed her to have longevity. She also benefited from having a mentor in Graham Yost, who helped her get a job on ABC’s short-lived series LIFE, which later led to JUSTIFIED. She continued to write her own pieces throughout, so that she didn’t have to always “shape her voice” for whatever show she was writing on, or as she said, “for the check.” One of the most compelling things that she said was that, “You have to keep checking in with your own personal voice.” For example, she wanted to write about about music, which led her to NASHVILLE. She wanted to write about hip-hop, which led her to EMPIRE.

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Courtney Kemp Agboh: “Excellence is the equalizer”

Courtney Kemp Agboh never did any specific diversity programs, but was a diversity staff writer on shows like another one of my short-lived favorites, IN JUSTICE. As someone who loves crime shows and is currently working on one, I found it very interesting that she said that she decided to write because there weren’t many women writing procedurals. That may be a potential path for my career.

In speaking about diversity, she spoke less about the need for diverse individuals in televison, and more about the idea that writers’ rooms themselves need to be diverse environments in which each writer brings something different to the table, which is what she specifically looks for in hiring writers for a writers’ room. She reminded everyone about what really matters at the end of the day: excellence in writing, no matter one’s background. “Excellence is the equalizer,” she said, and she encouraged the audience to “write toward your writing heroes.”

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Jenny Bicks: “Diversity means making a diverse room”

Jenny Bicks started in sitcom rather than drama. I thought that she was spot-on when she echoed what Ms. Agboh said—that true diversity means creating a diverse writers’ room (i.e. she hired white women for POWER), as well as being able to write characters that are not from one’s own background (you’ll get in the room faster if your writing sample has “everybody in it”). What I love about my MFA program is that everyone brings something different to the table—different backgrounds, different perspectives.

She said that even though she, as a showrunner, puts herself on the line every time she hires a new writer, she said that if your work is good, someone will hire you because they want money. She also extolled the virtues of the fact that, as women, we are able to mentor other women. Someone mentioned a statistic that stuck with me that could possibly explain certain areas of employment inequity, and it is this: If women read a job description and can only do 85% of the job, they won’t apply, but if men read a job description and can only do 30%, they will apply and fake their way through the interview! I wasn’t exactly surprised by this, but it just goes to show that women need to put themselves out there more; then maybe in a few years, Beau Willimon will return to ATX TV Fest with new statistics that line up with the true demographics of America as it really is—diverse, filled with people ready and willing to do amazing things.

In conclusion, I’ll leave you with the words of Ms. Calhoun, who declared, “There is something you can do right now and it’s on the page…put this need for diversity right there on the page. You don’t have to feel like it’s outside of you, if you’re a writer or producer, you have the power.”

THE FOSTERS Panel at ATX TV Fest/Episode 3×01: All-Around Awesomeness

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For the last panel of the ATX TV Fest Season 4, I attended a screening of THE FOSTERS Season 3 premiere (before it aired on Monday!), and a panel discussion with the co-creator and stars of the show. This was the festival event that I was looking forward to the most and it did not disappoint. From the very beginning, in line waiting to enter the venue with a Fast Pass (reserved seating), I was able to discuss the show with other fans. Then I chose a seat close to the front and I looked behind me and saw “Reserved” seating behind me. Hmm… Then…it turns out I was sitting right in front of co-creator/executive producer Peter Paige, Teri Polo (“Stef”), Sherri Saum (“Lena”) and surprise guest Kerr Smith (“Robert Quinn”), who was at the festival for the DAWSON’S CREEK events.

When it aired on ABC Family, the Twitter hashtag #CalliesSecret was used during the episode, which I thought was funny because Callie has kept a lot of secrets throughout the series! But the theme of secret-keeping is fitting because in the past 24 hours I had to keep a secret: I knew the details of the Season 3 premiere before other people did. We were sworn to secrecy so that Disney-ABC Television Group would keep doing special screenings like this. Now, I can finally break my silence and give a recap of all of the excitement and awesomeness.

It was so unbelievable to be able to see the premiere at the ATX TV Fest more than a full day before it was set to air. It was a true once-in-a-lifetime experience, to see one of your favorite shows on a movie screen, with the stars and creator, and fellow fans. When the opening title sequence came up with the surround sound and on the big screen, I was in heaven. ♫ It’s not where you come from, it’s where you belong. ♫ I’m not the only one who thinks THE FOSTERS has the best opening credit sequence on television: check out this article from Slate.

I’ll give some impressions of the episode that I have been anxiously awaiting for months. [SPOILERS AHEAD.]

The entire episode was fantastic, from the opening sequence in which Stef and Mariana embrace near the wreckage of the Volvo to the ending scene in which Callie stands, stunned and crushed, at the drop-in center. Since there’s so much to say and I’m sure no one wants to read a dissertation, I’ll hit on a few bits that I thought were most important/interesting/even frustrating.

Here we go…

The car accident: JESUS DIDN’T DIE, GUYS! Take a breath. I thought the most amusing thing about following Twitter when I already knew that Jesus didn’t die would be people’s reactions to the fact that he is alive (and at Flintwood Academy) but what I ended up most amused by was the fact that people thought that the entire accident was Stef’s dream and that they had worried for nothing. No. The accident happened, but no one died (although that “one fatality” comment over the dispatch radio is still a mystery…Stef seems to allude to the fact that it was a fluke, a piece of misinformation?) I am really glad that Jesus didn’t die because it leaves things more open (i.e. Callie tells Jesus over the phone that he needs to come home for her adoption in a month or so! Such a cute moment. Let’s hope that she actually gets adopted once and for all…) Update: now it looks like they are recasting the role…I don’t really like that idea, but I guess they think it will work.

Callie and the drop-in center: At the panel discussion, Peter Paige mentioned that many foster children express desires to become social workers or lawyers to become the advocates that they may never have had. He also noted that this season will be about Callie reaching out beyond her and Jude’s experience to help others. I am so excited for that, and so I hope she figures out some way to stay involved with the drop-in center…

Lena and Stef: No one has to die for a car accident to bring emotional turmoil, and Stef and Lena both still struggle (as Stef searches frantically for the driver of the car and Lena repeatedly tells Brandon to drive safe). The writers really set things up nicely for Lena and Stef’s relationship to come into conflict this season, as Lena still struggles with Monte and Stef finds it hard to let go of the case.

 One question: When did Wyatt get back in town? I pride myself on being an “expert” on the show, but I didn’t understand when he came back—I studied Episode 2×13 “Stay” for my class, and thought Wyatt left after Callie gave him his parting gift, but upon closer inspection it looks like it was left ambiguous and he could have stayed).

Jude and Connor: No labels. Enough said. Jude deserves to just be Jude. Just like he deserves to be happy. He has gone through, in the words of Wyatt, “a lot of bad stuff,” and he and Connor deserve the thrill of young love. In many ways, this rejection of labels (“gay,” “the kid with the dead mom,” etc) represents Jude’s desire for normalcy, which mirrors Callie’s summer ambition to “be a normal teenager” instead of one burdened and hardened by years in the foster system.

At the ATX panel after the screening, everyone involved had a wide-ranging discussion with plenty of laughs and Teri/Sherri chemistry. It was immediately obvious that the two women have a unique relationship—a deep friendship based on mutual respect, trust, love and encouragement. If only everyone could have that. Peter Paige made a joke about Teri coming out, and even though they are not Stef/Lena in real life, it is interesting to note that successful marriages are based on the same qualities that they share together. I was particularly struck by Kerr Smith’s astute and incisive comments. I’m not “Team Quinn,” but my respect for “Robert” has grown over Season 2B and I am excited to see what’s next for that relationship. Kerr Smith is obviously a very thoughtful actor.

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Sunday’s event was such an amazing experience, and I was even able to meet Teri Polo and take a picture with her in the lobby of the hotel at the last minute. My festival experience was complete.

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This weekend really solidified my interest in television writing. I feel so passionate about shows like THE FOSTERS, and I want to be able to give that sense of joy and excitement to others in the future. Better start reading through all of my television writing books…

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ATX TV Fest Opening Night

Tonight marked the Opening Night of the ATX TV Fest. So excited to see great panels (especially RECTIFY and THE FOSTERS!) I’ll give a super-quick recap of the night. 

Kicked off the night with a premiere screening of the pilot episode of the USA series Complications. Very interesting, much different than I expected. Will try to check out futures episodes, especially since Gretchen apparently has a history with the foster care system, which would be interesting to see how that plays out (that detail was only revealed during the Q&A–it’s always fun to find out “insider info” like that, it always makes me feel like a bit of a big shot haha). The first episode was very fast-paced and compelling, as an ER doctor and a nurse find themselves in the midst of a gang war.

Here are some pics from the Q&A:

  
 

Afterwards, it didn’t seem like there was an after party, so even though we were ramped up and ready to network, no opportunity presented itself. But we did manage to enjoy a gorgeous view of the State Theatre.

  

 It’s one of those moments when you look around and think to yourself, Wow, I’m in the right place. And so with that, I’ll leave you with that image of an Austin summer night.

Stay tuned for more on the ATX TV Fest (including my reaction to THE FOSTERS panel, which will include a screening of the Season 3 premiere before it even airs!)