So, You Want to Be in Pictures? Breaking into Screenwriting and Producing
Chiles, Riichard A., Diversity Employers
It's 8:30 p.m., Thursday. We tune our TV's to a brownstone in Brooklyn, to hang with our girls, Khadejah, Max, Synclaire, Regine, and of course those two brothers, Kyle and Overton. But behind the antics of our favorite Brooklyn homegirls, or any of the other network families who bring another hilarious 30-minute crisis into our living rooms each week, is a dedicated crew of staff writers and producers.
In a town where money talks, Hollywood television writers and producers have a lot of say. Their salaries range from $1500 a week to well into the millions. But often African-Americans are left out of the conversation when it comes to hiring new television writers. Even on shows that feature predominantly African-American casts, most of the producing and writing positions are often held by non-Blacks. Though network executives insist that they are seeking to diversify, inroads to these careers remain limited.
Among the few who have successfully made their way behind the scenes and onto the green are Ed Evans and Arthur Harris of "Living Single." Evans and Harris are first-year staff writers who are moving and shaking their way up the production ladder on one of this season's smash hits.
The two met as students at Howard University, where they both majored in communications and had a screenwriting course together. Professionally, they have been working as a team for about three years.
Harris' career in Hollywood began at NBC's "Night Court," where he worked as a production assistant. From there he held a variety of production jobs while polishing his writing samples. After graduation, Evans returned home to New York where he worked with MTV and did production at various cable stations throughout the New York area. After a year, he moved to L.A. and landed a job on NBC's "A Different World."
The connection for these two was an instant success. Executives at Warner Bros. were impressed with the chemistry between Evans and Harris, and their ability to compliment one another's strength. In fact, in their first collaboration, the duo's "spec" writing sample was selected over hundreds of other entries for the intensive Warner Bros.' training program. Their performance in this workshop eventually earned them their staff job at "Living Single."
For the ensemble writing staff of "Living Single," Evans and Harris provide what Arthur calls "a potpourri of ideas" and a "fresh new urban profile remaining true to the edginess as well as the colloquialisms of the city."
"Being African-American males, we feel a strong commitment to ensure these characters remain true to themselves, almost as a form of character protection. We're very fortunate in working for an executive producer such as Yvette Lee Bowser. We simply make suggestions when we feel particular lines might not be in keeping with the characters or the community they are coming from." Yvette Lee Bowser is the show's creator and executive producer. She is currently the only African-American woman to head an episodic sitcom for any network.
Eventually, Evans and Harris hope to develop their own show, by climbing a production ladder that includes the titles of story editor, executive story editor, associate producer, co-producer, producer, and executive producer. They concede, however, that it takes hard work, one day at a time.
For aspiring writers, both Evans and Harris suggest taking as many writing courses as possible. Harris insists that writers must "pay particular [attention] not only to creative writing, but to grammar and punctuation." Above all, they say, "Write, write, write." To showcase their talent, aspiring TV writers need to develop "specs," or writing samples, of any show that currently airs on network or cable television.
While opportunities for aspiring television writers are expanding, entry into this competitive career remains difficult without established Hollywood connections. …