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Writing for Film and Television: Local Students Learn from Professional Writers

May 10, 2010 - Aspiring writers were in for an enlightening evening on April 26, as the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, in conjunction with the Writer's Guild of America, East, presented Careers in Entertainment: Writing for Film and Television at Hunter College of the City University of New York. Moderated by Andrew Lund, an independent film producer and Associate Professor in the Film & Media Department at Hunter College, the panel featured five writers established in their respective disciplines. The writers shared their work experience and advice with the audience composed of students and interested New Yorkers.

Wayne Federman is a comedy writer and author who started his career as an actor and stand up comic. He then started writing for awards shows before becoming a writer for the first year of NBC's “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” Federman reminisced about his experience in the monologue department as the head writer of a group of five. Although his team writes anywhere from three hundred to five hundred jokes a day, only fifteen are used per episode.

Carin Greenburg got her start as a writer's assistant after realizing at an early age that she “was put on this earth to write.” She has since gone on to write for memorable children's shows such as “Dragon Tales” and “Ghostwriter,” winning a Daytime Emmy award and earning eight nominations. As a writer, Greenburg wears a variety of hats: she creates new shows, writes episodes for other people's shows, develops shows based on outside material, acts as head writer, and generally does all that is needed to produce excellent children's programming. During the panel, Greenberg noted that the skills she learned at one position have always helped at her next job.

Allison Girvin, a morning writer for “Good Morning America,” agreed with that assessment, explaining that each job she held led to her next position. It was while she was covering Hurricane Floyd in North Carolina that she met a reporter at ABC. Girvin then started at “ABC News Radio” and moved over to “Good Morning America.” As a morning writer, she oversees all copy for the show and is the sole writer for any breaking news that occurs in the morning hours.

Screenwriter Brian Koppelman began writing after the birth of his son. He realized that any job he had made him sad, so he decided to try writing. He teamed up with his current writing partner, David Levien, and started working on Rounders. The research took one year, the first draft took four months, and the second draft took six months. Koppelman didn’t know anyone in the movie business when first starting out, and it wasn't until after the screenplay was finished and Levien met a manager that they were able to get their screenplay into the right hands. Since then, he’s written several more movies including the upcoming “Made in NY” film Solitary Man, which he and Levien also directed.

Charlie Rubin is another writer with work based in comedy, writing for and producing episodes of “Seinfeld” and “The Jon Stewart Show.” He then moved on to working at “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” for four years. For him, television was a great way to immerse himself by becoming part of the process. Drawing from his background in comedy, he also worked in editing, locations, and casting. He quipped that he figured he was supposed to fail. “Perhaps I did so well early on because they didn't expect much from me,” he added.

The panelists have worked hard to get where they are today and encouraged the audience to do the same. Girvin says that “no job is too small” and reminded the audience that no one starts out huge and few become successful overnight. Rubin encouraged people to “do [their] due diligence.” Koppelman shared that it took him four years to write his latest film Solitary Man. During that time, he worked on other jobs but ultimately kept coming back to this one because it was a story he wanted to tell. “Having the thing that you're really focused on keeps you alive,” he said.

Although they arrived at their careers in different ways, all five panelists knew they wanted to write. Girvin was the only one who specifically went to school for journalism and magazine writing, but they all carried the same passion to create. Their simple advice for anyone who wants to enter their field: “Write.”
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