A veteran recounts his experience with the Writers Guild Foundation's Veterans Writing Project.
The Writers Guild Foundation (WGF) has sponsored the Veterans Writing Project for the past eight years. The free program for veterans starts with a weekend of learning and networking, and it is followed by an optional 12 months of meetings and more.
The benefits will potentially last for a lifetime.
The Weekend Began with a Bang
We kicked off the program with a two-day intensive session, starting Saturday morning with breakfast and coffee. We were given packets with our group assignments and bios of the mentors and guest speakers.
Approximately 65 veterans from all over the country participated. After everyone was signed in, we had a group orientation followed by guest speaker Elias Davis. Davis wrote for "M*A*S*H," "Cheers," "The Carol Burnett Show," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "All in the Family," "Growing Pains," "Frasier" and many more.
Needless to say, he knew what he was talking about. It was incredibly inspiring to hear Davis encouraging us on our writing journey.
Meeting with Our Mentors
Following our welcome, we broke up into our groups and got to work. Each group consisted of five or six veterans and two mentors. Both of my mentors were successful, working writers, and one of them taught screenwriting at universities and at Pixar. The other writer was the host of the WGA podcast.
Every mentor in the program was a working writer in film or television, and has donated their time to this program as a thank you to veterans. The quality of mentors that this program attracted was unbelievable.
In our individual groups, our mentors assessed where we were in our writing careers. The experience level ranged greatly. In my group, one person had a finished screenplay that he was polishing up, one had a play she wrote and wanted to turn into a screenplay, one had a web series she wanted to turn into a TV show, one had a book that she wanted to turn into a screenplay, one had an idea for an anime series, and I had just an idea for a screenplay.
Our mentors taught us about structure and answered any questions we had before starting to address everyone's individual projects. As we talked, our mentors began mapping out characters on the whiteboard. It became a mini-writers room, with everyone throwing out ideas and asking questions.
We did this over both days, so that everyone's story was addressed. The end result was that everyone's stories and characters became much richer, clearer and fully formed.
As we discussed my story, it became apparent that it was much better suited for a television series. This made sense, since I had been having a hard time structuring it into a screenplay. I hadn't thought of it as a television series, because I didn't think I was a good enough writer to sustain a series. Working with my group also helped me realize the amazing power of having a writers room.
Speakers Presented on the Business and Craft
Saturday ended with a master class taught by screenwriter Billy Ray, who wrote such films as "Hunger Games," "Shattered Glass," "Breach" and "Secret in Their Eyes," and he was nominated for an Oscar for writing "Captain Phillips." He showed clips from movies, and he was open to any questions.
I took copious notes and really enjoyed his pragmatic approach to screenwriting. He took us through his whole process from start to finish and helped to demystify the process. After Ray's speech, we were treated to free beer and snacks. We also had free lunch both days and plenty of coffee.
On Sunday, we worked more in our groups on our individual projects, while our mentors weaved in lessons on premise, concept, story, structure, characters, dialogue, scenes and many other useful bits of knowledge. The weekend ended with a panel discussion on the business of screenwriting. The speakers included a manager, an agent, an Emmy-nominated writer and showrunner, the coordinator of current programming at ABC Studios and a development executive at Disney.
One of the mentors moderated the discussion, and everyone had their questions answered. Tons of valuable knowledge was imparted about the business of writing, which really is half the battle of being a writer.
My Takeaways and What's Next
The weekend left me with a renewed confidence in my writing abilities, pages of valuable notes and tons of motivation, not to mention several new writing partners with whom I will definitely stay in touch.
However, this weekend was just the beginning of the Veterans Writing Project. Starting next month, we begin a 10-week series of classes. Once a week, we'll meet with our mentors at the Writers Guild to learn and work on our projects. After that, we meet with our mentors once a month. Twelve months from now, we get to pitch our ideas to people who could actually help get our projects made, such as studio executives, agents and managers.
I'm still in disbelief that I don't have to pay any tuition for this program. Needless to say, I left inspired and am now writing my pilot, as well as finishing some other writing projects I had stalled on.
The yearlong program has become so popular that the Writers Guild Foundation is now starting a new one every six months. I should also mention that included in the program is a free one-year subscription to Final Draft 9, the preferred screenwriting software in the film and TV industry. To apply and find out more information, go to The Veterans Project webpage.
Trevor Scott is a former U.S. Army infantryman, serving tours in Iraq and Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne Division. He is now an actor and writer based in Los Angeles. He recently wrote and performed an original piece at the legendary Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. He has also appeared in numerous films and TV shows.
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