To increase the number of active military and veteran voices in the television and film world, the Writers Guild Foundation (WGF) has created the Veterans Writing Project.
Those selected for the program are paired with professional writers to participate in a weekend long intensive retreat with a series of voluntary regular meetings taking place throughout the following year.
The first phase of the Veterans Writing Project will take place on May 14 and 15, 2016, and applications for the program are open until Monday, March 28, 2016 at 5pm PST.
Participants in the program are not required to write about their military experience, they’re free to choose any topic and any genre for their project.
“Many people think this is a way for vets to deal with angst and pain, and things like that, but we’ve found that what many vets really want to do is write a zombie movie or a romantic comedy,” says Laurence Andries a mentor in the program and the current President of the WGF. “This program allows veterans, no matter what branch of service, no matter what war they fought in, to find their voice and be heard.”
Executive Director of the WGF, Katie Buckland explains that the program is not a therapeutic endeavor. “We’re not equipped for that,” she says, “what we do offer is a chance to be a part of a community of like-minded writers while learning about the industry.”
Buckland outlines what transpires during the weekend intensive, saying, “We break the writers up into groups based on their level of writing so that the group keeps moving at the same speed. There are two to three mentors leading each group and they go over things like the fundamentals of writing plot, dialogue, and characters. We also have executives, like agents and managers, come in and talk about the business side of the industry.”
While some elements of the program remain the same each time out, there are regularly new components introduced. “Last year we did a table read of a script and everyone loved that. One of the really cool things is that the program is really evolving. We constantly survey the participants and then we make tweaks and really tailor the program to keep making it better and better,” says Buckland.
After the weekend, Buckland estimates that about 80% of the participants continue with the weekly class, which includes evaluations of work and a variety of guest speakers.
From approximately 100 applicants, 40 to 50 writers are chosen for each term of the program, says Buckland. Currently, there are two tracks of the project, one beginning in May and another that starts in October.
April Fitzsimmons, an Air Force Intelligence Analyst, completed the program and is now a writer on the Freeform drama series “Stitchers.”
“Programs like this create new bridges of communication and understanding about the veteran experience,” says Fitzsimmons.
Another alumni of the program, Brian Anthony applied to the program while he was deployed in Iraq as a Captain in the Army Special Forces. Anthony has written for the television series “Army Wives,” “Ironsides,” and “Constantine” Of the benefits of the program, he says, “This really helped me jumpstart my career as a writer and helped me find success, but what it really gave me was a community that I desperately needed being just out of the service.”
Jalysa Conway, a Captain in the Air National Guard, who is currently writing on a television series based on her personal experience in the military, says that she feels an important fact to note about the program is that everyone, no matter what level of individual experience, will get something out of it. “If you’re a vet and you’re passionate about writing, this is for you. Everyone, no matter what level, will take away something of value from this program. And, when you’re in it, you just feel like you’re home, because you’re among people who have all been through similar life experiences. It’s a very unique environment and one that’s just extremely supportive.”
At a time when so much attention is being given to the necessity of including diverse voices in the writing process, Buckland reiterates that the Veterans Writing Project is absolutely achieving that goal. “This program definitely elevates a whole segment of new voices that have previously been overlooked. We’re very proud of this and hope that many, many veterans will join us in this endeavor going forward.”
Applications for the next round of the Veterans Writing Program are open until 5pm PST on March 28, 2016. The writers retreat will take place May 14th and 15th in Los Angeles. For more information about the program, please click here.
Please click here to download the WGF Veterans Program application.