If you’ve ever yearned to write for TV, Will Pascoe is your guide. Originally from Canada, Will grew up as a science-fiction novel and comic book fan. That was a long time ago and since finding his creative writing niche – he has embraced it, polished it, opened doors with it – but not car doors, if you happen to lock your keys inside; I’m talking about doors to TV writing success! Will Pascoe is a successful TV writer and showrunner with many accolades and a terrific resume… who is paying it forward, the best way he knows how.
The Pacific Screenwriting Program (PSP) is excited to announce that award-winning Writer/Producer/Director Will Pascoe will serve as Showrunner-in-Residence for the 2021 Scripted Series Lab. He will mentor six up-and-coming BC-based screenwriters selected to participate in the program and he will lead the Writer’s Room as they develop his original series in the PSP’s flagship training program starting in January. It was recently announced who those six lucky participants are; Sarah Kelley, Ryan Atimoyoo, Katey Weekley, Norman Yi Li, Jordan Hall and Emma Peterson. Best of luck to them all.
If you’re not familiar with Will Pascoe, let me break it down… he received his first writing credit on an episode of ‘Degrassi, starring Drake. During this time, he developed his first feature film script, Charming Grace, with the National Screen Institute. Will made the jump to writing one-hour television dramas fulltime, working on the military/medical series, Combat Hospital for ABC/Global TV/Sony and later won a Humanitas New Voices prize and received a blind script deal with Fox to develop his own television show. Will then became an upper-level writer and co-producer on Bell/BBC America’s Orphan Black. His episode ‘Variations Under Domestication’ won Will a Canadian Writer’s Guild Award and nominations for an Edgar Allan Poe Award and a Hugo Award. Other credits include Bitten, Chicago Med, Da Vinci’s Demons and the Hulu’s, Shut Eye and recently wrapped up show-running the third season of Amazon’s hit series, Absentia, starring fellow Canadian, Stana Katic.
HNM “Is this your first mentorship program?”
WILL “It’s my first time with the Pacific Screenwriting Program (PSP) but it’s not my first mentorship program; I’ve spoken at UCLA in the Film Production class, a couple times at the University of Guelph at the Humber Media Studies class. I went through the National Screen Institute, the NSI’s Features First Program. It was my first brush with legitimacy and validation in the industry. One of the mentors in the program, a guy named Jim Murphy told me I had talent and made me promise him – ‘if I were to get anywhere in this business that I give some of that back and take some people under my wing’, like he had done with me – to share some of the knowledge and hard one-lessons with them. Not knowing if or when I’d ever be established enough – I said Sure! Jim passed away a few years after that and I’ve always had that little promise weighing on me. When Brian Hamilton from Omnifilm Ent. called me about PSP, it really lined up in terms of seasons on my show. It felt like a good time to do something like this and to give back. I’ve learned some things that I’d like to pass on and I’ve got a couple cool projects that could be a good fit for the program. Everything lined up in a serendipitous way – it felt right and it felt good.”
HNM “You mentioned a couple of projects. Can you tell us anything about either of the project’s you’ll will be collaborating on with the other writers?”
WILL “I can’t tell you about it right now because I still have to run it by Raila Gutman (program director) and Brian Hamilton (Omnifilm). Coming into this year’s PSP I first want to see what kind of skill level they have, what kind of experience they have and what kind of scripts they have written. I was then going to try and pick one of my projects that felt like an optimum fit for that group of people and what could help them. I’ve narrowed it down to two, so I just need to talk them out with the PSP folks before I announce the project with this year’s participants.”
HNM “How do you go about exploiting all the different writer’s talents to determine where they lie and what scenes/episodes they’re best suited for?”
WILL “The show that we’re going to be working on will have a serialized element, so there shouldn’t be any particular episode that one writer might be more suited to than another. They’re all going to write an outline and a script, then hopefully a second draft of that script; they’ll get ownership and possession of that script but all of the episodes will be part of a larger puzzle. At some point, once we start flushing out the world and the characters, then I’ll have a better sense of who I assign the episode to. It really doesn’t matter if I’m writing episode 3 or 5, but if I’m writing episode 5 then I’ll have a little more time to hear what’s going on with episodes 2, 3 and 4. If somebody is a really great comedy writer, they’re not necessarily going to be able to write the comedy episode. In a writer’s room in the US or Canada, you’re going to get assigned any episode you’re going to be assigned. All of these writers will be challenged by the project we’re going to do and they’ll be pushed outside their comfort zone – they’re going to have to write something they haven’t written before and they’re going to have to write in someone else’s voice that comes from someone else’s head. That will be a new experience for them but that’s the job of being a television writer, to work on someone else’s idea. They need to get inside the showrunners head, try to capture their voice on the page and adopt the mindset of the showrunner as much as possible.”
HNM “How do you maintain character arcs and story arcs into a series?”
WILL “We map it out in advance of anyone writing anything. If you’re assigned episode 4, you know exactly what’s happening in episodes 1, 2 and 3, and you know where the story’s going in episodes 5, 6 and so on. You know your place in the que and you know where the characters are at in their journey. You’re a piece in a larger puzzle but you’re getting to see those pieces coming together at the same time as your piece is, so you kind of know where you fit in the bigger picture. The showrunner is acting as that person who has the big picture in their head and hopefully mapped out on the wall in the writer’s room, on cards or whiteboards – and hopefully you’re just a quick phone-call/email away, where a writer can say, ‘in episode 7, is the character doing this?’ The showrunner should have an answer that can help you get inside the mindset of episode 4 or 5, whichever episode you’re writing.”
HNM “How structured would that series outline be, once you introduce it to the new writers?”
WILL “There’ll definitely be a roadmap, we’ll know where we’re heading and we’ll know the stopping points/signposts along the way. They’ll be able to wrap their heads around the show and read a lot of material that I’ve created for the show – so they’ll have a lot of information before they step into the writer’s room on day one.”
HNM “There’s been a big push for more diverse TV and film in the industry. Is that now a prerequisite in todays’ writer’s room?”
WILL “I can’t speak for other shows, with over 500 of them out there, nor can I claim to know what’s going on with every show and every writers room – but my philosophy is… that television should reflect the world in which we live in, and that world is very multicultural and diverse with lots of points of view, experiences and backgrounds. Television has certainly started to come to look more like the real world, but it’s not quite there yet. You can turn on a number of shows and still see a number of white male dominated TV, but we’re getting there. Hopefully, 5 years from now television will reflect the real world more than it does today.”
HNM “How quickly will you progress through a series in the mentoring program?”
WILL “We have 10 weeks in the writer’s room and my goal is, every writer has written an outline, a first draft and hopefully a second draft by the end of it. They will have been given notes on the outline collectively and individually from me, they would’ve received notes on their first draft collectively from all the other writers and individually from me and then hopefully, the same thing with their second draft. At the end of the program, they should have a pretty solid sample script from the show to use as leverage in obtaining a job in the business when they come out of the program. They also get to develop their own idea through the program in parallel with the writer’s room experience. They’ll be assigned a mentor that is appropriate for their idea – the PSP matches them up with a mentor that’s well suited for their material and idea. They’ll then get to develop that project; they’ll get to practise pitching it and they’ll have a pitch coach to help them with it. They also get to spend time and gain some experience from a current script supervisor on a show. They will really get to put both feet in the fire, in terms of what it’s like to be in television and it really does prime them for success in the business when they come out the other side of the program.”
HNM “For other writers trying to break into TV, is this the best route to go?”
WILL “This is probably one of the best. Other than the Canadian Film Centre, I can’t think of a better training program in Canada than the PSP because it really does take each year’s participants, puts them through the paces as television writers with really experienced people that help them develop their own projects. So far in its first 2 years, PSP graduates have had tremendous success getting their first jobs in the industry, so it’s doing exactly what it set out to do and our goal is to continue that forward momentum.”
HNM “What would you say are some of the best qualities a TV writer has to have to be successful?”
WILL “First of all, you have to have talent on the page and be able to tell a story, you have to emotionally engage your audience or whoever it is… and you have to tell a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end that comes to a satisfying conclusion or cliff-hanger that upends everything, that you didn’t see coming. There’s also a huge business aspect that has nothing to do with what’s on the page. That comes down to work ethic, time management, hustle, networking and that can be as much of the equation as the creative side of things. It’s a part of the business that can’t be taught – you can’t read a book on it. It’s really about your own inner drive and ambition and willingness to treat your writing as a career and not as a hobby. I don’t think anyone looked at me as a serious writer until I did.”
HNM “What are you hoping to accomplish by the end of the mentorship program?”
WILL “I have 2 goals; part of this is a mentorship thing and I want the writers to bring their A – game. We might not be writing for a network or a studio right now but I‘m treating it like a 10-week intense writers room, for a show in development. At the end of this I want to go out and sell this show. I want those 6 writers to come out of the program going, okay – I’ve got a really great sense of what it might be like to be in that writer’s room. That’s my goal for the applicants, and then my goal for my project is, I’ve gotten some great brains to weigh in on it, to help shape it and mold it and get a bunch of scripts in decent shape for it, so that the project feels fully formed. If someone says that sounds really interesting, I can say ‘great, we’ve got a pilot and six scripts, why don’t you take a look’. That helps me sell the show and then all the writers are in a position to share in that success.”
HNM “What will be different in your approach to the program in comparison to a real-world, writer’s room?
WILL “Nothing. For me, this is a full-on writer’s room. We’ll have a schedule with a structure with deadlines. The only change is – we won’t have studio/network notes, so that won’t be a part of the schedule, but we’ll read and note each draft collectively and I’ll have individual feedback for each writer on each of their deliverables.”
HNM “After completion of the PSP program, how prepared will the writers be to solicit themselves to networks or studios for work?
WILL “They will have had a real-world experience in a writer’s room developing a show to be taken out to market. No different than a development room that is put together for a show already set up at a studio or network to further flesh it out and to develop additional scripts. They’ll have that experience, so that their next opportunity in the industry won’t be their first time in a writer’s room, but their second. They’ll have the experience, the feedback and a script to showcase, to help them take that next step.”
The PSP is an outstanding program that can leap frog you to writing for your best TV series with a toolbox full of keys.