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HBOAccess Announces Winners of Its Inaugural Writers Fellowship

CONGRATS! Now, get out there and change the television landscape!

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HBO has finally announced the recipients of their inaugural HBO Access Diversity Writers Fellowship, and while there seemed to be a bit of a clusterfudge with the application process, these talented writers broke through and ended up earning the coveted slots from a pool of 2,000 applicants!

The 2015 HBOAccess Fellows are: Anslem Richardson, Jude Weng, Sarah McChesney, Yolanda Carney, Dedi Felman, Iturri Sosa, Wesley Taylor, and the writing team of Joshua Levy and Prathi Srinivasan.

These writers will now get to participate in the 8-month-long program at the HBO campus in Santa Monica, CA which, as reported by Deadline Hollywood:

Includes one week of master classes where the fellows will participate in discussions with HBO executives and showrunners. Discussions will focus on character, story development, pitching, securing representation, and building a professional network. Each participant will be paired with an HBO development executive who will serve as his/her mentor throughout the next 8 months. At the conclusion of the program, HBO will hold a reception and staged reading for industry professionals as the writers are introduced to the entertainment industry.

This is an amazing opportunity, and I’m heartened by the selections they’ve made. Out of nine writers, six are women, which is awesome! And there seems to be a great mix of ethnicities represented, too, which is kinda the point, right? I’m excited to see how these writers develop, and look forward to eventually seeing the kinds of stories they tell on television and elsewhere.

I love television, I’m a Latina, and I hope to someday have a seat in a television writer’s room. And I was one of the many who didn’t even have a chance to apply to the HBOAccess program because of the clusterfudge that was their website and application process. And while they created a new cap for applicants (which now appears to have been an extra 1,000, as the first cap was 1,000 and they’ve now said they had 2,000 applicants) and allowed people to submit an email to “Request a Waiver” to be allowed to apply after the deadline (I did that and heard nothing back), I hope they’ve taken lessons learned from their first year accepting applications to smooth out the process for next year.

Here are some suggestions to make the process a little better, and easier on the talented, diverse pool of people you’re trying to attract, HBO:

1) Have a deadline, not a cap on applications: I know this might mean a little more work for you. You’ll have to employ readers and depending on the number of applications, it might take a while…but isn’t it worth it? HBO is known for quality, thought-provoking, challenging programming. Isn’t it worth taking the time to to carefully get through as many applicants as possible to foster talent that will go on to create that kind of programming? Also, if you actually care about diversity, and want to carefully consider diverse applicants, maybe you shouldn’t pit them against each other in a timed fight to the death.They’re already competing hard enough in this application process and in, you know, life.

2) Specify what diversity means: Or, rather, specify whether this is a diversity fellowship, or an emerging writers fellowship, or both. Those are different things. If you’re looking for diverse voices, it’s OK to specify We’re looking for women, ethnic minority, LGBTQ+, and/or disabled applicants. Or whatever it is, but be specific. And if it’s an emerging writers fellowship – maybe allowing people to apply who’ve already been staffed on television shows before, are in the WGA, and/or have representation isn’t the best way to go? Just let us know, up front and clearly, what you’re looking for. You might offset the decision to not having a cap on applicants by being more specific about what you’re looking for.

However, having applied to other network writing fellowships this year, I also have some advice for writers out there who want to apply to a diversity/emerging writers fellowship. Don’t wait for the fellowship. Not only are fellowships insanely competitive, but the people judging the fellowships are looking for people who are so serious about wanting this career that they’re making it happen for themselves – fellowship or no fellowship.

Write things other than what you’re writing for the fellowship application (and no, it doesn’t have to be limited to screenplays!) Create your own content. Get a job in the industry that maybe has nothing to do with writing television, but will teach you a lot and introduce you to people. Make friends who love what you love. Like with so many things, fellowships seem to only want you once you’ve already done a lot of the legwork yourself. It’s the same with finding an agent, and it’s the same with doing just about anything in the entertainment industry.

And it makes a certain amount of sense. After all, why should they invest in you, if you don’t have that kind of drive, determination, and desire? Show them you’re serious.

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