One is the not-in-Kansas-anymore tale of a young woman who begins work as an aide in a Bronx public home for the aged. The other is about a wife slash mother slash aspiring screenwriter slash location scout whose day job is put to the test by a fickle nitwit writer/director. This weekend, New York viewers will get to play network programmer, deciding which of two pilots – Maturity, by Robin Rose Singer, or Half Life, by Patty Carey – will get the thumbs up for a four-episode order.
I’ve seen both and I’m here to tell you not only are they excellent, but I’d be hard-pressed to choose one over the other. Both are charmers. More important, they’re the product of Gotham-funded competition to spur wider participation in the city’s expanding film and TV production.
The $2 million program, called Greenlight Her, launched last year as a screenwriting competition focused on stories by, for, or about women in New York City. The brainchild of Julie Menin, the city’s commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, the contest was one of several aimed at addressing the underrepresentation of women and minorities in film and television production.
The first phase drew some 300 scripts, Menin told Deadline, which were read by a seven-member panel that sent the two contenders to City University’s Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema at Brooklyn College. Female-led student teams produced both shows, which will air Friday and Saturday at 10 p.m. on NYC Life, the city-owned television station. After the initial showing, they also will be available for viewing at nyc.gov/GreenlightHer. Viewers will be instructed on how to vote for a winner. (Suggestion: Flip the order of presentation on the second night.)
“The response has been tremendous,” Menin said in a telephone interview. “The vast majority were by women. It was incredibly hard to narrow [them] down, but the winning scripts that resonated in particular spoke to issues many women face –disproportionate responsibility for elder care and child care, juggling child care and work demands.”
Those issues are attacked with humor and finesse in the two shows. Maturity stars Kristin Parker (Orange is the New Black) as Jessica, the fresh-off-the-bus newcomer who seems to stumble upon the old-folks residence and soon overcomes her initial bewilderment and forms close relationships with the varied but universally lonely denizens. Half-Life stars Sarah Stiles (Epix’ Get Shorty; Broadway’s Hand To God) as Patty, struggling to write a screenplay in the chaos of her morning routine as kids and husband expect her to Do It All even if they don’t exactly Have It All. Husband and wife both yearn for the creative life while settling for drudge work, Patty as a tireless location scout and her composer husband “writing jingles for tampon commercials,” as he puts it, not exaggerating.
Both shows use the city as a canvas and the seemingly bottomless talent pool for a terrific range of character roles. The production values are network-worthy and the writing shows exceptional promise; significantly, neither would have any trouble maintaining interest as the main characters develop and the relationships evolve.
In addition to the commissioner, the judges were:
• Joana Vicente, Executive Director, IFP and the Made in NY Media Center
• Jonathan Wacks, Founding Director, Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema
• Jamie Zelermyer, Producer; former VP Physical Production, Focus Features
• Blair Breard, Executive Producer, Better Things, One Mississippi, Horace and Pete, Louie
• Nadia Manzoor, co-creator and performer, Shugs & Fats; founder, Paprika Productions
• Chanelle Aponte Pearson, Director, 195 Lewis; Producer, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty; Actor, How Would You Feel?
Although the entries came from a wide range of predominantly female writers, both winning scripts are by women working in the industry. You might say they had a head start: Singer wrote, produced and acted in an acclaimed short narrative film, Aphasia. A 2016 fellow at the New York Stage and Film Screenwriting Lab, Singer also works in commercial production, creating content for global brands. Like her heroine, Carey is a veteran location manager and scout, and also is a member of Directors Guild of America.
Said Menin: “I can’t wait to see which the New York voters choose.”