Universal’s Global Talent Development & Inclusion today announced the debut of the Universal Writers Lab. The new initiative is mean to elevate the Universal Writers Program experience, which the studio launched in 2014.
The lab – one of the only studio writing programs dedicated to feature films – aims to increase the participants’ knowledge of the studio system, expand their networks both within NBCUniversal and the industry at large, as well as enhance their ability to deliver commercially-appealing concepts and scripts, setting them up for increased job opportunities and career momentum during and after their tenure.
Today’s announcement includes the reveal of the six candidates chosen as the first Writers Lab cohort. They are Brandon Collins, Jorge Alfonso Granera, Taryn Hillin, Diana Ly, Arun Narayanan and Joey Rayburn. Representing the AAPI, Black, Indigenous and Latino/Hispanic communities, they will spend the year partnering closely with producer advisors, which include Malcolm D. Lee’s Blackmaled Productions, Krysty Wilson-Cairns and Jack Ivin’s The Great Company, Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s Lord Miller, Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, Dan Lin’s Rideback and LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s SpringHill Company.
“Writers are the lifeblood of the film industry. I’m so glad to see first-hand that Universal is nurturing talent at every level,” said Krysty Wilson-Cairns, co-writer of 1917 and Last Night in Soho and co-founder of The Great Company. “The Universal Writers Lab is visionary, vital and provides true access to the industry, and Great Company and I are thrilled to be involved.”
The Universal Writers Lab is a one-year paid program that provides professional development through workshops, seminars, executive and filmmaker-led roundtable discussions, as well as mentorship from the participants’ dedicated producer advisors, in addition to an in-depth immersive look at the Studio’s production process from pitch to post-production. During their time, the selected writers will participate in various writing exercises and actively work with production executives and filmmakers to deliver scripts with commercial appeal and to be considered for potential job opportunities, including open writing assignments, pitches on Universal intellectual property or library titles, further development of concepts they have generated within the Lab, or open staffing on television series.
“In the last five years, GTDI has seen more than 50% of our alumni talent secure credits following their respective tenures in our programs and initiatives. While we are proud of their accomplishments and our industry-wide impact, as the business evolves, so must the strategies to ensure that we are always on the cutting edge and driving real results,” said Janine Jones-Clark, Executive Vice President of Inclusion – Talent & Content, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group. “We can’t wait to see what this dynamic group with distinct voices creates in our reimagined Universal Writers Lab.”
Alumni from GTDI’s writing program have garnered success on various films, broadcast and cable television series. Most recently, Jennifer Coates became the first alum to receive a blind script deal with Universal coming out of the original program. Derek Asaff’s script from his tenure is currently being developed by the studio. Additional successes include Juel Taylor, who is developing a project with Universal and SpringHill Company; Sarah Cho, a staff writer on the Hulu and Universal Content Productions series The Girl from Plainville; and Leon Hendrix, co-writer and executive producer of Peacock’s upcoming series Cointelpro.
In its five years, GTDI, a first-of-its-kind diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) department for a film studio, has amassed an impressive and inclusive talent pool through its live-action and animation writing programs; directing and composing initiatives; and below-the-line traineeships. Established in 2017 by Universal Filmed Entertainment Group Chairman Donna Langley, the business-led group creates programs, initiatives and strategies ensuring that DEI is at the forefront of Universal Pictures, Focus Features and DreamWorks Animation’s work culture and content creation, both in front of and behind the camera
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