In a speed-dating format, 37 Latino writers and 21 TV executives break down the barriers that inhibit diversity and quash the flow of fresh Latino voices to networks and studios. With the Guild as matchmaker, promising relationships begin.
(August 2, 2015)
Photo: Michael JonesMembers of the Guild’s Latino Writers Committee
Executives often say they can’t find Latino writers. Latino writers lament their lack of access to top-level TV executives. For years, this topic has dominated conversations on diversity (of all kinds) in the entertainment industry, with little progress in breaking down the invisible, albeit impenetrable, wall that so often stymies diversity and the flow of good stories and ideas to television.
Until now. A recent meet-and greet organized and hosted last month by the Latino Writers Committee, under the aegis of the Guild’s Diversity Department, seems to have hit on a successful model to get through this disconnect. Using a speed-dating format, 37 Latino writers each sat down with top TV executives for 20 minutes, then moved on to the next executive at the next table. By the end of the evening, each writer had had direct access to at least four of the 21 executives, and at least one executive had expressed interest in following up. By the end of the week, many had already booked second meetings.
“It was fantastic,” enthused writer Daniel Dominquez (Spongebob Squarepants). “It was professional but casual. And the time given to communicate worked out well, exactly how a general meeting should be.” Added Juan Alfonso, Vice President of Drama Development at ABC Studios: “An event like this can help bridge the gap between agencies and managers and the need we have right now for fresh, Latino voices. . . This event was a great first step.”
In large part, its success was the result of meticulous planning by the LWC. The idea for the event was hatched two years ago by LWC member Evette Vargas (Dark Prophet) working closely with fellow committee members Nancy De Los Santos (East Los High) and Maria Escobedo (East Los High). Vargas, a TV and digital writer, had grown tired of hearing executives express frustration at what they perceived as a paucity of good Latino writers and decided to do something about it. “My idea was to bypass the system,” she explains. “My vision was to create an event where Latino writers could have direct access to executives because, unfortunately, the reality is that many Latino writers within or circling the business are underrepresented by agents and managers and therefore less employed . . . For this event to be successful it needed to be a win for executives and a huge win for writers so we could start building the reputation that the WGAW’s Latino Writers Committee is the place to come for talented Latino writers with diverse voices.”
Photo: Michael Jones
(L-R) Juan Alfonso, VP, Drama Development, ABC Studios, with Evette Vargas and Chris Carmona
Eighteen stations (tables with white tablecloths) were set up across three spacious rooms at the Guild, each with two or three chairs. A week prior to the meet-and-greet, Diversity Advocacy Group members Leo Chu and Eric Garcia held a seminar for the writers on how to pitch themselves to executives to maximize their chances of interest and follow-up. In the meantime, the executives – an impressive A-list from broadcast, cable and digital services - had been sent a dossier on each writer, which included a bio and contact information. Everyone was prepared to meet.
Joe Gonzalez, a writer on Amazon Prime’s Bosch, says he was amazed at the “who’s who” of executives who participated. “They were open to reviewing my material, and then the networking went way beyond the specific people we met with.”
Organizers say executives were stunned at the caliber of writers they spoke to. “This expands our palette of people to go to, and that’s good,” said Russell Rothberg, Executive Vice President of Drama Series Development for Universal TV. That’s just what organizers wanted. “I hope we get some of our writers staffed and have opened the doors to some to pitch their own shows,” says Escobedo, who is chair of the LWC.
The paucity of Latino writers in television, which is cited each year in numerous diversity studies, is no mystery. Over and over reports describe a disconnect between Latino writers and the people who hire them. In a town built on personal relationships, those hiring tend to go to the people they know, whose kids go to school with their kids and who travel in their social circle, and diverse groups are typically excluded. The LWC event transcended that.
“The fact that all of these terrific, experienced writers sat in a room face to face with executives who wanted to meet them – that’s a miracle,” said De Los Santos. “It’s an opportunity we don’t often get.“ And the responsiveness of executives, said Diversity Department Director Tery Lopez, “shows their commitment to finding diverse storytellers.”
Several days after the event, writers were tallying the contacts they made and follow-up meetings already scheduled. “It’s about continuing to forge that relationship so when they do bring us projects, we know them better,” says ABC’s Alfonso. “When we hear their names they’re not a completely new entity, and we can put them in positions to succeed. At the end of the day, their life experience and American culture through their lens is something we think can make for great storytelling, both as staff writers on our shows as well as people who develop original ideas.”
Read more about the Latino Writers Committee