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Identities and Voices Prioritized: A Conversation with The Disruptors Fellowship Cohorts Kirby Marshall-Collins and Diana Romero and Mentors Zenzele Price and Jenniffer Gómez

The Disruptors Fellowship cohorts and mentors speak with Script about participating in the fellowship, why it's important for their voices to be heard and seen, their writing journeys, and their hope and dreams for the future of film and television.

The Disruptors Fellowship is an unprecedented 5-month program uplifting 10 LA-based, emerging screenwriters of color who identify as transgender, non-binary, disabled, or undocumented/formerly undocumented. Fellows receive a $6,000 stipend, master classes, mentorship opportunities, and the chance to present their work at an industry showcase. 

The Fellowship has seen results in helping artists who the industry wouldn't have been accessible to otherwise break into the field with fellows from the 2020 and 2021 cohorts landing selection for the Sundance Institute's inaugural Trans Possibilities Intensive, the Sundance Institute Uprise Grant Fund, acting roles in film, a writing job on an HBO series, and representation by two of Hollywood's leading talent agencies.

The Disruptors Fellowship is about building a community and ecosystem of BIPOC artists who have the same values and want to see critical shifts in the entertainment industry around diversity and representation.

I became aware of The Disruptors Fellowship and The Center for Cultural Power in 2020 and have been a fan ever since of their continued commitment to their overall mission. They continuously and relentlessly are leading by example, and I'm excited to see where the future of this important and groundbreaking fellowship. 

Recently, I had the grand opportunity to speak with two 2022 cohorts, Kirby Marshall-Collins and Diana Romero and their respective mentors Zenzele Price and Jenniffer Gómez, about participating in the fellowship, why it's important for their voices to be heard and seen, their writing journeys, and their hope and dreams for the future of film and television.

The Disruptors

Interview with Disruptors Trans and Non Binary Kirby Marshall-Collins and Mentor Zenzele Price

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Sadie Dean: What specifically piqued your interest about The Disruptors Fellowship?

Kirby Marshall-Collins

Kirby Marshall-Collins

Kirby Marshall-Collins: I feel like The Disruptors Fellowship offered something a lot of the other ones weren't. I liked that for one, it offers a stipend and an actual opportunity to make some money because of how difficult it can be just doing all of these different programs and working on scripts and just applying to things. But it also offered community with people who I think had very similar sensibilities and wanted to be able to not just disrupt what already exists, but be able to build upon these foundations to hopefully continue to build better actual writers, and actual people in this industry. And I really appreciated the idea of having mentorship that would be in a similar position and have similar sensibilities as well.

Sadie: Zenzele, as a mentor, why was it important for you to come on board?

Zenzele Price: I think, as a queer person of color, Disruptors felt uniquely suited. I know there are various cohorts but that is definitely a deficit that we have in the industry. And it was exciting to see various marginalized identities prioritized in the fellowship. And I think the money matters, the fact that participants were offered a stipend really says something. The financial barrier to entry in that in any creative field, but especially in TV writing, especially in Los Angeles is huge. And it's hard to separate that from the numbers we see when we look at writers of color. So, that felt special, and it felt very serious and exciting. And also, mentorship is important to me. I've been looking for opportunities to kind of mentor in some capacity, and so, it just felt like the right time.

Sadie: How did you get your start in TV writing?

Zenzele: I always wanted to be a writer in some capacity. Starting from as young at grade school, I was a big reader. I wanted to be a novelist. But I also shared a room with my grandma when I was a kid, and she would fall asleep watching the TV. [laughs] Something about that, I think, very much imprinted on me. And I grew up in a big TV family, and that was how we connected. And at a certain point, I also got really into movies and it really turned into something I felt very passionate about and something that felt like mine. And so that is what I chose to study when I went to college. I majored in film and while I was there, there was kind of like a television Renaissance. I was in high school in the era of Breaking Bad and Mad Men and TV was really exciting. I didn't grow up in LA or New York, it just seemed like an impossible job. I didn't know that that was something you can do. But once I started college, and I learned that in fact [laughs] somebody gets paid to do that, somebody makes that, I realized that might be something I was interested in as well.

Zenzele Price

Zenzele Price

I moved to LA, pretty much as soon as I graduated from college and got my start as an assistant. And I worked at an agency for a little while, I was a showrunner's assistant. And then, almost exactly two years ago, I staffed for the first time on We Crashed and the rest of history, I guess. [laughs]

Sadie: How did the two of you match up?

Zenzele: We were actually matched. I don't know the strings that were pulled behind the scenes, but it is a great match. And I love working with Kirby. I know that there's a whole other component to the fellowship, and Kirby's also doing masterclasses, so I'm only one small part of that. We meet at least monthly, and in the interim, between those meetings, Kirby sends me their writing, and actually, I just sent them notes today. And so, a lot of our meetings center around kind of their creative process, and opening a door to questions, either about the script, but also the biz in general, which is as confusing as can be as always.

Sadie: Kirby, what kind of stories are you excited to write?

Kirby: I really like to tell stories that get into the vulnerabilities and victories of queer and trans youth in particular. And I like to do that with fun and romantic supernatural dramas. But I'm also open to other genres, those are the ones that I kind of gravitate towards. Because I think that having genre elements or fantasy elements, kind of distracts people enough to let you have deeper conversations. And it gives you something fun to kind of connect to while you're watching people talk in a room and talk about their feelings, which is one of my favorite things to do.

[Learning About Your Characters Through Action: A Conversation with ‘Reasonable Doubt’ Creator Raamla Mohamed]

I feel like Disruptors has really empowered me to be able to tell more of those stories. And to recognize that I was on the right track, I feel like a lot of trying to break into this industry is just sifting through things and working on things and reaching different stopping points where you're like, 'OK, well, I think I've done all I can do,' and then you just wait until whatever happens next. And getting into this meant that I got to go to different workshops and masterclasses and work with the others and also getting notes from Zenzele, and being able to be like, ‘Here's what I have. Does any of this makes sense? What is working? What can we strengthen? What tips do they have to offer?’ And I feel like that has really helped a lot. And as far as just even being able to be like, ‘Oh, cool. So, these are the things that make sense to people who read scripts regularly, who are working in television right now.’ And can be able to say based off of what they're able to work on and what studio notes and things they've dealt with, like, what doesn't really click. And so that's been just so helpful.

Sadie: Has being part of the fellowship helped further guide or prepare you for you writer’s assistant job?

Kirby: Yes. And actually, I got the writer's assistant position before I got into Disruptors, and I, oddly enough was debating whether or not I wanted to apply because I told one of my friends who applied last year and they got in, they had a great experience. And I was like, ‘Do I want to apply to Disruptors this year? I don't know, let's see.’ And one of the other people that works on the show, the other writers assistant had done the program the year before as well, and was like, ‘Absolutely apply, Disruptors was amazing.’ I loved my time getting to work with people, and I loved getting to have those tools. And s,o I was like, ‘OK, I absolutely have to apply.’ And between working as a writer's assistant, and being in all the workshops, I was able to recognize that I'm a lot more prepared than I thought I was. It helped the nerves a lot. And I feel like everything feels so mysterious, and intense, and you're just like, ‘OK, I'm gonna go into this room, and everything's gonna fall to pieces, and someone's gonna get fired, or everyone's going to be toxic,’ or something. That's not been my experience at all. So, fingers crossed that experience also continues. [laughs]

Sadie: Yes, fingers crossed. Can you give a bird's eye view of what day to day looks like and what you're providing in the room, because it's such an essential part of the team?

Kirby: There's usually a bunch of different support staff. The lowest level is usually your writers PA, which is usually the person that is doing all of the different runs and things like that. And they're maintaining the spaces, if you're in like a physical room, my room is virtual, so we don't actually have a writer’s PA, we have our two showrunners assistants who each work for our actual showrunners and are managing their schedules and going to all the meetings with the network and everything else and taking a million notes and doing an amazing job. They help run the Twitter for the show and have so much fun with it.

Then for writer’s assistants, we thankfully have two, which I really appreciate, because that means that we are not constantly typing. And so, we get to actually split off and switch off, which means sometimes one person is on the notes and one person is on our virtual whiteboard, we take down the notes the entirety of the time the room is in session. We're keeping track of all the different conversations, and we organize those notes at the end of the night. I instituted a thing where we also put a little summary in our emails just for people that aren't always in the room. Our showrunners really took to that and really enjoy it. It makes everyone feel like we did something. So even if you have a day where we went in circles, it's like ‘This is what we talked about today. This is what we're going to talk about tomorrow when we get back together.’ And because our room also isn't super big on the hierarchy, we also get to help with pitching. As far as like character beats or story notes. Or if we have any thoughts, they are always welcome to hear them, which I think is really amazing. Especially because I've heard of rooms where staff writers can barely speak and I'm like, ‘They're paid writers on your show. Why are they terrified to talk to you?’ [laughs] But I have found it really amazing to be able to just kind of keep track of everything. And also recognizing we have to keep track of random story details sometimes. Some shows have a series Bible or a running document with dates and things like that, and some shows don't.

Zenzele: So important!

Sadie: I love that you're so proactive too.

Kirby: Our show also tries to make sure that everybody gets to offer their notes on everything, that's been really fun.

Sadie: Are you seeing a shift in the writer’s rooms you’ve been a part of being proactively inclusive, Zenzele?

Zenzele: Yeah, I feel very lucky to have never been in a room where the staff writer wasn't allowed to speak, I would have really struggled with that because I'm not someone who knows how to shut up. [laughs] And even as a staff writer, I really jumped in for my first job and my second job, and so I've been fortunate to be in very nurturing environments when I have staffed in rooms. They're not all like that. Hopefully, that is something that continues to change. There's some old school methodology that is very intensely hierarchical, but taking it one room at a time and so far, it's all been great. I haven't worked with a bad person in a room.

Kirby: That's also one of my favorite parts of mentorship is also listening to stories and being able to see what different people have been able to experience and what it was like on set and what it was like on set when you're covering your episode versus when you have to help with another person's and all of those different things. Even though now, whether or not people have said experience, is such a toss up with the way that everything has been happening. But it's always nice to kind of know and be able to get more information about what you can run into as far as challenges and opportunities.

Sadie: That’s probably a silver lining with hybrid rooms these days. Are either of you seeing that openness because of Zoom?

Kirby: I'm seeing a mix of people who really enjoy Zoom rooms and people that don't like it. I feel like I've come across, not the people in our room, for the most part, very happy, having a good time, they miss the physical board every once in a while. But the most part, Zoom has allowed people to be able to also just have their lives back a bit more. You have set hours, but if you're going to do anything longer, usually people are like, ‘Hey, we think we're gonna go over a little bit’ or like, ‘I guess we're done. We’re good. We don't have to stay forever.’ The horror stories of people being like, ‘Oh yeah, we were in the room until two in the morning.’ And I'm just like, ‘Why?’ There's no reason that your brain is still working. But we'll see, maybe my tune will change once I get to go into a physical room. And I'll be like, ‘No, no more Zooms ever again.’

Sadie: It goes without saying we need more diverse stories, perspectives from diverse writers. But we also need to see that change from the top, to really instill that these voices do stay. Do you either of you see yourselves in getting to that point in your career in becoming a showrunner or higher up on the ladder? And does the fellowship offer any guidance on how to get to those roles?

Kirby: Yes, to a degree. With some of our masterclasses, we also got to talk about what it means to deal with IP and contracts and what it can mean when you're selling things and producing things and moving up the ladder. And I feel like everyone's really excited about that possibility. And about getting to make sure that we have ownership over our stories and are in a position to help other people with telling stories that we think are important. I know that for me personally, I appreciate the idea of producing because I like shepherding things, I love giving notes, I love making sure that things make sense, and that everybody's telling the story that they want to tell. But also, I'm just so excited to be able to actively be in a writers' room consistently and be able to keep telling stories on that ground level and working with the people that are trying, in their own way, to make sure that the stories cango forward. I really do hope that we have more producers that are actively open to other stories and willing to let stories be what they are, as opposed to constantly trying to force them into be something else. I love that a lot of the producers of P-Valley seem to be chill about certain things at least, and letting some things happen, so I think that's great.

Zenzele: I've been able to see firsthand how important a good a good producer is. I've now had the opportunity to work in rooms where shows have gone into productions with producers as I've had my own development connected to producers, and seeing someone who's on the ground level who really understands what you're trying to say, is invaluable. And I think when we're trying to get more diverse stories out in the world, the gatekeeping happens at every level. And that happens at the producerial level. And one of the first steps is making sure that everyone is on the same page of what stories matter and diversifying that pool can only bring good things. And in terms of my own hopes and dreams, I definitely aspire to be a writer, producer, showrunner, all of the above. 

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About Kirby Marshall-Collins: Kirby Marshall-Collins is a Black, queer TV writer who has spent years amplifying the voices of people of color through both art and community-based organizing. She writes fun and romantic, character-driven dramedies that use supernatural elements to explore the vulnerabilities and victories of Black and queer youth! As a teen, she honed her creative and collaborative skills in Creatures of Impulse, the award-winning, Bay Area teen improv troupe. She went on to pursue a BA in Theater, Film, and Digital Production at UC Riverside, where she became a three-time Gluck Fellow of the Arts. Post-college, Kirby worked as Development Intern for Continuum Entertainment Group, collaborating on multiple TV shows, features, and graphic novels. She furthered her studies through courses with Hillman Grad Mentorship Network and Script Anatomy. In 2021, Kirby was selected as one of forty people for the Warner Bros Discovery Access Early Career Bootcamp. She has also participated in Unlock Her Potential and StartWith8; both programs focus on uplifting women of color. She is now one of fourteen chosen mentees in the Black Boy Writes & Black Girl Writes Mentorship Initiative. After years of paying the careers that she dreamed of, Kirby's excited to put her entertainment payroll days behind her. She is currently a Writers' Assistant on NANCY DREW (CW). Kirby’s greatest accomplishment is still teaching her first screenwriting lecture from an AirBnB balcony. Oh, and the fact that her nephew held her hand for forty-five minutes unprompted the last time she saw him. She’s great at heart, humor, and relating everything back to a Disney movie.

Zenzele Price is a TV writer known for KINDRED (FX Networks) and WeCrashed (AppleTV).

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Interview with Disruptors Disability Cohort Diana Romero and Mentor Jenniffer Gómez

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Sadie: What was it about The Disruptors Fellowship that intrigued you to take your writing journey to the next level?

Diana Romero

Diana Romero

Diana Romero: To be honest, I had never heard of The Disruptors Fellowship. I'm always doing applications because I know that that's a great way to meet more people in the industry, and also to learn a lot more and have mentors. A couple of people mentioned it to me, and what I loved about it that I don't see, and I want to push more is and I don't know if y'all know, but I'm a wheelchair user, and the problem with fellowships is they're always like BIPOC LGBTQ, but the word disability or people with disabilities never shows up. And all the while I know that because I'm a woman, I'm BIPOC, and I am a wheelchair user - I call it the triple threat - I know that nobody's gonna say, ‘No, you're disabled, you can't join, or you can't apply.’ But at the same time, if I didn't feel already left out for the top two, as a woman and as a Latina, now I'm feeling the third one - people with disabilities. So, I absolutely loved that they had the main group, but then they had the cohorts. And so, I was like, ‘Yeah, let me get in there and see if I can get in.’

Sadie: What was intriguing for you to join as a mentor, Jenniffer?

Jenniffer Gómez: Yeah, well, speaking to a little bit of what Diana was saying, this program reaches out to different groups of people that aren't always, I think, part of other fellows. And so, for me, it was actually the undocumented, formerly undocumented aspects that intrigued me because I don't know if there's other programs that actually seek up-and-coming writers in such a way like that. My wife is undocumented and grew up undocumented and got her papers once we got married. And so that's a cause that is dear to my heart. And so, when I saw that, that was part of it and I had known Julio from his organizing work and with the immigrant youth movement, I had to join.

Jenniffer Gómez

Jenniffer Gómez

Sadie: How important is it for you to see and tell diverse stories?

Diana: Yeah, I entered the, I call it a very non-exclusive membership to a club of the disability, anybody can join at any given time. My mobility became impaired due to MS (multiple sclerosis) in 2018. I had less ability to move with my legs. But in, in 2018, finally, it was just a moment that I had to say I need a wheelchair, if I want to have any kind of life and get out of my house, I'd have to have a wheelchair. And it's not out of ignorance for anybody, but it's more of just not having to live that life that you understand what it's all about. This kind of disability was never around in my life, I didn't see it in movies, or TV, I didn't see it with my friends, I didn't see it with family members. So, it was the first time for me just really jumping in there. So now having been using it for the past four years and realizing how little there is of any kind of spotlight on people with disabilities, especially artists with disabilities.

And then seeing that in our characters is so important. I think we all feel that way. And the type of tropes that we see, when we do see somebody with a disability, there's million tropes that are sort of viewed in such a negative light, which all I just want to say is, me coming into this world, and realizing that my life is not what I what, the little that I had seen on TV and film, my life is nowhere like that. I'm no different than what I was, except for I just use a chair to move around. So, for me, the fact that there is hardly any representation, and when there is, it’s very stereotypical if you will. So, trying to change that, along with changing the stereotypes of Latinos in film and TV and changing the stereotypes of women in film and TV as well.

Sadie: You’re also currently a writer's assistant, and were one prior to getting this fellowship – how much has this fellowship and Jenniffer’s mentorship helped guide you with your job?

Diana: Going back to my disability, I worked in film production for many years. I graduated with a producing degree from AFI. And so, I always worked on film, but there was always in the back of my head, a little piece of me that wanted to write, and always to write for TV. And I just never thought that because my life just took me in the route of film. And then when my disability happened, the reality of working on a set was nearly impossible, unless I was just going to be in one place sitting down all day. I realized that at that moment, it was time for me to make that jump, and go - this is a third career for me. But it's time to do it. And so, in 2018, was exactly when I started, I wrote a pilot script, and I got into the Producers Guild fellowship that they have. Last yea,r 2021, I got my first job as a writer's assistant on the show, and that was through a mentor's friend that was hiring a writer's assistant. I learned a lot that first year and sadly, we got canceled. And luckily, a couple of months later, I got this new job, this writer's assistant position. I'm slowly making my way up there. And I think that the fellowships and the mentors, and the fact that with Disruptors, we're going to be presenting 10 pages of the pilot, this is my second pilot I'm working on, and I know I need more, so the fellowship has also given me that motivation to keep writing and I have to answer to somebody.

[Adaptive Documentary Filmmaking with 'Move Me' Filmmaker Kelsey Peterson]

Sadie: What’s something that you hope Diana takes away from this fellowship and your mentorship, Jenniffer?

Jenniffer: The thing with Diana is she's already doing the work. She's already on a staff as a writer's assistant. She has a pilot, and she's writing another one. You know what I mean? So, I think the most practical thing that you get out of these fellowships is the connections that you make. Yes, with your mentor with your instructors and also with the peers that you have, because again, Diana knows this because she's doing the work, but people come up together. All of my closest friends now, we all started out as assistants and now we all have producer of some level in our title. And that happened over time. When you take one step back, or one step forward, hopefully, you have a friend that you can pull along with you, or you're the friend that someone else is pulling along. Every time I talk to anybody who hasn't quite staffed yet but is doing the work or even when they're just trying to get that first assistant job, those people that are around you are sometimes the most important.

In terms of the actual writing, Diana sent me her pages, and we have a conversation coming up about it. And we've been emailing back and forth with thoughts. So hopefully, in terms of the practical, there's also some helpful thoughts for her there. Because it does come down to the words on the page at the end of the day. Even for a lot of writers, some jobs, I don't know if this was the case for Diana, but like a lot of those jobs ask for samples, showrunners are already asking for samples, because, I think good showrunners are hiring assistants that they know they are going to promote or that they can promote. I think that's also what I really liked about this program, as I was talking to Julio about it, and sort of the pool of people that they were selecting, it just seemed like these individuals that are going for it that are after that, are gonna get it because it's a marathon, not a sprint. They're sort of in the process. And I relate to them because I was an assistant for so many years before I staffed.

Sadie: Are you seeing more showrunners uplifting other writers? I’ve heard that with a lot of rooms, they are trying to fill those diversity categories and once the season is over, they don’t bring that diversity hire back, which is devastating.

Jenniffer: I've had a lot of different experiences now on different shows. I will talk graciously about Vida, because it was an amazing experience for me. And Tanya [Saracho] walks the talk and not everybody walks the talk. She is someone who opens doors and will continue to and she hates calling it mentoring because she always says, ‘I don't know enough to mentor people!’ We did have assistants who, even through Vida, she was promoting. I was one of them. I was a script coordinator and then eventually became a producer. So, there are other people that also came up on the show like that, and other assistants that we knew were ready to staff and if we had another season, we would have staffed them. I think there's people that are walking in that talk. I have been on a couple of shows where diversity was either nonexistent or only at the bottom as opposed to the top down. Like, I was put at either mid-level or upper level, the only voice and then all my other sort of peers who were people of color were the assistants, and maybe a staff writer. And I did feel like it was l a different role for me of like, ‘Oh, basically I have to support them because nobody else is doing it, and if I'm not there for them, I don't know who else is.’ And that was just honestly disheartening to see in the sense after coming from Vida I thought, ‘Oh my God! We changed the industry!’ I tell Tanya all the time that she broke me, because I expect to be heard in a room, I expect for us to collaborate in the same way and contribute.

Unfortunately, I would have wanted to say differently, but I think that lack of diversity in the rooms or the lack of support is still occurring, because now I've experienced it. But I do think that there are shows that are being created and I do think that there's a lot of people of color that are coming up, and I can speak about the Latina and showrunners that I know and I'm friends with and I think that it the number one thing is to continue to bring people up. It’s just going to take a multitude of us.

Sadie: Yeah, like like you said, ‘it's a marathon, not a sprint.’ Right. Yeah. What inspired you to become a writer, Diana?

Diana: I come from a family of writers. My uncle is a very well-known and established writer in Latin America. And my family's from Colombia, originally. I grew up with him being a writer, and he's dedicated a lot of his books to me, which is really fun. It started there. My sister's a writer, she writes poetry, and she does a lot of more historical or nonfiction. There's a lot of writers in my family. And I never thought that writing for me would be something of a career, especially in film and TV. That wasn't ever a choice. You know what I mean, that was never a suggestion from anybody, because we didn't know anybody who worked in this industry. Because of my dad, being a doctor, I ended up going to starting pre-med school and realized I hated pre-med. And that's why I went to social work. As a social worker, the kids, and the people that I met, I can better these communities better by telling their stories, rather than trying to get through the red tape of the government and all of the crazy stuff that all of the ways that our government brings those communities down and doesn't help them. So, with that being said, I decided to go back to school for TV and film production. And I did that. I wrote a couple of my pieces, and I won a couple of awards. And so it just snowballed from there.

Then in 2018, when I was like, ‘You know, all writers sit in chairs. I'm with them, I just need my chair to go to the bathroom and that's it.’ I was invited to write a chapter in a book, that was part of a conference that I was in for my first movie, out of school, which was Niña Quebrada, and it was about a woman who's sex trafficked. And so, I was invited to speak at this conference about it. I was invited to write the chapter and then I published a couple of things on online journals. And it just those little things that I did pushed me even further, and then absolutely knowing nothing about TV and realizing that TV and film are two completely different monsters, that's when I set out to do it and I was like, ‘OK, I don't care how old I am. I'm gonna do what it is that I've always wanted to do.’

What I loved about the two rooms I've been in is that the showrunners have been very mentor-like, and very nurturing. And I was scared to death for the second job, because I've heard nightmare stories about rooms, right? I ended up in a really, really great room again and both rooms are very diverse. And this room has another person with a visible disability. He's an amputee. So that's kind of cool. I'm like, ‘OK, I'm not the only one.’ I hope that I'm going to be seeing more of that, as opposed to less of that. The writing world has been in my life forever and finally, it was time to exercise that.

Sadie: I’m glad that you're doing it. And what was that spark that made you want to become a storyteller, Jenniffer?

Jenniffer: We have a little bit of similar backgrounds. I did not come from a family of writers in the sense that they never were known writers, but I grew up reading my mom's journals - that I was not supposed to [laughs] and my dad always had a love for song and poetry, and I think would have probably sat down and written more if he had the confidence. Also, we didn't have all the resources. I always say we were very poor. My brother says, ’No, we were lower middle class.’ I don't know what we were, but I know there was a lot of struggle, and there was sort of that question of uncertainty at times of like, what's for dinner? So, I think my dad was just out there hustling. I came from a family of what I like to say, frustrated artists, [laughs] or frustrated storytellers, who just didn't have the privilege to sit down and write their stories, or the knowledge that they should do that despite whatever else was going on in their lives.

And so, for me, I grew up thinking I had to be a professional, but I was going to be a doctor like Diana. I was pre-med and I did the bio major and I hated it, and I ended up taking literature, it was always sort of where my passion lies, and what I love. So, I ended up taking more writing classes and slowly taking less science classes. By the end, I graduated as an English major with a film studies minor. I ended up taking one screenwriting class and what I loved about the screenwriting class is that all of a sudden, I felt like, ‘Oh, my God, I can use both parts of my brain!’ There is sort of creativity to it, but there's also a formula, right? There's a structure. TV, especially, I mean, what if you have half hour and one hour, you have so little time to gain an audience's attention and to really establish what your story is about. And so even though I love to break all the rules and get out of the formula it is nice to know that there is something there that I'm sort of writing to. And so, I decided to kind of take a leap and I did an MFA in Screenwriting. And that's sort of really when I began seriously the craft of writing for the screen. So that was at LMU. And back then I thought I was going to just do films because this was before the streamers. I didn't want to get stuck in LA, I wasn't loving LA at the time, and I thought if I write features, I could probably be anywhere and I just need to get my name out there. And then I got my first job in TV. And I loved it. I loved the collaboration. I love the room aspect of it. 

Originally, I wanted to do production, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to afford to produce my own films or direct them. So that is why I chose writing. But then once I was on a TV show for the first time, it was Castle, I was like this is what I love and Castle is so far removed from what I write because I don't write network TV but that being my first experience I felt like I could do it. And then I found a passion in it. It took a while. I was out here for exactly 10 years. And I was an assistant for seven. I think because there's so many more shows, there's potentially opportunity to staff maybe a little faster. But, only a few years ago, every assistant that I knew had that like ten-year track.

Sadie: Yeah, it doesn't happen overnight. Any advice for those who are interested in applying to The Disruptors Fellowship?

Diana: I think that for people who are coming in applying - just do it. Unfortunately, because we're still in COVID times and everything, we did all our meetings on Zoom, so we didn't really get to know each other personally. One of our fellows is a performer, and all got together and had dinner before and then we went to see the play. That was the first time we met and I also met a couple of the fellows and for a shoot that we did. It's really weird and strange right now, because we're doing this showcase, but now we finished the classroom type of fellowship and we're preparing for this showcase. It’s very exciting.

Everybody was in different levels of their script. For example, that script had been in my head and when I applied, I didn't have the script. I had a little summary of it, a logline, and turned it in. And some of my fellow fellows had already written their scripts, so nobody should be worried about whether ‘I don't have a pilot yet. I can't.’ Because you will develop. And even though I developed 10 pages, and that's what I've been working on, I got started.

I think for writers, it's such a lonely world. And this is why I love working in a room because it's everybody together working on the same thing. And luckily, I've had two great rooms, our showrunners really want the assistants to also pitch in. So, to make a long answer short, don’t be worried about whether or not you have a completed script, because more than anything the fellowship is to get everybody together to bring mentors to work with us and to work together. But also to me, to establish a network.

Jenniffer: I would say in terms of the actual application process - lean into who you are. I feel like a lot of the stories that I read that feel the most truthful, the most riveting or authentic, are the ones that have experiences, real experiences from the people writing it. So, I think that's always good. I think especially when you're starting out to be able to have a work that reflects who you are in your experience, because really, when you're starting out that's kind of what people are buying into as a staff writer, they're not actually buying into your sample necessarily and they hope that you will be able to write their show. But they for sure need you to be a voice in the room that can contribute and come at it from sort of a vulnerable place in terms of story.

[PART I: What Is the Writer’s Voice, And Why Is It Important?]

And then the other thing that I always say, and this is with every fellowship, and this one specifically, it's hard to say because I think this is such a good fellowship, but I would say you don't need it. I went through so many applications as an assistant and I had so many rejections. Yes, it's great. It gives you a deadline, it helps you motivate you to write something. But at the end of the day, you just have to keep pushing in pursuing it. And it's all going to come together at some point. You don't need any specific fellowship to become a writer, you just need to write.

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About Diana Romero: Award-winning writer Diana Romero was born in Topeka, Kansas to Colombian immigrants. Diana’s storytelling and inspiration comes from her vibrant and colorful dual citizenship and cultures; her experiences as a Social Worker; her psychotherapist father; and her mother’s force of nature. Her uncle, Armando Romero’s award-winning novels also serve as encouragement. Diana’s passions are crime mysteries, drama and comedy. She creates complicated characters that portray people from marginalized communities, while defying stereotypes of gender, race, disability and culture. Her award-winning film, Niña Quebrada, exposed a young woman’s ordeal when sold to a sex trafficking ring. Other screenplays further explore human trafficking, friendships, time travel, love, disability and addiction. Fellowships include: PGA’s Power of Diversity Master Workshop; Respectability’s Summer Lab; The BIPOC Writers Fellowship: Adapting Books for the Screen; and most recently, the Disruptors Fellowship.Diana’s goal to work in TV resulted in a position as a Writers’ Assistant on the CW show: 4400 in 2021. That year she also wrote for the YA animated web series, Your Life is Worth Living. Other work has been published online and in print. Around LA, this dog-lady enjoys swimming and telling jokes on stage. She has performed at The Second City and Flappers.

About Jenniffer Gómez: Jenniffer Gómez is a Queer Latinx writer who has come up through scripted television. Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, she spent four years in Boston where she received a B.A. in English from Boston College. She later moved to Los Angeles to pursue an M.F.A. in screenwriting from Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film and Television. Upon graduating, she began as an assistant and script coordinator on shows such as “Castle,” “Hit the Floor,” “Black Sails,” and “Power.” In 2012, she quit her job as an assistant to direct a cross-country documentary about a group of undocumented activists who walked from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., for immigrant rights. One of those activists became her wife — formerly a grassroots organizer, now a Los Angeles Sheriff Officer. They met in Provo, Utah, and fell in love by the time they reached Denver — which is why their bichon frise is now called Denver. You can watch the documentary, American Dreamers, which originally premiered at the 2015 LA Film Festival, on Amazon Prime. Gómez most recently wrote on the Facebook Watch series “Sacred Lies,” and she was a writer/producer on Starz’s “Vida.” She is currently writing a pilot for Blumhouse Productions based on the Sundance award-winning documentary- narrative film The Infiltrators.

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Virtual Showcase 1
Thursday, November 17, 7pm-9pm PST

Virtual Showcase 2
Friday, November 18, 7pm-9pm PST

If you’re someone working in the TV industry and would like an invite to our virtual showcase, email julio@culturalpower.org

Closing Celebration
Saturday, November 19

Click here to apply and learn more about The Disruptors Fellowship.


Learn more about the craft and business of screenwriting from our Script University courses!

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