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Screenwriters Colony Opens Farmhouse Door to TV Comedy Writers at Nantucket Fest

NANTUCKET, Mass. — It’s safe to say that Matt Hobby, Wyndham Lewis, Kevin Seccia and Rose Surnow will probably never work in a writers room quite like the one where they just spent two weeks honing their craft.

This month, the foursome spent a fortnight living and working in a farmhouse in a remote spot on Nantucket island, as the participants in the Screenwriters Colony’s inaugural episodic comedy residency program. The group mostly detached from the rest of the world while working intensively with veteran comedy showrunner Eric Gilliland (“Roseanne,” “That ’70s Show”) on four scripts that were showcased with a staged reading at the Nantucket Film Festival.

Following the template of the Screenwriters Colony’s annual feature film residency, the writers came to Nantucket with the first draft of a script in hand. From June 10-23, they took part in a series of workshops on their scripts, seminars and jawboning sessions with other advisors including producer Jamie Tarses and writers Allison Silverman and Tim Doyle. The residency afforded the scribes time to work on their own rewrites and time for collaborative sessions — in the barn — where they gave notes and feedback on one another’s scripts. Joke punch-up sessions were, not surprisingly, a good time.

The writers were also encouraged to make time for taking in the beauty of their surroundings with walks, bike rides and swims in and around the 42-square mile island that lies 30 miles off Cape Cod and next door to Martha’s Vineyard.

The nonprofit Screenwriters Colony was founded in 2002 by John S. Johnson, co-founder of Buzzfeed among other entrepreneurial ventures. For the past 15 years, in partnership with the Nantucket Film Festival, Screenwriters Colony has hosted a monthlong residency at the farmhouse in October for feature film writers.

That program has yielded numerous notable alumni, including three filmmakers who had pics screening at the Nantucket fest this year: Stella Meghie (“Jean Of the Jones”), Sian Heder (“Tallulah”) and Annie Howell (“Little Boxes”).

The Colony’s move into TV recognizes the explosion of opportunity and creativity in the small-screen space. The TV program was designed to replicate the experience writers would have working on the staff of a show. To that end, the pace was quickened from four weeks to two.

Hobby, Seccia and Surnow were selected through nominations from industry insiders that were reviewed by the Screenwriters Colony board and the org’s director, Lydia Cavallo Zasa. Lewis earned his spot in the program by winning the Nantucket fest’s 2016 episodic comedy screenwriting contest. All four came into the program with some TV or professional writing experience. Hobby is also an actor who has logged guest shots on “The Grinder,” “Mom,” “Boardwalk Empire,” among others.

“We expected this year to be more of an experiment but it worked out so well,” Zasa said.

The timing of the Episodic Comedy program also meant that the work could be shared as part of the Nantucket fest. Seven members of the island’s White Heron Theater Co. helped bring ten-minute sections of the four scripts to life.

By the time the four writers assembled at Nantucket’s Dreamland Theater for the readings on June 23, the four were effusive about the experience of the writing intensive, the bonds they’d established and the beauty of their surroundings.

“The scripts improved tremendously,” said Seccia. “It’s incredibly fun sitting with smart people and pitching ideas. It’s nice to have other people’s perspective.”

Gilliland praised the amount of work that the scribes turned out over the two weeks, even with the extracurricular island activities. “They came in ready to work,” he said.

Seccia’s effort was “Revengence,” action-comedy about a nerdy writer who winds up renting his house via AirBNB to a commando-type character in the vein of Liam Neeson. Hobby dreamed up a Mormon-themed animated superhero vehicle set in the 1830s: “Joseph Smith and His W.I.V.E.S (Women in Very Extreme Situations).”

Lewis delivered “The Godmother,” revolving around a tragically hip Brooklynite woman who has to take care of her spoiled niece and nephew after their parents go to jail for fraud. Surnow birthed “Screwed,” about a woman in her 20s who has never had an orgasm who becomes a sex writer in her quest for the ultimate climax.

The mentoring sessions including a dos and don’ts of pitch meetings with Tarses, after which the four scribes were surprised by an on-the-spot assignment to pitch their show to the former ABC and NBC programming exec.

With the Screenwriters Colony program completed, each of the writers will return home with a shovel-ready project to take out to networks and studios.

“Next stop — hitting the meetings,” Surnow said, with more than a little giddiness after the readings.

(Pictured: Wyndham Lewis, Kevin Seccia, Matt Hobby and Rose Surnow)

 

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