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Circle of Confusion launches its first writers fellowship

October 6, 2021
10 min read time

Earlier this year talent management and production company Circle of Confusion (known for The Walking Dead, Mr. Right, and American Ultra) selected their Writers Discovery Fellows for its inaugural program, an initiative to mentor aspiring TV and film writers.

The winners — Chanelle Wang, Elena Lockleis, Halo Rossetti, Larry Powell, Lynda Brendish, Michael Gutierrez, and Shanice Williamson — were selected from more than 2,000 applicants. 

The initiative was created to nurture and assist in accelerating the diversity of voices in the film industry.

“Circle of Confusion has always been in the business of discovery,” says founder Lawrence Mattis. “I started the company over 30 years ago from scratch, with no clients and no prior experience in the entertainment industry, with only a passion for unique voices and great stories. In particular, I have always been drawn to slightly left-of-center voices and I think that ethos of looking in places that others are not quite looking has permeated the work of everyone at Circle over the years.”

The program, which launched in May, runs for six months. The Fellowship involves pairing each Fellow with a mentor who provides specific development assistance on their original series pilot, as well as general professional guidance. According to Mattis, the Fellowship organizes industry panels for the Fellows to further educate them on various aspects of the professional writer’s experience in the industry.

“Then, once their pilots are ready, the Fellowship works to get industry reads of the scripts and schedule meetings for the Fellows with producers and executives.”

For the Fellowship's inaugural round, Mattis says they stuck close to home due to the overwhelmingly supportive response from their managers. “So it was easy to find talented and experienced career advisors to pair with each of the Fellows. As the Fellowship continues, we hope to reach out and include other managers and appropriate professionals who have the ability to develop material and provide insightful career guidance, and of course, who have a passion for discovering and supporting new talent.”

The program mentors include Mattis, Susan Solomon, Charles Mastropietro, Zach Cox, Katie Abbott, Julian Rosenberg, and Samantha Starr. 

Then, the program also helps provide networking opportunities with agents and managers so that Fellows can continue forward with professional support. In addition, each Fellow will also receive a $10,000 stipend by way of a first-look deal with Circle of Confusion Television Studios.

“The writing game can be long and hard and often feel a bit hopeless, but I’d want all the Fellows to know that the great thing about the business is that it is ultimately radically porous and ever-changing and new opportunities arise every day,” says Mattis. “I have told many clients and students over the years that success in our business comes down to three things: Perspective, Passion and Persistence. I think all our Fellows have these characteristics to a certain degree and my hope is that the Fellowship helps strengthen and sharpen their ability to leverage those qualities for success.”

Some of the Fellows took a moment to share their bio and comment on the program for Final Draft, and it seems that Mattis' wish is coming true.

Larry Powell (mentor: Charles Mastropietro)

Larry Powell is a 2021 Webby Award Honoree for the New Media Series The Gaze that he wrote, created and produced, adapted from his play by the same title which is a 2021 Eugene O'Neill National Play Conference Finalist. A modern auteur born and raised in South Central LA, Powell is dangerously and endlessly curious about why we as humans do the things we do to get the things we want, and how the epic journeys we take bring us heart-to-heart with what we need on a deep, spiritual level. He is also obsessed with the miraculous, magical world of the Black mundane. 

The fellowship so far
"It’s been great! The most rewarding feature for me has been my cohort. The rest of the Fellows are each incredible in their own right and our ability to lean on each other throughout the Fellowship when one of us has hit a wall or when we just need some general encouragement has been breathtakingly dope." 

The most valuable part of the mentorship 
"I love my mentor. From our first meeting, I was met with enthusiasm and clear guidance that was matched with tangible help. Having Charles Mastropietro in my corner has been an answered prayer, a dream come true, a wish granted. From notes on my drafts to thoughts on my presentation as an artist, to fresh, bold and fearless ideas on the type of career an artist like me can have and inspiring me to believe that I am actually having it. He’s also queer, and the type of queer that matches my queer, so…There’s a shorthand there that literally makes me feel more at peace when talking through the “hard stuff.” Deep connection. Deep gratitude." 

Advice for aspiring writers? 
"Find a process that works for you and work it until you find a better one. There are so many ways to get a story down on the page and no one way is truly better than another. Whatever gets us spitting our most vicious truth onto the page works. That said, understanding what you need to do for yourself, in order to get into your zone and get the draft done, is so important. Not only is it important to understand your process but it is also important to protect it. Your magic is in your process. Protect your process. Own it. And don’t be afraid to exchange it for a better one down the line." 

 

Elena Clare Lockleis (mentor: Julian Rosenberg)

Stories that deal with honest and raw human emotion are the stories Elena hopes to tell, because those are the types of stories that have helped and continue to help her fight through thorns. Under that umbrella, she strives to bring more open conversations about mental health, specifically depression and anxiety, to the forefront. 

The fellowship so far
"The most rewarding experience of the Fellowship for me has been the panels. Getting to hear from a number of people in the industry has been informative and helpful."

The biggest takeaways and challenges of the fellowship
"Some of the biggest challenges/takeaways I’ve had from the fellowship fall under the umbrella of believing in myself. Believing that I am a good writer. That I was chosen for a reason. I still have a lot of self-doubts, but I’m working on overcoming that." 

Advice for aspiring writers?
"I’ll keep this one short and sweet. My advice for aspiring writers is to just keep writing. Find your voice and allow it to shine." 

 

Halo Rossetti (mentor: Lawrence Mattis)

Halo Rossetti (they/them) is a writer, director, performer and artist, world-building positive futures in the husk of the capitalist experiment. In their work, through the production of film, video and performance, they practice world-building as a means to convey their belief that decolonizing, queering and regenerating are linked processes. Rossetti is one of the seven inaugural 2021 Circle of Confusion Writers Discovery Fellows, mentored by Lawrence Mattis (The Matrix, The Walking Dead). Rossetti was Temple University's nominee for the Tribeca Film Institute/Sloan Foundation Student Discovery Award 2020 with their TV pilot, Well. Rossetti's MFA thesis short film, Pony, is currently in postproduction, and the feature script of Pony has advanced to the second round of Sundance Institute’s 2022 Development.

The fellowship so far
"This has been a completely life-changing experience. I cannot recommend this Fellowship enough! If you fit the application parameters and are considering applying, please do so!" 

The most rewarding part of the mentorship
"That’s a tie between multiple aspects! I have so loved getting to know and follow the work and journey of my fellow Fellows! And the Circle of Confusion employees that I’ve had the great pleasure of interacting with have all been so supportive and sweet. Daniela Gonzalez in particular, who shepherds the Fellows and runs the Fellowship program, has been a total pillar of support during this highly transitional time for me. Perhaps most rewardingly, however, I’ve really enjoyed working with my mentor, Lawrence Mattis." 

The biggest takeaways and challenges of the fellowship
"A big challenge for me has been learning to keep building dramatic tension through a script at the level required for episodic television. Episodic television is such a strange creature: On the one hand, you are looking at an extremely long-form genre—one of my favorite shows, Battlestar Galactica, clocks in at almost 60 hours!—and on the other hand, you need to tell a complete, high-velocity, and very engaging story every 30-60 minutes! Also, you want people to stay hooked and keep watching, so in a sense, the dramatic tension can never really let up. You can’t ever let the air out of the balloon. The proverbial Cylons can never take a day off. And it takes expertise, experience and stamina to write engaging episodic [TV] for that reason. I hope that one day, people recognize the extent to which entertainment industry professionals—the ones that create the content that gets us through both a long day of work and a never-ending pandemic—are highly skilled essential workers." 

 

Lynda Brennish (mentor: Sam Starr)

Lynda is a Kiwi freelance journalist turned one-hour drama writer, whose pandemic hobbies involved perfecting her Old Fashioned recipe and taking long walks around the block. Her world-building and complex family dynamics are informed by a fragmented family history inherited on her Iraqi father’s side and anchored by the kinds of brilliant and messy women who inspire her on her mother’s side. 

The fellowship so far
"The Fellowship has been amazing, hands down. I've felt so much support not only from Circle of Confusion, my mentor, and the Fellowship team, but with the other Fellows as well. I admire them and their talent all so much and I hope we'll stay close and cheer each other on long after the Fellowship. My mentor, Sam, has been really great and supportive, and I've felt like our notes calls have been two-way conversations that really help me home in on the story I want to tell. Also, just understanding the business side more through her has been great." 

The biggest takeaways and challenges of the fellowship
"I think a lot of it has just been really demystifying. We focus so much on getting it right on the page, but there's a whole other world between your page and the screen and sometimes that feels like a big unknowable. But we've had some really insightful panels that have shed light on the people and companies at play and how they work together and with you. Also, I think it's been really heartening to meet the people involved and know that success can be defined in many ways. So, much gratitude for all the panelists who have shared their time and insights with us." 

Advice for aspiring writers? 
"Keep writing but also know who you are and why you write what you write. The answer might evolve over time, but starting to figure that out is so important (and sometimes so hard!) and it is worth it as you start to navigate the industry and the kinds of stories you want to tell." 

Michael Guitierrez (mentor: Zach Cox)

Michael J. Gutierrez is an L.A.-based comedy writer and don't let this two-sentence blurb about him tell you any different. Michael has studied at Script Anatomy, Second City Hollywood, and The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater (L.A.). He's passionate about telling coming-of-age stories about people that strive to be the best versions of themselves while effecting positive change to those around them. 

The fellowship so far
"The Fellowship has been fantastic. Zach Cox was my mentor and he established very early on that I could go to him for anything in regards to my sample, industry advice, etc. Zach and I would talk at length about storytelling, but specifically what was best for MY story. I wrote a 30-minute comedy pilot that had elements of drama in it and Zach presented me with the challenge of writing an hour-long dramedy if I chose to do so. I took that challenge and submitted a new act to him every week and within a few weeks, I had a full polished draft. Zach often talked about finding the nuances between characters and story, and to emotionally dig in deeper when appropriate (often contingent upon what was happening in the story and to whom). Also, Zach emphasized that I didn't need to throw the entire kitchen sink in the pilot and focus [instead] on laying the groundwork for the entire series. This advice has already served me well in my current role as a Staff Writer in the room when pitching. Zach has a great sense of humor, is straight to the point, and a big Laker fan — as I am. The fact that he has offered to continue to be a resource for me after the Fellowship and wants to continue to help me in my career, meant a lot."

The biggest takeaways and challenges of the fellowship
"I think with any script, you need to thoroughly outline. Structure is incredibly important when writing for television and you must understand that structure inside and out. I had only written two other hour-long specs before this program, the rest of the scripts in my portfolio were half-hours. I bought Daniel Calvisi's book "STORY MAPS: TV Drama: The Structure of the One-Hour Television Pilot", and used that as a guide to re-break and expand my half-hour into an hour. Usually, in a comedy, you end act breaks on a laugh, but in a dramedy, it's best you land on something, uh, dramatic? Or an emotional turn. It was a challenge to find what those were and what made the most sense from not only a character perspective but what best served my story. Also, the theme of your work is very important. When I clarified the themes of my story it was like a lighthouse illuminating a path for me to safely to land while at sea. I don't know when I'd ever be in that scenario (I never have been before), but I imagine it would be like that if I were ever lost at sea at nighttime and I didn't have a flashlight." 

Advice for aspiring writers?
"Jessica Gao (showrunner for She-Hulk) gave me some great advice that I'll pass along here: 'When you write your sample, it needs to be the most 'you' sample you can write. Your sample should be a reflection of what show you'd make if you had no restrictions at all.' So, I took that to heart and wrote the most personal and most 'Michael Gutierrez' script I could and that's the one that got me this Fellowship and ultimately got me staffed. Every ounce of that script should be you from the scene headings to the action lines, dialogue, characters and story. Swing for the fences. Babe Ruth once said: 'I swing big and I miss big' (I think that's what he said, I'm more of a basketball fan). So swing away and write the most compelling, cool, interesting story that only YOU can write and GO for it!"

Pretty much words to live by. Congrats to all of the Fellows!

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