Rising through the Ranks: Aiko Hilkinger on diversifying the YA genre
June 13, 2022
Aiko Hilkinger is bringing her magical brand of writing diverse, LGBTQIA+ characters that inspire the next generation to the scene, starting with a show she’s currently developing with the ISA.
“It’s a YA live-action paranormal romance show. It’s dark and sexy, but like teenager-ish at the same time. It’s been really fun!”
Hilkinger is also writing her first feature, among other projects. “It’s a queer teen coming of age romance story; friends to lovers,” says Hilkinger. It’s also her drive and consistency in her social media life that translates to getting the job done when it comes to writing—and getting that writing seen by the right people.
From pandemic brakes to Hollywood breaks
From Yumbo, Valle Del Cauca, Colombia, Hilkinger credits her parents for supporting her dream, which included going to Vancouver Film School in Canada for their screenwriting program.
“I was the kid in middle school that was obsessed with English class. I started thinking that I was going to write novels and I think that that's something that I really want to do at some other point in my life. But I also started discovering that I was more into visual storytelling… Ideas are something that comes to me very easily. Then I chose to go to film school. My parents were really supportive about it. I moved to Canada alone in 2019 to go to school. But I graduated three months after the pandemic started, so I moved back here to Colombia in June of 2020. I had this plan of what I was going to do after graduation: What I was gonna do and see and how I was gonna try to break in!” Hilkinger laughs gently, “Yeah, that immediately got put on the back burner.”
But it didn’t stop her.
“It slowly turned into, ‘Oh, I got this internship with a talent agency to read scripts’ and then press [fast-forward that] to like, ‘Oh, I'm going to be working for Coverfly,’ and all the while, you know, writing and developing my own ideas and entering contests.”
Contests, it turns out, would be what proved to be the new plan for breaking in.
“They’re not the only way and but it was my only way in. The industry is available, but not really to people that are not inside of it,” says Hilkinger.
After winning the WeScreenplay TV Contest 2022, Hilkinger took part in the winner’s lab. “They mentioned my now manager. And I was like, I know her. Why do I know her? So, I went snooping around and figured out that we were mutuals on Twitter, so I DM her and I was like, ‘Do you have time to talk to me?’ We met up, we chatted, we really clicked, and then I just kind of asked her if she was down to represent me. She was like, ‘I would love to’ and that was it. It's crazy how it sounds, but it honestly makes so much sense now. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the relationship unfolds and grows and develops as we continue to kick ass in this partnership."
Developing a writer’s style
"Figuring out my story spin and just seeing where I wanted to take my voice and develop my own style has been the primary thing that I've been doing for the past couple of years,” says Hilkinger. “I always knew I wanted to write and now I get to do it!”
“I grew up in the John Green, Percy Jackson, Hunger Games boom. So I love love love YA,” Hilkinger elaborates. “[My style is] very quirky and cute. It’s soft and fun and adorable and makes you feel good. But also, you know, isn't afraid to talk about tough subject matters. I always say I want to be part of this boom of YA stories coming to animation. I want to write animated stories for older kids.” She adds, “I also really want to write sexy vampires.”
All part of the process
In addition to writing, Hilkinger says “I'm really into development. It's something that I've had so much fun doing in the past couple of years for myself and helping other writers do it with coverage. So yeah, I think currently I'm more of a development girl; I would love to be paid to help bring shows into a stage we can actually staff!” she laughs.
Hilkinger is also one of the cofounders of @PrideWriters_, a Pride Screenwriting Collective on Twitter that hosts writing sprints and offers a sense of community to its members.
“Layla started the whole thing alone. I reached out to her and was like, hey, is there any way that I can help? Like, how can we do this? How can we make this happen? And that slowly snowballed into, okay, let's create this group channel so that we can all come together and talk if anybody needs anything,” Hilkingers explains. “We started highlighting different writers to showcase and uplift the amazing writers that are in this community. I honestly love it so much. The community has just been so cool; so nice and welcoming. We're all there for each other and it's been super rewarding, just to see how much talent there is. And just to be able to, you know, share. It's always just nice to know that you're not alone.”
A screenwriter’s advice to those on the other rungs on the ladder
“I think that cutting yourself a lot of slack is really necessary here. Your journey is not going to be like anybody else's and at the same time, depending on what you have to do to support yourself, you might not have as much time as you'd like. So planning ahead and just reminding yourself that it's gonna take a long time; not be so hard on yourself for not being able to work at the pace that you see other people working at or that you would like to be working at,” advises Hilkinger from experience.
“The other thing that I tell a lot of people is contests are a necessary evil. They are very expensive and they are not something that a lot of people can afford, but there are a lot of really cool free initiatives that I enjoy. But if you've got the money and if you've got the drive, and I do think that contests are a very clear way to kind of like break in, I guess you could say. And the third one is always about building community. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to get on Twitter. Connect with other writers — my DMs are open if you ever have any questions,” Hilkinger offers, and you can feel the genuine openness in her tone. “I will make time if I can to talk to you, and I'll try my hardest to help you out in terms of what I could see as your next steps.”
“The more that you interview and are supported by other people that are in the industry, the more you'll be able to learn and make connections, and possibly in the next like five to 10 years, those friends are going to be running their own show. So it's all about making sure that you're making these connections early on and having a tough conversation with yourself around how much you actually want this and why you want this because it's a long journey.”
One in which Hilkinger is well on her way! Repped by Fourth Wall Management, you can find Hilkinger in the Twittersphere as @aikohwrites.
Written by: Karin MaxeyAfter seeing her first big screen movie 007: License to Kill at age six, Karin naturally became obsessed with writing action-infused stories. The next time she’d see Benicio del Toro was in person, at the 68th Cannes Film Festival—he was there for the Sicario red carpet, she was there for her first produced short film in the basement of the Palais…same-same. In between, Karin earned a Creative Writing Degree and landed management at Echo Lake Entertainment. Her scripts have been a Big Break Top 3 finalist, HollyShorts Film Fest Official Selection, and a multi-Screencraft competitions semi-finalist. Karin is also a screenplay editor who delights in the process of polishing writers' work for submission. You can find her at www.writergirlkarin.com.