VETS RETREAT REPORT – 2011
“It’s pretty much like putting a basketball player, who’s trying to come up, on the court with Michael Jordan, and being able to pick his brain for a minute about his skills. They were very open to us.”
- DeAndre Robinson, Marine
For two days in mid-April, the Writers Guild Foundation hosted the 2011 Veterans Writing Workshop, a weekend-long event that brings military vets of all ages and backgrounds to meet with a wide spectrum of television and film writers (as well as a few novelists, poets and writing coaches). They came from all over: Most from southern California, but some from Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, Utah, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania. They came to write.
When Army vet Yvette Foy sat down with her bacon and eggs Saturday morning, she wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure, she was brimming with enthusiasm. Sure, she was surrounded by television writers who have achieved a level of professional success she could only dream of. But she arrived knowing what a taskmaster the empty page can be.
By the end of the day, Yvette was trading email addresses with Friends writer Alexa Junge, one of her mentors for the day. And Alexa was giving her the encouragement and guidance she needed to break through a prickly patch in her script. Today, they’re Facebook friends.
“I think sometimes we take for granted what a little inspiration can do,” Yvette said after the workshop. “When you’re on the grind seven days a week with a full-time job and writing and networkingâ?¦ it can become exhausting. The workshop recharged my battery. It said, keep going, you’re on the right track.”
“Literally,” she said. “I hear voices.”
After a brief intro to the mentors — and a (hopefully playful) argument over which of them created Frasier, the vets broke into groups of about five each, to meet with two and sometimes three mentors per group. It was those groups where the real work took place: Six Feet Under and Supernatural scribe Larry Andries and his partner Jan Oxenberg (Parenthood, Cold Case) sent their students on assignment to the Farmer’s Market, to create characters based on people they saw. Script consultant Sharon Wertheimer met with individual students to discuss writing techniques. Peter Casey and David Isaacs — television writers extraordinaire — quickly formed an easy bond with their group, and laughter poured forth from their conference room all day.
But for this group, it’s just the beginning. In its second year, the Veterans Writing Workshop is rapidly creating an ongoing sense of community among graduates and their mentors, and everyone involved wants to find a way to keep that magic going through continuing workshops. If the past is any indication, there’s reason for optimism; a small group of vets from last year’s workshop has been meeting regularly with a team of dedicated WGA mentors who showed up for the event each year. Some even served this year as volunteers, offering their own advice to attendees as well as general assistance.
L. Michael Black, who meets regularly with the ongoing group, saw a level of camaraderie that was matched only by last year’s event.
“I was very impressed by the participants’ level of knowledge,” Michael said. “Especially the ways they pushed the mentors to ‘give it up.’ And the mentors delivered so much to the hungry mass assembled.”
When Sunday’s closing session came to pass — and all hands had been shaken and all business cards traded — the import and impact of the weekend was clear. But it was equally clear that the job wasn’t done. So planning for next year’s workshop has begun — along with planning for the ongoing workshops to come in the mean time.
You can be a part of this valuable program: sponsor a vet.