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Out On the Town | WriteGirl Book Launch Party

“Never underestimate the power of a girl and her pen.” ~www.WriteGirl.org

I don’t remember how I came to know out about WriteGirl.  Most likely, I received some kind of email about it or saw something about it on Facebook.  What ever way it came to me, I’m just happy it did.  I’d been on a constant search for an organization involved in helping girls with reading and writing.  I’ve also been looking for networking opportunities with other writers.  Well, my search was over when I read the about page on WriteGirl’s website:

WriteGirlLogo

WriteGirl — a creative writing organization founded in 2001 in Los Angeles — teams together girls ages 14 – 18 with professional women writers through workshops, readings, publications and mentoring relationships to help the girls gain communication skills and build confidence.  WriteGirl gives young ladies the freedom to express themselves through writing poetry, essays, song lyrics, short stories, and screenplays.  WriteGirl was honored by First Lady Michelle Obama with the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award and was named the 2010 – 2011 California Nonprofit of the Year.

After reading that, I was sold.  I decided at that moment that I wanted to become a volunteer and mentor.  I quickly downloaded the application and completed it.  I also signed up for their newsletter which led me to an email about their Book Launch Party held on Saturday, June 27th at the Writers Guild of America Theatre (WGA) in Beverly Hills.  The event was hosted by Keren Taylor, Founder and Executive Director of WriteGirl; and Clare Sera, a screenwriter and actress.  Special guests included actors, Doniella Artese, the first major black character on Mad Men (AMC); Melora Hardin, Transparent (Amazon Prime); Mo Collins, Parks and Recreation (NBC); and the only dude to grace the stage, Shawn Carter Peterson, Pitch Perfect 2 (Universal Pictures).

City of Angels

WriteGirl Book

The party was in celebration of WriteGirl’s 14th anthology, Emotional Map of Los Angeles.  Almost 200 women and girls contributed poems and essays on topics such as the death of a loved one, dreams, bullying, police brutality, and experiences of being residents of Los Angeles.  The event kicked off with the girls taking to the stage five at a time where they each recited a short poem or essay excerpt.  Some girls shared their writing processes and tips on how to be a better writer.  The best tip was, “Write down your dreams.  They might become a best seller one day.”  One 14 year old girl shared how she writes while lying on the floor at 2:00am when “all distractions are asleep.”  I found myself wondering how she manages to get up for school in the morning.  But, I get it.  When the urge to write calls, you must answer.

Express Yourself

WriteGirl Stage

We, the audience, got the chance to express our feelings too.  We were handed a stack of index cards and was encouraged to write down any feelings the readings evoked.  The index cards were collected, read aloud, and taped on the walls and stage.  The multi-colored cards created a confetti-like appearance in the room, which I’m sure made the girls feel appreciated.  People wrote down words such as inspired, angry, and motivated.  I scribbled the word “powerful” in response to a girl’s gripping poem about police brutality and social injustice surrounding the Ferguson unrest, and the Freddie Gray and Eric Garner cases.

During intermission, we were treated with healthy dishes from Sharkey’s.  We munched on salad, chicken and tofu burritos, chips and salsa; and sipped on Hubert’s Lemonade, the best lemonade I’ve ever tasted in my life.

After lunch we returned to the theatre for the second round of readings.  Maybe they should have saved the food for last because my belly was full and I was ready for a nap.  The theatre seats didn’t help either.  Usually, most venues have stiff seats jammed together, which makes for an uncomfortable experience for a tall girl like myself.  Well, I had no sardine issues at the WGA theatre.  The seats are plush and built for comfort.  I had plenty of room to stretch my long limbs.

WriteGirl alums who were on summer break from their perspective colleges also participated in the show.  Each one shared words of advice with the younger girls about what to expect from college life.  “Stay focused even though lots of things will be coming at you,” one student advised.

The affair ended on a sweet note with a dessert reception with delicious frozen yogurt from Yogurtland and an array of cookies.  My kind of way to end an evening!

Tell me, what did you do this past weekend?  Did you paint the town red?

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Out On the Town | Produced By Conference 2015

Recently, I attended the Producers Guild of America’s (PGA) Produced By Conference (PBC) held on the historic Paramount Pictures studio lot in Hollywood.  The annual event is created by producers for producers to provide the opportunity to network with and learn from the most established and successful filmmakers, writers, and show runners in Hollywood.

My PBC Pass Final

At $1,099 for non-members and $375 for PGA members, the conference is a bit pricey.  However, the wealth of knowledge gained and access to the movers and shakers of the industry is well worth the price of admission.  I must divulge that I did not pay to get in.  That made my pocketbook happy.  I attended as a guest of my boss Tracey Edmonds who’s a PGA board member and PBC co-chair.

This was my third time attending the conference.  I truly enjoy it because being around thousands of like-minded people in one area does wonders for getting the creative juices flowing.  I love the energy of the up-and-coming producers who bustle from panel to panel eager for that morsel of insight that will catapult them into superstar producer status.

Upon check-in, attendees received a goodie bag filled with promotional items such as notepads, pens, and snacks from sponsors.  The lunch spread was magnificent and there was plenty of food to go around.  The price of admission included lunch with a choice of sandwiches and salads, chips, cookies, and a piece of fruit.  It didn’t stop there though.  Vendors were peppered throughout the lot offering up free all-you-can-eat goodies such as mouth-watering Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Don Francisco’s coffee, tea, and Kind snack bars.  I had the privilege of having lunch in the Speakers Lounge, a VIP room where only panelists and special guests are given access.  We were served special treats like Sprinkles cupcakes and cookies, fresh fruit, cheese and crackers, and an array of fresh squeezed juices.

  • Can We Talk?

The highlight of the conference was the “Conversations With…” series featuring in-depth conversations with producers such as Tyler Perry, Reese Witherspoon, Bruna Papandrea, Eva Longoria, and Kevin Smith.  Attendees received loads of useful advice from the producers.  In Conversation With:  Reese Witherspoon & Bruna Papandrea, moderated by Will Packer (Ride Along, Think Like a Man; Founder, Will Packer Productions), Reese encouraged young girls to intern and volunteer on film and TV sets in order to get their foot in the door and represent as a female in a male dominated industry.

Reese Panel XX

In Conversation With:  Tyler Perry, moderated by Ava DuVernay (Selma, Founder, AFFRM), Tyler talked about his introduction to Hollywood and experiences as a newbie.  He was very candid about not having a clue about how the system worked, which led him to do things his way and was all the better for it.  “If it feels right. I follow it,” Perry explained.  I admire his work ethic.

Tyler Perry Sign Final

  • Panel Discussions

The PBC also includes various panel discussions dealing with topics such as production, distribution, and branding.  In the panel, All Things Producing: Ask the Pros, moderated by Vance Van Petten (Nat’l Exec Dir, PGA), working producers such as Tracey Edmonds (Jumping The Broom, Deion’s Family Playbook) and Lori McCreary (Invictus, Madam Secretary; President, PGA) spoke about the hard work required to take a project from script to screen in the midst of an industry that is quick to say “no.”  All of the producers agreed that it requires a deep passion for the project to keep you motivated during the long journey it takes to get a project seen by audiences.  Other panelist included Ian Bruce (World War Z, Transformers franchise), John Heinsen (CEO/Exec Producer, Bunnygraph Entertainment), Stu Levy (Priest, Pray for Japan), and Gary Lucchesi (The Lincoln Lawyer; President, PGA).

  • Up Close and Personal

Tracey's Mentoring Table Final

For an additional $100 attendees could secure a spot at the Mentoring Roundtables.  This session gave attendees a close intimate chat with a producer of their choice.  Approximately eight mentees “sit at the feet” of their mentor for 60 minutes and learn first hand what it takes to be a successful producer.  They have the opportunity to ask as many questions as they want as long as they don’t try to pitch their own project.  The PBC highly frowns upon pitching because they want to provide a relaxed environment where the established producers can share information without being propositioned.  Producer Tracey Edmonds took her mentees through the start to finish process of bringing the film Jumping the Broom to theatres which involved everything from casting the lead actors to picking out the wardrobe for the female characters.  She also revealed how she primarily picks projects that relate to her personally.  For instance, she identifies strongly with the character Terri in Soul Food who’s the one the family relies upon financially.

Tracey's Mentor Table Final 2

  • Guilty Pleasures

For those with an idea for a reality show, the Unscripted and Uncensored:  Meet the Buyers of Non-Scripted TV panel, moderated by Hayma “Screech” Washington (Amazing Race), provided behind-the-scenes information on what producers look for in reality shows.  Susanne Daniels, (President of Programming, MTV) looks for break through content that will resonate with the audience while providing a fresh take on an existing genre.  Lauren Gellert (WEtv) looks for authentic relationships between characters, whereas Bruce Robertson (Rich Kids of Beverly Hills) looks for a clean and clear show format.

  • The Anatomy of a Hit TV Show

One of the panels that closed out the conference was 360 Profile:  Empire, moderated by Pete Hammond (Chief Film Critic & Awards Columnist, Deadline Hollywood).  Show creator Lee Daniels and his team of writers and producers discussed their surprise hit show, Empire (Fox), a story about a former rapper turned record company mogul (Terrence Howard) who has to choose one of his three sons to run the business after he succumbs to a secret fatal illness.  Lee and his team explored the series from every angle, including building storylines, casting, dealing with network notes, branding and marketing, and connecting with the show’s audience via social media.

Lee Daniels and Team

The only thing I didn’t enjoy about the conference was the Creating Meaningful Brand Partnerships to Enhance Your Content panel.  No shade toward the panelists, but I didn’t find the information useful.  The panelist discussed how producers can connect with brands to support and enhance their projects in areas such as advertising and social media outreach.  I was expecting the panelist to cover the topic as it relates to new media and how to generate money in the fledgling platform.  The energy of the panel was low, so I ducked out early.

  • The Icing on the Cake

But, wait there’s more!  Even though I attended some amazing panels, networked with great people, and ate some delicious free food, none of that topped meeting Matthew Del Negro who plays Cyrus Beene’s love interest on Scandal!  When I spotted him, I couldn’t put my finger on how I knew him.  All I knew was that he looked very familiar.  Then it dawned on me.  Duh.  Scandal.  He’s quite handsome and very tall.  Ladies, he’s 6’4”!  He walked past me on his way out of the Speakers Lounge.  No way was I letting him escape without saying hello.  After all, I hadn’t met anybody from my favorite show of all time in person yet.  “Hi!  You’re from Scandal, huh,” I gushed.  I know I had the biggest cheesiest smile on my face.  Matthew stopped and assured me that I was right.  I told him what a great job he’s been doing on the show.  He thanked me, asked my name, and shook my hand.  How cool is that?  Handsome AND nice.  I would have asked for a picture, but he was on his way out and I didn’t want to hold him up.  It must have been in the cards to get that picture I desired because I ran into him again later.  As you can see, he was more than happy to take the picture!

Matthew Del Negro Final

Needless to say, I enjoyed the PBC.  It was a weekend packed full of knowledge and networking.  I look forward to attending next year.