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Writing their way to Hollywood: the origins of the Screenwriting program at SD

Harry Maxon
Members of the Screenwriting program Audrey Maxon, Kate Ellis, Joaquin Foster and Jace Skinnell at the All American High School Film Festival in New York

The members of the Writers Guild of America began returning to work in early October after the first Hollywood strike since 2007. Following concerns of AI jeopardizing job opportunities and minuscule residual payments, members reached an agreement with film studios after five months of strikes. 

The effects of the strike and the contract are still in question yet it’s already had social impacts with celebrities and writers who didn’t outwardly support the WGA strike. 

Jace Skinnell, a senior film student and member of the screenwriting program, has been following the strike and the effects within society prior to the conclusion, in particular, how celebrities who have worked on notable TV shows and movies have responded to the lack of writers.

“I thought it was really interesting how disruptive it was and how many people were canceled over it,” Skinnell said, mentioning how actresses like Drew Barrymore returned to their shows before the strike was over. 

“It changed my perspective on who those people were because they were more focused on financial gain than they were on the equal rights that the strike provided.”

The screenwriting program at San Domenico was born out of the strike, especially with an increased need for writers and student films. 

Harry Maxon, Director of Digital and Visual Arts, created the class due to interest at a previous school, saying that he “wanted to see if students here wanted this as well.”

The regular screenwriting class also addressed a need that developed from the abrupt beginning of the writer’s strike. According to Maxon, amidst the strike, there was a black hole of scripts and ideas due to the WGA being inactive. Producers began sourcing material from students, in particular the untapped resource of high school and college students who appeal to a new audience. Maxon mentions that there’s a conflict between the resources that professional writers have access to and the capacity for good ideas.

“One of those questions was, where are you going to get content nobody else in Hollywood can get?” Maxon said. “When you’re young, you need good [ideas] that everybody wants to see made, but you’re not going to get access to the best [resources] that comes from the top writers.”

However, student films and ideas coming out of the screenwriting class have a unique advantage of the audience they address. According to a study from the Annenberg School of Communication at UPenn, “adolescents watch TV shows with characters that are similar to themselves, perhaps because these characters help teenagers build their identity.”

“The film industry is majorly run by older people, but older people don’t really have a sense of what young people are watching or what young people like,” Skinnell said. “We know what’s of interest to our generation and so we’re creating for the general public’s interest, not for a select demographic.”

Charlotte Savitz, a junior at San Domenico, joined the screenwriting program once it began this year. Savitz didn’t have much experience with film coming into the program but found the creative writing aspect interesting. 

“I don’t think there was a class for people who particularly loved to write… with the freedom to write whatever they choose to,” Savitz said. 

The class has been well-received by the school as well as the students within the class, citing Maxon’s teaching as part of the appeal for the class. 

“I loved it more than I thought I would,” Savitz said, saying her favorite part is having Maxon as the teacher. “Mr. Maxon has a way of making it very entertaining while also getting a lot of information into your head.”

A long-term goal of the class is to have lucky members of the screenwriting class actually pitch and sell their scripts to Hollywood, a unique opportunity for the students. The San Domenico community surely should check back later this year to see the fruits of the class’ labor and possibly have the chance to say they know a new celebrity.

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About the Contributor
Caroline Pirsch
Caroline Pirsch, Editor-in-Chief
Caroline Pirsch is a senior at San Domenico and the co-editor-in-chief of The Panther Press. She loves theater, lacrosse, and hanging out with friends and family.

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