Neil Landau authors second edition of “The TV Showrunner’s Roadmap”

Interviews with 19 of the most respected showrunners in television today are at the heart of the all-new second edition of “The TV Showrunner’s Roadmap: Creating Great Television in an On Demand World” by Neil Landau.

Landau, founding director of screenwriting for the UGA MFA Film program, follows the success of the bestselling first edition of his book, supplemeted by interviews with today’s most trailblazing showrunners, including Issa Rae of “Insecure,” Chris Mundy of “Ozark,” Noah Hawley of “Fargo,” Jesse Armstrong of “Succession,” Liz Feldman of “Dead to Me,” Sam Levinson of “Euphoria,” Steven Canals of “Pose,” and Daniel Levy of “Schitt’s Creek,” among others.

“This book reflects the enormous changes that have occurred since the first book came out in 2014,” Landau said about the new edition that focuses exclusively on streaming shows and features several international shows.

Among the topics covered in the new book are a conversation with Hawley about reinventing the Coen Brothers’ classic film; insight from Damon Lindelof of “Watchmen” on world building, and an interview with Alex Pina of “La Casa de Papel” (“Money Heist”) on non-formulaic episodic story structure. Other topics covered by Landau include the power of empathy, family dynamics, antagonists and pitching projects.

Landau explained that at the time the first edition came out, there were very few books about creating and writing an original TV series, and few people know the role of a showrunner, or the person who is the head writer and executive producer of a television show.

“This book is for people who may someday be showrunners,” Landau, who said he was raised on television, continues. “It breaks down the process of what the elements are to writing and creating a successful television pilot and how to sustain it over time. It’s a book for writers and creators.”

He added that the first edition was frequently used in the classroom, including the Sundance Institute Episodic Lab.

Several themes emerged while writing the current edition of the book, according to Landau, including the international impact of entertainment.

“The entire entertainment business, not just television, is global. It’s not a Hollywood-centric business anymore,” Landau said.  “You cannot sell a show if it doesn’t have international appeal.”

He further explains that most of the growth happening with Netflix, HBO Max and Paramount+ and other streaming services is occurring because and they are opening offices in cities all over the world and their focus is local programming produced by people who live in that country using the local language of that country.

Landau also said that intellectual property is now driving the entertainment business. He said the Spider-Man and Batman movie franchises are prime examples.

“If you have a built-in marketing hook, like a show based on a best-selling novel or super popular characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, entertainment providers know that when they go to air it, they will have a built-in audience,” Landau said. “There are still original shows being written, but most are based on known source material. The value of intellectual property is more crucial than ever to break through the noise of over 560 scripted series across multiple platforms—an all-time record.”

Landau also notes that the lines between cinema and television have blurred.

“Television is not a lesser-form of creativity. It’s actually an artform unto itself.”

He continues: “Because TV is available globally, at its best, it can plant seeds of empathy, and reinforce that we all share a common humanity. Hopefully this book will show that we are in the midst of a creative renaissance and it will inspire people to participate, because your voice matters.”

Landau has numerous screen credits including “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead,” “Melrose Place,” “The Magnificent Seven” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.” His animated movie projects include “Tad: The Lost Explorer” (“Las Adventuras de Tadeo Jones”) for which he earned a Spanish Academy Goya Award, Gaudi Award, and Cinema Writers’ Circle Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2014.

This is the sixth book that Landau has published. Previous books include “TV Writing on Demand: Creating Great Content in the Digital Era,” “TV Outside the Box: Trailblazing in the Digital Television Revolution,” “The Screenwriters Roadmap: 21 Ways to Jumpstart Your Story,” “The TV Showrunner’s Roadmap: 21 Navigational Tips to Create – and Sustain – a Hit TV Series” and “101 Things I Learned in Film School,” reissued by Random House/Crown in 2021.

 

First-year MFA Film students premiere short films

Many first semester graduate students spend the end of the semester stressing about finals, but students in the MFA Film program face another type of stress: producing films that will engage audiences.

Imagine the added pressure of creating a full story that is shown in 4 minutes or less, with three characters or less and that has no dialogue.

Such was the final semester assignment for the nineteen MFA Film students in Bryan Cole’s Introduction to Directing class who premiered their films in front of an audience of fellow students, professors, family and friends on Dec. 9.

Story plots introduced the audience to characters who learned lessons about themselves ranging from the agonizing struggle to make a connection at a match-making mixer to the fear of fighting addiction and the pain in losing a loved one.

The trailer above features short clips from each of the films produced by the first-year MFA Film students.
The first-year students spent weeks writing, blocking, recruiting, filming and editing their stories. And, since these projects were produced on very small budgets, the students had to rely on each other to serve as camera operators, sound engineers, editors and other roles required in film production.

Recruiting resources and exploring creative vision are some of the most important lessons of the program.

For Rebecca Myers, getting to know the cohort and learning to lean on each other has been the highlight of the semester.

“Truthfully, to learn to trust each other with tasks in a creative atmosphere that’s so welcoming and assertive and go-getting…I love that,” Myers said.

Albin Pepe, another first-year student, agrees.

“I wanted to avoid the culture of film schools in New York and LA,” Pepe said about his decision to apply to UGA’s MFA Film program. “I don’t see anyone in the program as my competitor. We are all collaborators. We are all like family. We are trailblazers. We are all friends.”

Pepe adds that the growth of the film industry in the state of Georgia is another draw to this program.

“Independent film in Georgia is growing and here to stay,” Pepe said.

The Master of Fine Arts in Film, Television and Digital Media program was introduced in 2019 as  joint project between Grady College and Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and this class is the second cohort of students. Students spend their first year in Athens, Georgia, learning writing and technique and their second year in Fayetteville, Georgia, at Georgia Film Academy at Trilith working on more involved projects. Instead of a traditional MFA Film program that covers three years, the UGA MFA Film program covers six semesters in two years, including summers.

“It’s a lot of work,” admitted Bryan Cole, who teaches the directing class to first-year students.  “Balancing the production side with the writing side is work-intensive. As one of the students said, ‘I’ve never worked so hard in my life.’”

 

MFA Film program announces Distinguished Industry Mentor initiative; applications open until Dec. 1 for second year of program

Details about the MFA Film program and the Dec. 1, 2020 application deadline can be viewed on the MFA Film website.

As the application timeline opens for its second year, the University of Georgia’s Master of Fine Arts in Film, Television and Digital Media announces a new addition: the start of the Distinguished Industry Mentor program.

The Distinguished Industry Mentors initiative will draw on top talent from more than 45 professional writers, producers and directors to work with the students by providing master classes, hosted conversations, special screenings of their work and networking opportunities. Mentors signed on to help include recent Emmy winner Damon Lindelof, co-creator/showrunner of “Watchmen,” “The Leftovers” and “Lost”; Amy Aniobi, executive producer of “Insecure” and “Two Dope Queens”; and Justin Hillian, showrunner of “The Chi“, among others.

Steven Canals, co-creator, director and executive producer of “Pose” will be a Distinguished Writer-in-Residence for the MFA Film program in spring 2021. Canals and “Pose” won a Peabody Award in 2018.

This spring, the program will host Distinguished Writer-in-Residence, Steven Canals, co-creator, director and executive producer of hit television series, “Pose,” to teach writing techniques and provide critique for students.

“Our goal is to provide students with a world-class education and that includes having contacts with some of the most accomplished television and film professionals in the business,” said Dr. Jeff Springston, director of the MFA Film, Television and Digital Media program. “Our faculty have invited their extensive network of Hollywood talent to the program through our Distinguished Industry Mentors and Writers-in-Residence initiatives. These connections not only set our program apart from others, but the mentors are sure to provide inspiration and motivation to our students.”

This fall, the University of Georgia and the Georgia Film Academy (GFA) rolled out the state’s first-ever professional Master of Fine Arts in Film, Television and Digital Media program for Georgia filmmakers and content creators, in collaboration with film industry center, Trilith. Through this master’s program, the state is building a content creation industry to rival that of Hollywood.

“This is an unprecedented advancement in laying the foundation to create writing and content creation jobs in Georgia,” said Jeffrey Stepakoff, executive director of the GFA. “For the past five years, we have been actively training a robust workforce of Georgians in below-the-line fields, and this program will create opportunities for storytellers, who would otherwise have to leave the state for jobs in New York and Los Angeles.”

Joining the list of MFA Film faculty this academic year are industry veterans Neil Landau and Bryan Cole. Neil Landau joined the faculty as director of screenwriting. Landau’s screen credits include cult teen comedy “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead,” “Melrose Place,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” and “The Secret World of Alex Mack,” among others. Accomplished editor Bryan Cole, editor of “Who Killed Malcom X, also joins the program in January 2021 as associate professor, Department of Theatre and Film Studies.

“Drawing this level of talent to Georgia sends a strong message to the industry,” said Stepakoff. “Georgia means business.”

After spending their first year studying at UGA’s campus in Athens, MFA Film students spend the second year taking residence with GFA at Trilith, the 935-acre master development for the creative industries in South Metro Atlanta that is home to Trilith Studios, the second largest purpose-built studio in North America, where blockbuster films like “Avengers: Endgame” were produced. The studios feature 18 sound stages ranging from 15,000 to 40,000 square feet with adjacent workshop facilities and an extensive 400-acre backlot. Immersed in the industry, students will gain real-world experience in advanced writing, production, advanced directing, computer animation and thesis films, and will graduate with a master’s degree from UGA.

Applications for the fall 2021 cohort are open until December 1.