With free screenwriting workshops, striking Hollywood writers look to raise spirits and funds

Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES — When some 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike in early May, screenwriter Ed Solomon, like so many of his peers, worried about his creative juices stagnating.

During the two previous writers strikes, in 1988 and 2008, Solomon — whose credits include "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," "Men in Black" and "Now You See Me" — had taken classes, enrolling in a film school summer session and a series of fiction writing workshops.

"I was thinking, 'What can I take that would keep sort of poking me?'" he says. "I was just hoping to keep pushing myself and challenging myself."

As he looked around for similarly stimulating courses earlier this year, Solomon realized that, having worked for decades in Hollywood, he already had access to many of the best film and television writers in town.

What if, instead of taking a course, he helped lead one? And what if he offered it for free to other writers as a way to foster a sense of community and raise money to help those adversely affected by the strike?

On June 10, Solomon pitched the idea to his 94,000 followers on the platform formerly known as Twitter: "If I were to do a series of Zoom workshops during the strike (was thinking Q&A sessions on various parts of the craft of writing), would anyone show up?"


Three months and a dozen workshops later, the answer has proven to be a resounding yes.

Launched in partnership with the Black List, a platform dedicated to empowering Hollywood writers, Solomon's weekly series, Word by Word, has featured a who's who of screenwriting luminaries, including Judd Apatow, Jesse Armstrong, Eric Roth, J.J. Abrams, Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, Liz Hannah, Sharon Horgan, Craig Mazin, Neil Gaiman, Adele Lim, Chris Miller, Phil Lord, Tracy Oliver and Christopher McQuarrie.

Casual and free-flowing, the two-hour sessions jump off from topics like "Fear, Failure, and F—ing Up" and "Outlining: A Necessary Evil?" into open-ended, often startlingly candid conversations about the agonies and ecstasies and nuts-and-bolts mechanics of the writing process.

With each new episode of Word by Word — which is primarily aimed at writers but open to anyone at no charge — the audience has steadily grown through social media and word-of-mouth, with more than 1,000 people tuning in for a recent Zoom session featuring Charlie Kaufman and Boots Riley.


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