For the last 16 years, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Get Lit – Words Ignite has engaged and energized thousands of students around the country and even internationally with its spoken-word in-school programs. Now it’s announced a partnership with the Writers Guild Foundation and Final Draft to provide a path into Hollywood for some of those students every year, creating a two-year youth writing program, the Poetic Screenwriters Lab.
The first cohort started in the program one year ago, with participants meeting regularly with Get Lit – Words Ignite’s head of screenwriting Gary Wilkerson Jr., as well as with mentors who have included screenwriters Sophie Zucker (Dickinson), Robert Nelson Jacobs (Chocolat), Yael Green (Space Force), Jim Margolis (Veep), Brian Yorkey (13 Reasons Why), Ken Greller (Dickinson), Aaron Harberts and Gretchen Berg (Star Trek: Discovery), Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians), Noah Hawley (Fargo and Legion) and Eric Heisserer (Arrival). Around 15-20 students will be in the program at one time and are selected based on their body of work and career interests.
“The Writers Guild Foundation is proud to support rising voices in the industry by partnering with like-minded nonprofits such as Get Lit,” said Writers Guild Foundation executive director Katie Buckland in a statement. “The Poetic Screenwriters Lab is an impressive intersection between learning the fundamentals of craft and the business of writing for the screen.”
What sets this program apart from other screenwriting incubators is that the youth come to it from a poetry and spoken word background. “What makes one filmmaker different from the next in large part is due to their unique vision, and I think our poets have really been fostered in developing and finding their voice. It takes a lot to stand in front of a group of people and speak your truth,” says Get Lit’s director of creative media, Samuel Curtis, who started the writing lab. “And I think that’s what the entertainment industry is looking for is writers who have a unique perspective that haven’t been heard before. We really believe that poets are the future of Hollywood.”
During the first year of the program, students learn the essentials of screenwriting while also developing the first draft of a pilot, feature or narrative podcast. In the second year, they will be connected for six months with an entertainment industry screenwriter and/or showrunner who will help them take that draft to a final script. “The mentors aren’t giving general advice,” explains Curtis. “They are giving notes specifically to that young poetic screenwriter to help them take that draft to a place where they can secure representation from a top management or literary agency and potentially option the script. We want to give them the opportunity to create something that can actually be made and find an audience.”
Adds Diane Luby Lane, the founder of Get Lit, “When the students go through this program, they will have a portfolio that they can put on their resumes, they can build relationships to actually get jobs, and most importantly, they get real skills.” As part of their sponsorship, Final Draft will provide its software free of charge to each student in the lab.
Get Lit – Words Ignite’s in-school curriculums are designed to increase literacy and empower participants. A call-and-response model works with students to identify classic poems that resonate with their own stories and then write original responses.
“There’s so many great contemporary poets and a lot of young people in school that don’t get to hear about them or know about them,” says Lane. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a poem written in 1850 or 2022 — we always say a classic isn’t a classic because it’s old. It’s because it’s great. It could be a poet like Langston Hughes or Walt Whitman or a living poet like Danez Smith, Patricia Smith, Naomi Shihab Nye or Paul Tran. They claim it, they memorize it, and they learn to perform that piece.”
Get Lit — which works with 50,000 students a year, 85 percent of which are from under-resourced areas and 92 percent of which are people of color — is known for its annual Classic Slam, a three-day poetry festival and competition, and its yearly Get Lit Gala which featured Jane Fonda last December. Get Lit also plans to launch an interactive poetry sharing platform Uni(verse) later this year, and in 2020, the film Summertime opened in theaters, featuring (and co-written by) 27 Get Lit poets, including Mila Cuda, the former Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles (a position also once held by Amanda Gorman).
“Our core statement at Get Lit,” says Luby, “is ‘Claim your poem, claim your life.”