There’s nothing like learning from the pros, and for screenwriting students that means bringing in talent straight from Los Angeles and New York.

In May, DePaul’s School of Cinema and Interactive Media hosted its first Page One Writer’s Conference as part of its popular Visiting Artist Series, bringing in six professional screenwriters to provide insight to DePaul students and members of the Chicago filmmaking community.

Assistant Professor Kristyn Benedyck, who specializes in screenwriting, originally planned to host one screenwriter as part of the Visiting Artist Series.

“We hadn’t had a screenwriter for the Visiting Artist Series yet, so I reached out to some of my contacts,” she said. “They all said yes, so we decided to bring in all six of them to make an entire screenwriting conference.”

Panelists at the conference included comedy writer Michael McCarthy, writer and editor Mary Sweeney, multimedia writer Adam Rapp, feature writer Carley Steiner, television writer Ryan Farley, and Robbie Pickering, writer and director of the South by Southwest festival winner “Natural Selection.”

“Hopefully students will see that there are different routes into the industry,” Benedyck said. “All six panelists have very different paths in terms of how they got their first assignment and how they built their careers, so it will show the students that there’s not just one way to [become successful].”

Valentine Flores, a junior digital cinema student, attended the conference in hopes of becoming inspired by the panelists and to receive guidance for his career.

“They come and give us that first-hand knowledge in how we can craft our own career path to succeed,” Flores said. “I’m definitely contemplating what I’m going to do professionally and how I’m going to do it. Having these writers as resources will help push me in the right direction.”

Advice From Panelists

Panelists delivered information ranging from how to find an agent to how to pitch a pilot.

Ryan Farley and Carley Steiner teamed up for the “Breaking into the Business” segment of the conference, which focused on how to launch a career in either feature or television writing.

Farley, who previously wrote for Cold Case and Justified, said, “I always find myself preaching not to chase the market. Don’t write something because you think it will sell. It’s really crucial. It’s not about finding an agent, it’s just about working on your material. The rest will fall into place.”

Farley has recently signed on to write for Red Widow, a new ABC show scheduled to premiere in January.

Steiner, a feature writer who has sold scripts to Walden, Disney and NBC, echoed Farley’s advice. “Agents and managers want to represent writers, not scripts,” she said. “If you have a strong point of view, consider that your selling point. I spent way too much time rewriting the same script over and over, when I should have been writing lots of scripts and building a portfolio.”

One thing students may not have expected to hear was Michael McCarthy’s point of view on failure. McCarthy, who began his career at Second City and wrote for Saturday Night Live, said, “You have to humble yourself to the process of achieving success. Failure is essential. It shouldn’t just be tolerated, it should be encouraged.”

And while some students may have found McCarthy’s statement encouraging, they were also hoping to come away with concrete steps to take in order to avoid failure. Mary Sweeney, editor of many of David Lynch’s films, said, “Anybody can pick up a camera. You can make a great film, but you have to get people to see it. Festivals are the best way to do that.”

A Promising Future for the Digital Cinema Program

The School of Digital Cinema and Interactive Media recently launched a master’s of fine arts in screenwriting, the first graduate degree in the Midwest that is designed exclusively for writing for film and television. The undergraduate screenwriting concentration is also growing and is led by experienced faculty.

“Students come here for four years and will have faculty members who are all active in the industry,” Benedyck said. “You come here, you study, you learn your craft and you make films…that gives you a great portfolio to go off into the world. A lot of our students do intend to move to L.A., and they can apply everything they learned here out there.”

Yegor Poustovalov, a senior digital cinema student, commended the digital cinema program for its dedication to bring in industry professionals. “Every single year we’re having more and more artists coming out here to speak to us. It’s a huge benefit for DePaul students to hear a lot of different perspectives about the industry.”

“We’re already starting to think about who we will bring in next year,” Benedyck said. “In a perfect world, we’ll have one of our students come back to screen one of their films and talk about their successes in the screenwriting field.”