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Tired of development hell? Write a play. That’s what some lucky TV scribes did when they were chosen to participate in the fourth annual Unscreened 2014, a showcase featuring world premieres of short works by hot industry up-and-comers. This year’s event takes place at Hollywood’s Lillian Theatre (1076 Lillian Way) on Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights through March 31.
The list of first-time playwrights includes Nick Confalone and Neal Dusedau (Cartoon Network’s Johnny Test), Eric Ledgin and Dan Mirk (The Onion), and Niki Schwartz-Wright (The Goldbergs). Unscreened is produced by Jordana Mollick of Haven Entertainment (A Band Called Death) and Steven Klein of Firefly Theater and Films.
“It basically stemmed from being friends with frustrated writers who had been working in this industry but never got to see anything get made,” Mollick tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We try to pick writers who are successful and on their way up in their careers. It’s competitive, it’s not a second choice thing.”
The first Unscreened series included people like Emily Halpern (Trophy Wives), Leslye Headland (Bachelorette), and Zosia Mamet (Girls). It kick-started so many projects that Mollick decided to make it an annual event. But make no mistake, good theater is the top priority, and if TV follows, that’s fine but it’s not the overriding goal.
“I think the goal of development is to get to the point that we’re at right now,” says Confalone. “It’s not a foot in the door into film and television but more of a respite.” His play, Silent Alarm, co-written with Dusedau, is about a gang of bank robbers who plan a heist only to find themselves in competition with another gang. The pair of writers had been pitching it as a movie with a small cast, one location, and getting nowhere until they heard of Unscreened and realized what they were pitching was a play instead of a movie.
“We weren’t going to force them to do something that would be a great movie or be a great TV show,” adds Mollick. “We want to give these TV writers a chance to play in theater and see what comes out of it.”
What may come out of it is a cheap alternative to that expensive TV test kitchen known as pilot season. The industry was stunned last October when Fox Entertainment Chairman Kevin Reilly told THR his network was abandoning pilot season, calling it a “welfare state.” But not everyone agreed. During last January’s Television Critics Association confab in Pasadena, CBS’s Nina Tassler acknowledged that, while it’s not perfect, the pilot paradigm works for them.
“We need to find innovative and cheap ways of making things to sell as a TV show or as a movie,” says Mollick, who sees Unscreened as the perfect alternative. “It is a great way to create IP and now so many projects are coming from IP whether it’s eBooks or plays.”
Confalone agrees, comparing Unscreened to Netflix and other paradigm-shifting entities. “This whole program comes from a love of just wanting to do the work,” he nods to himself. “I think it’s going to change the way we write.”
Last year’s Unscreened, presented in partnership with Anonymous Content, featured new works by Will Wissler Graham, Daria Polatin, Mallory Westfall and Corinne Kingsbury. Since then, Kingsbury’s play His Girl is being developed with Anonymous Content into a cable TV show and Polatin is developing her play into a feature, now in the running for the Sundance screenwriters lab.
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