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RespectAbility’s 2021 Summer Lab Fellows Discuss Writing for Film with The Black List’s Megan Halpern and Alumni of 2019 and 2020 Labs

Megan Halpern smiling headshot

Megan Halpern

Los Angeles, July 7 – During a recent session of RespectAbility’s 2021 Summer Lab, participants were joined by Megan Halpern, VP of Programs, Partnerships and Production at The Black List, along with a group of screenwriters and 2019 and 2020 Summer Lab alumni, Shireen Alihaji, Michael Dougherty, Shea Mirzai and Andrew Reid, in a conversation focused on writing for film.

The Black List is a script hosting service for unproduced screenplays, which originally started in 2005 by releasing the list of their top-ranked scripts for each year. Since then, the site has gone on to host scripts from Blockbuster hits, including Juno, Argo and The King’s Speech. Now in 2021, the platform has converted into a full-blown online community for screenwriters. Applicants can host their scripts on the site and receive relevant feedback from other screenwriters, as well as be matched with producers and directors interested in bringing their writing to life. The Black List also has evolved into a writing lab for underrepresented communities where they can be mentored by industry professionals.

The Black List’s Megan Halpern encouraged both the emerging and mid-career writers in the RespectAbility Lab. The Black List previously has shown their support for disabled writers by releasing the Disability List; a compilation of screenplays composed by writers with disabilities as well as scripts that feature at least one lead character with a disability.

Shea Mirzai smiling headshot in front of green plants

Shea Mirzai

Lab alum and four-time nominee of the Black List, Shea Mirzai, shared his story and advice on how to become a successful screenwriter. “Read as many other people’s scripts as possible. It doesn’t matter if it’s bad. It doesn’t matter if they’re great, because if you just read, read, read, it’ll show you a bunch of things that are smart to do, and a bunch of things that are possibly bad calls.”

Mirzai honed in on the fact that being a great writer is not enough. Successful screenwriters know how to network online and in person. Especially with the rise of social media, there are no limits to who you could connect with. And there is no telling just how far one relationship could take you.

RespectAbility’s third annual Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities brings authentic and diverse portrayals of people with disabilities to the screen by creating a pipeline of diverse professionals with disabilities behind the camera. Participants include people with physical, cognitive, sensory, mental health, and other disabilities ranging in age from people in their 20’s through their 50’s. Lab alumni from 2019 and 2020 currently work for a variety of studio partners including Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, and The Walt Disney Company, as well as in writers’ rooms for Netflix’s Mech Cadet, CW’s 4400, and Showtime’s Dexter, among others. Others have had films featured at festivals such as SXSW and participated in additional career track programs including with Film Independent and Sundance Institute.

Meet the Author

Krista Ramirez-Villatoro

Krista Ramirez-Villatoro is pursuing a Masters' degree in Design and Media Arts from UCLA. Her goal is to become a director of photography on projects that highlight the experiences of those with physical disabilities.

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