It was barely 9 a.m. on a Saturday, but the halls of the new Social Sciences and Media Studies building were abuzz with chatty students munching on cereal and pastries. Welcome to Word Farm.
About 30 students, mostly film & media studies majors, decided to forgo the usual up-all-night in Isla Vista weekend antics in order to capitalize on a chance to attend a weekend-long conference where they would meet some of their favorite screenwriters.
Word Farm, which held its seventh iteration last weekend, is a yearly confab where students get to meet working screenwriters, comic book authors and television professionals for small workshops on everything from outlining a screenplay to creating alternate reality games for the Internet. Guests vary from Academy Award nominees to script analysts, show runners to staff writers. This year, the event even boasted an appearance from a former president of the Writers Guild of America.
Film & media studies undergraduate advisor Joe Palladino said the event has grown in popularity every year.
“I think Word Farm fills in an opportunity for beginning screenwriters to develop their voice and work on the craft, influenced by people that have been working in the field they’re looking into,” Palladino said.
In order to be admitted to the program, students had to submit a creative resume and complete several writing samples based upon simple subjects like “pillow fight.” In exchange for the effort, the students were treated to seven small group sessions over the course of the three-day event, three catered lunches and a nifty, high-thread-count T-shirt.
Some of the guests had point-by-point lectures with detailed handouts and Power Point presentations. Other groups were more free form, with a conversational tone and a plethora of dirty jokes. One session, hosted by regular guest Harrison Reiner, stretched on for two days with students showing up hours early just to spend more time with him.
“The beauty is that it has always worked on a voluntary basis from the guests,” Palladino said. “These are people who love what they do and love talking about it.”
The event offers students a unique opportunity to make personal contacts with the people who will hopefully get them that brass ring — a paying job in Hollywood. And it has worked. Toni Graphia (“Battlestar Galactica,” “Mercy”) commented that she has hired several students from UCSB, some of whom she met at Word Farm. At least one student even got a pitch meeting on the Fox lot, based upon an impression he made at Word Farm in 2008.
“There are equivalent workshops in Hollywood where attendees pay 3,000 dollars and sit in rooms of 3,000 people” Palladino said. “Here, you’re paying chump change and getting immediate feedback from the writer of ‘Buffy,’ ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and ‘Robocop.'”