The path of the writer can be quite a challenging journey – and for an up-and-comer making their way through Los Angeles, the experience can be even more daunting. It had been six months since Khadijah Holgate graduated from Full Sail’s Creative Writing for Entertainment degree program and made the move out west, and she found herself frustrated by an industry whose doors seemed to be sealed shut. But, right about that time, she discovered the Native American TV Writers Lab, a talent development program whose aim is to boost the careers of Native American writers.
“I had moved out to Los Angeles to build a career, but I was sort of down in the dumps and didn’t want to keep trying out for things,” Khadijah says. “My mom and one of my close friends encouraged me to submit to this one because it was so specific to who I am and what I’m trying to do. A few weeks later, I got a call and they told me I was in.”
The inaugural program – created by Native American film festival LA Skins Fest in partnership with Comcast/NBCUniversal, CBS Entertainment Diversity, and HBO – selected Khadijah and a handful of other applicants from more than 100 submissions. The five-week lab is curated by seasoned writing executives and consists of daily workshops, seminars, and one-on-one mentoring sessions with industry professionals. Each writer in the program is expected to complete a pilot script that can be used to apply for staff writer positions and secure representation.
“So far all of the feedback and talks we’ve had from the program’s speakers has been really inspiring,” says Khadijah. “We had a producer from ‘Chicago Fire’ and a writer who just got staffed on ‘The Flash,’ and everything that they say reaffirms for us that we’re on the right path. They all have told us that they understand that it’s tough when you’re just starting out, and that we’re all just in those beginning stages. It’s something I know I really needed to hear from writers who are at a higher level than I am. It makes me feel good.”
Khadijah initially started at Full Sail with the intention of entering the Film program, but her desire to involve herself in the more creative storytelling aspects of entertainment drew her to Creative Writing for Entertainment. Inspired by shows like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘How To Get Away with Murder,’ she soon realized that TV writing was her passion and began focusing solely on television scripts. She describes the script that she’s been working on in the Native American TV Writers Lab as “‘The Vampire Diaries’ meets ‘The Originals,’” and the process of developing her ideas in a group setting has very much mirrored what she learned in the Creative Writing for Entertainment program.
“One of my favorite classes in the program was Television Writing. We would create a treatment, an outline, and then a script, and get hard notes and revisions on what we made. That’s essentially what the Native American TV Writers Lab has been like,” she says. “I’m very comfortable with it because I feel like I’ve done this before, in a setting that was way bigger than eight or nine people. I know what I’m supposed to be doing because I already learned this.”
The lab environment is very much like a television writer’s room. When the participants aren’t being visited by guest speakers, they bounce ideas off one another and help each other develop their stories and script ideas. The group also shares a communal commonality with their Native American background – a factor that Khadijah says has helped to shape her style as a writer.
“I have nine aunts, two uncles, and a bunch of cousins, and we’re all Native American. Growing up, we had annual pow wow celebrations; that whole cliche idea of dressing up, wearing feathers, and performing – it’s real, and it’s a tradition that some of us take seriously,” she says. “I have so many different personalities in my family, and I value that community that we had and still have. I’ve taken the inspiration of all of those personalities and put them into my stories. And that was something that I appreciated about Full Sail, too. The relationships that I built with all of the other writers I met there was like another little family. Everybody was in the same boat, and nobody was that different.”
Once the Lab program ends, Khadijah hopes to use the connections she’s developed – along with her finished script – to move one step closer to fulfilling her dream of working in television.
“My time in Los Angeles has been crazy; a lot of hard work for sure, but I know that will make the reward that much sweeter,” she says. “I want to create something that’s bigger than myself that will inspire others. The fact that people can create something in their minds that can expand and surpass the entire universe is amazing. I want to be a part of it, and I want my vision to just be out there in the world. That’s what keeps me going.”