To the editors and readers of The Daily Bruin:
My name is Aaron Dalton. I recently graduated from the Masters of Screenwriting program at UCLA, and in the item titled “Lights, Camera, Inaction” I find the allegations made against the program not only in bad faith, but actively undermining the positive direction the program has taken, I believe, since the arrival of Professor Phyllis Nagy and by Professor George Huang.
Those familiar with the situation know that I had a deep academic relationship with Professor Nagy, and therefore, those who wish to dismiss my point of view will. But I’m not appealing to those few cynics. I appeal to readers of this article and to my former colleagues who have yet to share their personal experiences.
So on, I present my experience, openly and without anonymity.
I arrived at UCLA in the fall of 2018, but not without my reservations. I left a promising business career behind to pursue my dreams and take out student loans worth $ 100,000.
“Did I make the right choice? Time will tell, I told myself.
During my two years at UCLA, I had three classes with Professor Phyllis Nagy – two screenwriting workshops and a film viewing class – and one class with Professor George Huang, a scriptwriting workshop. rewrite. When I told my classmates about George, we always agree: Professor Huang is wholeheartedly accommodating. He is attentive – brings pastries and hot drinks to morning classes. It’s ready – printing our scripts before our meetings. Simply put, he always considers our comfort so that we can do our best.
There is a supreme openness to the way he does it. In my rewrite workshop in the winter of 2020, I presented my cohort with a script that wasn’t very Hollywood – it was an LGBTQ + character play. There was no plot, there were difficult formal elements, there were no fantastic stakes, but I digress. I wasn’t sure this type of work would resonate with George, who appreciates a traditional storytelling paradigm. But in the weeks that followed, he impressed me with his willingness to recalibrate and meet me halfway. He wasn’t interested in perverting the story for the sake of marketing, he was interested in supporting my vision in a considerate way but without punches.
As a black writer and as a queer writer, I was moved. And I trot my identities not to arouse your immediate pity – or your cynicism – but only to remind you that there have been and will be times when my sensibilities that make me who I am will be rejected.
As the head of the screenwriting program, Phyllis has received a lot of attention – that’s understandable. And as someone who has spent several hours with Phyllis – in physical workshops, in Zoom workshops, in town halls, in office hours – I would like to make my point.
She speaks with a sure footing and a candor which, at times, has bruised my twenty-year-old ego. She called my work “structurally inelegant”. I shot in the early versions of mystery thrillers where “people will think you don’t know what you are doing.” And the most amazing: “It’s like ‘Suddenly, last summer’. Now, looking back, I’m very grateful for his straightforward approach. Indeed, my work at the time was structurally inelegant, and I didn’t know what I was doing, and my attempt at “Summer and Smoke” was unfortunately “Suddenly, Last Summer”. When I asked for an easy fix – a sneaky “Tell me what to do, Phyllis!” – she refused to offer a prescriptive directive. And I am very grateful for that.
When I spoke to an agent at United Talent Agency last August, she openly admitted that as a general rule, the agency often fires writers who are just graduating from Masters of Fine Arts programs, finding them often ” forms “and” cookie cutters “. . “She suggested my job was ‘different’, forcing her to contact me. I’m telling this somewhat awkward and boastful story not to brag – honey, I still have two days of work and a bad credit score. – but to defend the pedagogy that Phyllis put forward. And I don’t think I’m the only one who feels well served by this. In 2020, recent alumni who studied under Phyllis and George continued to develop shows and to land on the prestigious blacklist – a wave of sudden successes that was rare under previous administrations.
Like George, Phyllis has been accommodating – as she should be. She is well paid for her time at UCLA, but I would like to highlight a few details: She coached me on how to take a general meeting. She suggested to me how I could go about negotiating compensation with my representatives and with various producers. She recommended films that would inform my creative work. She read draft after draft after draft.
Again, I know I’m not the only one who feels a huge benefit from my time at UCLA with Phyllis and George. And so, I ask my alumni who have a story – any story – to stand with me and share. I look forward to your response, and look forward to any dialogue.
Dalton is an alumnus of the Master of Screenwriting program at the School of Theater, Film and Television.