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Peer Groups

Group Topic Descriptions


DESCRIPTION: Are you interested in learning from a working TV writer about how the TV industry works? What's a staff writing job really like, and how do you get one in the first place? Then this Peer Group - focused on beginning-level TV Writers - is for you. We'll talk about writing for television, starting with the very basics of how to break in, how to find an agent, and how to land that first job (and what to expect once you're on a staff).   We'll also talk to "guest writers" if possible to get some different perspectives on the business.


PEER GROUP LEADER BIO: CATHRYN HUMPHRIS is a native of Chattanooga, TN and a graduate of Northwestern University.   In 2004 she was selected for the Warner Bros. Drama Writers Workshop.   After working in development for Worldwide Pants, she landed her first writing job on the CW series "Supernatural," where she wrote for three seasons.   She was an Executive Story Editor on the award-winning AMC drama "Mad Men" during its third season, for which she was nominated for a WGA Award for Outstanding Drama Series.   Currently she is adapting the book "The Girls From Ames" for Lifetime Television.



DESCRIPTION: Structured around table reads, this peer group will provide writers an opportunity to hear their work read out loud and get feedback on their writing from other members of the group. The group will consist of four meetings. We will have one introductory meeting where we get acquainted, and three table readings of one-hour television scripts. We will cast around the table for the three table reads, and the group will give notes on the material.

** After registering for this group, please submit the first 10 pages of any scripts that you want read during this peer group to [email protected] Your registration for the group will not be confirmed until we receive the first 10 pages of these scripts! **


PEER GROUP LEADER BIO: ERICA SHELTON is currently a writer/producer on the TNT drama series HawthoRNe, starring Jada Pinkett Smith.   Her career as a TV writer began on the Jerry Bruckheimer crime series, CSI: New York.   Erica then added the legal series Close to Home and Cold Case to her growing list of credits.

Erica's passion for writing crystallized at Northwestern University, where she earned a Bachelor's degree from the School of Communication.   After working at PBS affiliate, WTTW Channel 11 - Chicago.   She worked on numerous shows at WTTW, including Sneak Previews, a movie review show with critics Michael Medved and Jeffrey Lyons and Chicago Tonight, a news analysis program featuring John Callaway and noteworthy guests such as Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and former senator Carole Moseley Braun.

Erica moved to Los Angeles when she was awarded the Courtney and Stephen J. Ross Fellowship at the University of Southern California. As a Ross fellow, Erica sat on the film school's diversity committee and trained with seasoned film and television writers like Len Schrader (Kiss of the Spider Woman), Pamela Douglas (Frank's Place) and David Hollander, (The Guardian, The Cleaner).   While earning her degree, Erica also developed a creative writing program for students in East Hampton, New York. After receiving her M.F.A. in Screenwriting, Erica went on to become a recipient of the Fox Writers Initiative Fellowship.

Erica lives in Los Angeles and is a member of the Writers Guild of America.



DESCRIPTION: In this group, we will be looking at the way the network responds to hour-long episodic scripts that will eventually become a future TV episode. What does a TV exec look for that makes a great hour of television? We will analyze and discuss scripts from current shows on television, looking at the writer's first draft through to the shooting draft of what shows up on screen and how the show evolved after hearing from the studio/network.  For the writers in the group, we will then take a look at your own original hour-long scripts and respond to them from the network's perspective. For the future studio and network executives, this will be great practice in learning how to look at material and help shape it in the best way possible while maintaining the integrity of the writer and their work. 

** After registering for this group, please submit the first 10 pages of any original one-hour scripts that you want read during this peer group to   [email protected] . Registration for the group is still first-come, first-serve; we will be able to confirm your spot in the group before receiving your pages. **


PEER GROUP LEADER BIO: During her time at Northwestern, SABRINA EISENSTADT created the school's first serialized television drama, University Place and after graduating 2000, Sabrina continued with her love of TV and has worked in all facets of the television industry from pre-production through post-production, working in Chicago, New York and finally settling in Los Angeles. She's worked for the Oxygen Network, Flame Television, on the first season of HBO's BIG LOVE and at GSN, The Network for Games. She currently works at CBS in Current Programming, covering Criminal Minds, The Mentalist, Two and a Half Men, and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. 



DESCRIPTION: Novelist and screenwriter Loraine Despres is opening her home to conversations with successful writers and producers in a small, informal gathering. This will not be a panel where the pros sit on a stage and spout off, but casual discussions. members will have the opportunity to learn how a TV show works and what the feature writing process is, how working writers get the job, and what they do once they get it. Group members will have the opportunity to ask whatever questions they might not have had the chance to ask working writers before. Guest speakers will be free to be more candid than they would be during panels and at other, larger events. Guests who have agreed to participate (depending on their schedules) are writer, director, actor Carl Gottlieb who wrote JAWS, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, and is receiving a WGA Award this week, Janae Bakken, NUEA member and writer-producer of SCRUBS and GARY UNMARRIED, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, creator of THE MIDDLEMAN and writer-producer of MEDIUM, LOST, JAKE 2.0 and NUEA member Cindy Chupack (MEN IN TREES, SEX AND THE CITY, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND). At every meeting you'll have a chance to talk to best-selling author Loraine Despres who in her TV days wrote among others things the "Who Shot J.R.?" episode of DALLAS and her husband, Carleton Eastlake writer-producer of EARTH: FINAL CONFLICT, THE BURNING ZONE, SEAQUEST and OUTER LIMITS.


PEER GROUP LEADER BIO: LORAINE DESPRES is a best-selling novelist and recovering screenwriter. She's written pilots, movies of the week, features films, and numerous TV episodes, for such series as "The Highlander," "Crime Story," "Dynasty," "The Waltons," "Family," "Love Boat," and "The Equalizer." But she's best remembered for writing that icon of pop culture, the "Who Shot J.R.?" episode of "Dallas." As an International Screenwriting Consultant, she taught workshops, supervised the writing staff, and helped develop new series in Germany, Spain, Sweden, and Canada and taught for seven years at UCLA's Professional Program in Screenwriting. She was still getting assignments when she decided to stop to fulfill a life-long ambition to write a novel. "The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc" was published by William Morrow/HarperCollins 2001. It was a Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club featured selection, and a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick. It became a national best-seller and is now in its 21st printing. Its companion "The Southern Belle's Handbook: Sissy LeBlanc's Rules to Live By" was published a year later. Her second novel, "The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell", is now a trade paperback, CD, and available for download. Loraine is a former Board Member of Women in Film and PEN USA. She lives in Beverly Hills with her husband, writer-producer Carleton Eastlake, where she continues to enjoy bad behavior. Loraine is a Northwestern graduate and serves on NU's Council of 100. She can be reached through her website:



DESCRIPTION: This peer group for screenwriters and directors will focus primarily on getting attention from managers and agents. We'll discuss crafting and pitching material, how to make introductions to representation and also executives, managing the politics of the entertainment business, and the process of making deals with studios and other buyers.


PEER GROUP LEADER BIO: A native of Washington, D.C., BRENDAN THOMAS majored in political science and French at Northwestern, where he received his bachelor's degree in 2000. He received his master's degree in screenwriting in 2006 from USC, after which he successfully applied to United Talent Agency's agent trainee program. Working as an assistant in the motion picture literary department at UTA for two years prepared him for his next position as Director of Development at Category 5 Entertainment, a talent management and production company operating in television and film, music and sports.    Brendan has worked on behalf Category 5's growing number of projects and clients since 2008.



DESCRIPTION: This peer group will be looking at what really goes on behind-the-scenes of shows like "Real Housewives," "Mystery Diagnosis" and "Dancing with the Stars" by discussing the different types of reality / non-fiction shows (docu-soap, competition, interview / recreation), how these shows are produced in the field and what entry-level jobs are available in these genres.   Then it's on to a discussion of the all-important post-production phase, and what skills are needed for editors and writers, often called "story producers," to succeed in this area.   Finally, we'll move on to development - finding and working with talent, pitching concepts, producing sizzle reels, etc.   Guest speakers will include reality / non-fiction story producers, editors, executive producers / show-runners, and development executives.


PEER GROUP LEADER BIO: After graduating from Northwestern, Toni began her career in television at TV Guide Magazine, and soon segued into writing sitcoms, dramas and television movies.   In 2005, she made the transition into non-fiction television, writing for the HGTV shows "Kitchen Trends" and "Redesign," and has since written for many non-fiction medical, travel, design and competition shows.   Most recently, she scripted TLC's hit medical show "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant," and is in development on a number of non-fiction projects.   She also serves as the current Vice President of the NU Club of LA.



DESCRIPTION: Geared for trained stage actors, Mary Anne McGarry (MAD MEN, THE FORGOTTEN, POST-GRAD, Y & R, and ROSEANNE) shoots from the hip about the differences between THE SOAP, THE SITCOM, THE EPISODIC AND THE BIG BUDGET FEATUE -- what casting directors, directors, producers, and DPs need from you in auditions and on set. She shares her experiences in these worlds, answers your questions, and brings in occasional guest experts.


PEER GROUP LEADER BIO: DR. MARY ANNE McGARRY has worked extensively on screen in diverse genres such as MAD MEN, THE YOUNG & THE RESTLESS, COLD CASE, ER and ROSEANNE, and on the feature films POST-GRAD, RUMOR HAS IT, RED DRAGON, and BOYS ON THE SIDE, in addition to many decades in theater at SCR, The Public Theater, Folger Theater, Steppenwolf, People's Light and Theater Company, Chicago-area LORT theaters, as well as the Sacramento Theater Company.



DESCRIPTION: Why are auditions so often a poor reflection of an actor's abilities?   Whether it's a result of self-imposed pressure to get the job, nerves, distractions, lack of comfort with the audition process or a combination of factors, both new and experienced actors often get in their own way in the casting office.   In this peer group, you will cold read scripts as we simulate the pressures and pitfalls of the casting process, and, through a variety of exercises, learn skills that will help you keep your focus, bring life and vulnerability to your characters and perform at your best under any circumstances.


PEER GROUP LEADER BIO: PETER SPRUYT (SPEECH '84) is an actor and stand-up comedian with numerous TV, film and commercial credits.   Peter has performed as a stand-up comic on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Comedy Central's Premium Blend and in many festivals, clubs and casinos.   His   TV credits include "Better Off Ted," "Without A Trace" and "My Name Is Earl."   His film credits include "Men In Black II," "Anger Management," and "Down With Love."



DESCRIPTION: Learn how to approach auditioning for commercials and how the process differs from TV and Film auditioning.   We'll discuss what to wear,   how and when to use improvisation, and everything else you'll need to know in order to set yourself apart from the pack.   Each session, participants will work on-camera, recreating auditions plucked directly from the commercial casting circuit.   Then, they'll be able to review their performances and get critical feedback on how they could be improved.


PEER GROUP LEADER BIO: MARCUS FOLMAR started his career in entertainment over twenty years ago in Denver, CO where he booked his first network television job on NBC's Father Dowling Mysteries. Before arriving in Los Angeles, Marcus attended Northwestern University in Evanston, IL where he majored in Radio, Television and Film Production and Acting. Off campus, Marcus continued to audition and work professionally in Chicago booking several industrials and his first national commercial for AT&T. In addition to his honors production degree, Marcus received a certificate for the successful completion of The School of Communication's Writing for the Media program.

Marcus moved to Los Angeles in 1996 to continue his career in acting and pursue one in writing as well. Guest spots on shows such as ER, Malcolm in the Middle, 7th Heaven, Drew Carey and Frasier soon followed. More recently, Marcus booked guest roles on Everybody Hates Chris, Scrubs, Monk, House, a recurring role on Boston Legal and national spots for Arby's, Apple and Budweiser. Already this year, Marcus has booked two commercials and two CBS shows The Young and Restless and The Big Bang Theory.

In 2002 Marcus won's International Screenwriting Competition with his Romantic Comedy The List. Starring Wayne Brady, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Flex Alexander, Ileana Douglas, Brad Dourif and Malcolm Jamal Warner, The List was produced in 2006 and played at numerous domestic and international film festivals before premiering on ABC Family in May 2007 and being nominated for three NAACP Image Awards the next year.

Currently, Marcus teaches The Booking Room, an on-camera workshop designed to help actors master the art of the audition. Having booked over over 40 commercials, TV shows and films, he has crafted everything he's learned in his years on the audition circuit into a course that breaks down the audition process into components that students refine individually so that collectively they produce a confident, polished audition that casting directors are sure to respond to.



DESCRIPTION: This NUEA Peer Group provides a tasty sample platter introduction to the world of VO -- a combination of nuts and bolts information, beginning to work with copy and how to approach having a VO career. In the first session, we'll do an overview of the VO world and the many ways you can be making money using your voice (commercials, animation, promo/trailer, narration, audiobook, ADR, video games, etc.) and applying your skills as an actor to the medium of VO. In the second session, we will explore working on material, getting a taste of breaking down a script and bringing yourself to it, and the fundamentals of mic technique and booth etiquette. There is a possibility that we will have this second session at a recording studio (which would cost group members about $20 each). The third session will be a practical guide to getting started and getting you on your way to the start of a career in VO!


PEER GROUP LEADER BIO: TISH HICKS has been a successful voice over actor in Los Angeles for over fifteen years. She was the voice of Citibank for six of them, breaking ground for female voice over in the financial sector, and has been a part of many other campaigns including Alamo, Burger King, California Cheese, ELoan, HP to start at the top of the alphabet.   Listen for her currently on Subaru, Clorox and Pop Secret spots. Her experience covers a wide range of the voice over world-- animation, narration, video games, audiobooks, promo/trailer, adr. She has been blessed to work with some of the best in the biz and looks forward to sharing some insights into this lovely and seemingly elusive part of the industry.



DESCRIPTION: From Soundtracks to Scores and everything in between.   Meet Composers, Musicians, Producers, Music Supervisors, Directors, and learn how music is approached in the world of film.


PEER GROUP LEADER BIO: Film composer and trumpeter SEAN HENNESSY is one of America's most gifted composer/instrumentalists. Since winning major competitions since his twelfth year, he remains a brilliant protégé of the renowned Wynton Marsalis. Beginning his trumpet studies at age ten, Sean made his concerto debut three years later with the Colorado Symphony. Since that date he has been engaged by symphonies throughout the country to perform. Sean has performed a solo recital at Carnegie Hall, appeared as a guest soloist at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and moved audiences with his appearance on the Public Radio International's show "From the Top". Sean graduated from Northwestern University School of Music and completed graduate studies at the USC program for Film Scoring and Motion Pictures & TV. He is currently composing soundtracks for all genres. His current music for film contains beautiful heartfelt melodies, light jesting humor in comedy, riveting/anticipating suspense in his dramas, as well as both spirited and touching jazz in his jazz scores. His orchestrations are rich, powerful, and dramatic. Continuing to conduct and perform in his own works, Sean touches his audience both through his film music compositions and his performances, with unique musicality and soul.



DESCRIPTION: You've got a lot of great ideas. Maybe even too many. This three-session workshop will help you narrow down to your best, smartest, dearest-heart's-desire ideas and create an action plan to move on them.   After picking your project in Session One, in Session Two we'll track your progress and patch up any productivity potholes.   For Session Three we'll focus on next steps, how to get your work out there and do that thing called networking without feeling like a dink, and then we'll celebrate all the fabulous progress you've made. Suitable for ANY AND ALL projects, agendas and people, including I-Need-An-Agent, I-Need-A-Full-Life Overhaul, Where's-My-Boyfriend, Let's-DeClutter-The-Basement and I've-Really-Got-To-Finish-That-Screenplay.


PEER GROUP LEADER BIO: SAMANTHA BENNETT is the founder of The Organized Artist Company ( and creator of the legendary Get It Done! Workshop. She will cheerfully help you set better goals, create better action plans and clear out your space. She is an actor, improviser, writer, and an amateur systems analyst who enjoys helping people make better decisions. Samantha is also a Senior Facilitator with Sam Christensen Studios, specializing in Identity Definition and Personal Branding.



DESCRIPTION: Where starving artists learn to be well fed... The arts and finances have never really gotten along - artists tend not to want to "hedge their bets". But learning about your credit score, paying off credit card debt, saving to buy property and investing in an IRA are simply tools for being able to quit that day job and eventually get paid to create your art.

In this peer group, you will learn the basics of personal finance from an artist's point of view. Actors, directors, writers, musicians, painters, graphic designers, cinematographers... You'll learn how to get independent health insurance, how to raise your credit score, how best to pay down your debt, and especially... what to do when you do get that ever elusive pay check.

First Group Meeting: Set financial goals. Learn about your credit score. Assess your debt to income ratio. Prioritize. Dream big. Live in the world you wish to cultivate. The reason most people "fail" in Los Angeles. / Second Group Meeting: Develop individual long term and short term strategies for accomplishing your financial goals. Lessening the terror of investing and saving. / Third Group Meeting: Learn how to best plan for tax time. How to begin to fathom purchasing property in Los Angeles. Spouse? Children? Career? Learning balance. Ideal money-making jobs for artists.


PEER GROUP LEADER BIO: A proud Ohio native, LIZ LYTLE is an actor, performance artist and editor who has lived in Los Angeles for nearly 7 years - without ever having a "real" job.   Having purchased her first piece of property at the age of 26 and owning her own business - Liz is uniquely suited to help others in their financial as well as artistic pursuits.   After learning most things "the hard way" - Liz's goal is to prevent others from making similar mistakes and setting themselves up to be independently wealthy as well as creatively inspired.

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