The CFC Bell Media Prime Time TV Program is a highly sought after opportunity for emerging and established writers alike. The popularity of the program comes from its unique educational model. The CFC recreates the setting of a writer’s room, giving participants the experience of becoming part of a writing team and working directly with an EP from the industry. The expectations, timelines, and workload are the same as any professional gig. As a result, the rewards are infinite. It’s the kind of practical training – wrapped up in a seven month package – writers are thirsty for. And many alumni have gone on to work in television, and even sell original series that were developed at the CFC.
Writing for Film and Television grad Justin Rawana is in the program now, deep diving into a writer’s dream. We asked him some questions about his time at Vancouver Film School, what the CFC program is really like, and to pass along some of his own advice for writers.
Here’s what he had to say!
Where are you from originally? What made you decide to come to VFS?
Justin: I was born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario and studied English and education at Lakehead University (go Thunder Wolves!). I ended up teaching in England for a couple of years after I graduated and it was there that I found a new appreciation for the arts and especially creative writing. When I came back to Canada, I applied to VFS because film was always close to my heart and its writing program was highly regarded. Additionally, Kevin Smith went there and Chasing Amy is one of my all-time favorite movies!
What was your time like in the Writing for Film and Television program?
Justin: Totally awesome! The Writing for Film and Television program taught me everything I needed to know about the craft and business (yup, it’s a business) of screenwriting. The instructors are pros, I made great friends, and – bonus – I got to live in one of the coolest cities in the world! I still miss Vancouver sushi…
What’s the best piece of advice you received during your time at VFS and how do you apply it your work?
Justin: Man, that’s a tough one… I think the best piece of advice I got is that your first draft is just that – a FIRST draft. Writing is REwriting. In my experience, my scripts don’t even become coherent until draft three or four. And that’s okay! The function of the first draft is to essentially dump sand into a box. The sand castles are built later.
You’re one of seven writers chosen to be part of the 2016 Bell Media Prime Time TV Program – congrats! What did the application process entail?
Justin: Thanks! It’s a doozey… First, you submit two scripts – an original and a spec. Next, you’ll need two letters of recommendation from well-known writers who like your stuff. Finally, you have to write a great, attention-grabbing cover letter explaining why you’d make a good CFC candidate. The most important thing, however, is your original script. That sucker needs to sing! The admissions folks are looking for clear, original voices (as opposed to a spec where you’re mimicking someone else’s voice) so polish that thing until it shines and make sure you have an editor give it a look!
What do the next five months look like for you?
Justin: Difficult. The seven of us and our resident EP are writing as many scripts as we can for our new show right up until Christmas. After that, we’re paired with another producer and write a new original. Sprinkled in are various other projects like a show deconstruction and the odd pitch meeting. Sleep comes at a premium for CFC residents but hey, it’s what we signed up for!
As part of the program, you’ll be responsible for developing an original series pilot. Do you have any idea what that might be yet?
Justin: I’m all over the board. We all pitch our five best ideas this week then the room decides which ones we should pursue. I’m pitching a sci-fi idea, a murder mystery, even a voyageur-themed comedy set in 18th century Canada! Pretty sure they’re going to hate that last one, though…
Describe your writing process in one sentence.
Justin: I wake up, eat a big breakfast, find somewhere quiet, and write until I reach my daily page-count goal.
Why is this program important for emerging television writers?
Justin: This program is important because it mimics how a real writing room works. The hours are long, the deadlines are real, and it’s collaborative, meaning you succeed or fail as a team (just like a real TV writing staff). If you emerge from the room without having a nervous breakdown, then agents and showrunners know you can handle the workload of a show and will want to hire you!
What are you most looking forward to in the CFC program?
Justin: Karen Walton is our resident EP and she’s AWESOME. Everyone in the industry has a great “Walty” story. We’re super lucky to have her in our corner.
What TV shows are you currently watching and why?
Justin: Westworld is pretty good. I’m a sci-fi geek so I’m game for anything set in the future with robots. As for comedy, Donald Glover’s show Atlanta is funny as hell.
If you could have the career of any writer in the industry, who would it be and why?
Justin: Bryan Fuller wrote the criminally underrated Hannibal for NBC and is now showrunning the new Star Trek series… Did I mention I’m a sci-fi geek?
Anything else you’d like to say?
Justin: I always thought VFS should have a team name and mascot. The VFS Day Drinkers? The Indoorsman? The David Duchovnys? Let’s make this happen, guys.