Now more than ever conversations are happening in the entertainment industry about diversity, inclusion, and the need for those voices both in front of and behind the camera. This has created a tremendous opportunity for new stories and fresh voices to get a shot in front of the “gatekeepers” and submitting to competitions can be a great way to get eyes on your inclusive script. Here’s how Launch Pad alum, Gillian Muller, started her screenwriting career and signed with Dash Aiken of Romark Entertainment after submitting her script, PLAYER’S SON.
You don’t have to place to win: Screenwriting competitions
Being from Canada, Gillian felt cut off from the main hub of the entertainment industry in Hollywood. So she applied to the Launch Pad Pilot Competition to see if she could compete with the other writers going up for the same jobs as her. “Sometimes you just have to know where you are in the pecking order. The Canadian industry all knows each other; you need someone on the outside to get notes.”
“Don’t worry about it so much. You’re an artist, you’re supposed to get it wrong.”
While she didn’t place in the 2019 competition, Gillian was discovered by Romark and found new access to Los Angeles through the Tracking Board forum and Launch Pad. “I didn’t place very high, so I was really surprised to hear from Dash,” Gillian said. When scripts place in the top 10 of any screenplay competition, they’ll get some attention from managers and producers looking for new writers. But some representatives like to dig deeper for writers who may have slipped by. “Romark is so cool. They really care about me.”
Finding your community: Canadian screenwriter
“Everyone I know who has been involved in this [competition] ends up on Tracking Board and the community with it. The other competitions don’t have that. When you’re on the same page and you find your people, that community helps you cut through all the rest of the noise.”
Gillian brings this mentality to embrace the creative community to the work she does with BIPOC TV and Film, a grassroots organization of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in Canada’s TV and film industry. “We’re dismantling systemic barriers based on racial identities and other identities and the intersection of all of them.”
She also works with young writers as a mentor. “The biggest things I see with baby writers is they’re so afraid that they’re interlopers or they’re overly confident that they’ve got it handled, and it’s all fear and anxiety from not being a master of your class. Don’t worry about it so much. You’re an artist, you’re supposed to get it wrong. You’re supposed to be able to improve. There’s no such thing as an overnight success.”
Trust your voice
Romark isn’t Gillian’s first time signing with representation. A previous rep she worked with didn’t understand the feminist perspective that drives all of her work. “The first [script I wrote] was a thirty-minute dramedy called SPINSTERS about four women in their forties, who realize they like being spinsters. My first agent said, ‘No one is interested in a show like that.’ I wrote it anyway.”
That might sound crazy when you consider the proven popularity and success of adult female ensembles like Golden Girls, Girlfriends, Sex and the City, and Girls. Gillian submitted the script for notes to people she knew and the feedback was completely different from that of her former rep. “I got feedback that it was so much fun and it was so nice to watch four women who enjoy each other’s company, get drunk together, and order a pizza.” The script landed a spot on the 2020 We for She list.
Inclusivity in screenwriting
Inclusivity has been a priority in Gillian’s work as long as she has been writing. “I had parents who thought the television was going to rot my brain so they gave me books and a typewriter. But I was allowed to watch the movies and I fell in love with them really young.”
One film that quickly earned a top place in Gillian’s heart was John Waters’Hairspray. She even has a tattoo inspired by the iconic wig, worn by Ricki Lake in the film. “I rented everything that John Waters did and had my tiny 7th-grade mind blown.”
Years later, Gillian’s mind was blown further when she came face-to-face with her hero, Ricki Lake, at SXSW. Gillian was there for her short film Night Owl and Lake was promoting a film as well. Gillian swallowed any fear she might had and approached the celebrity, showing off her tattoo, and quickly becoming friends with the star who was so excited to see the impact she made on Gillian. “That’s how important it is to be able to see yourself. Everybody has a story to tell. Because you never know who you’re going to hit at the right time and set them on a trajectory that could change other people’s lives.” That’s what Lake and John Waters did for Gillian, and that’s what Gillian hopes she can do for the next group of creatives coming up.
Use your platform
Gillian is currently working on the Syfy series Surrealtor, about a real estate agent selling “stigmatized properties.” Basically, homes where someone was murdered or it was a drug den or other horrible things that have to be disclosed to potential buyers. The project may seem like a big turn for someone writing half-hours about everyday women, but the show offered a unique opportunity to explore her own background.
Gillian is from a multiethnic family, including a father whose family is from Trinidad, and she was able to explore that culture for an episode of the series. For a show that may seem “escapist”, Gillian is still focused on bringing underrepresented stories to the forefront.
Diverse feminist storytelling
A passion (maybe obsession) for Gillian is basketball, which also holds roots in her life in Toronto. “I was in high school when the Raptors came to Toronto and I noticed how the high school changed. Everyone thinks of Toronto as a hockey city, but we’re a basketball city.” These observations became the start of the world she depicts in her Launch Pad script PLAYER’S SON. The story gave the opportunity to show a more diverse depiction of the Canadian metropolitan that people outside of Toronto don’t know exists.
A visually diverse story is an important start for Gillian’s script, but her feminist perspective pushed her to dig deeper and step outside her comfort zone. “My feminism includes dismantling toxic masculinity and the best place to show that was through sports. And I also realized that I wanted to challenge myself, because everything else I write is very female-focused, female-driven, dramedy sort of things. I’m really proud of PLAYER’S SON because I didn’t think I could hit male character that hard,” said Gillian.
“Toxic masculinity is a feminist issue. The patriarchy is genderless and oppresses men as much as it oppresses women,” Gillian said. “The entire idea that you’re not allowed to express emotions to me is one of the greatest cruelties in the world. And that set up a show about a kid who gets traumatized and then has to decide between what’s cool and what’s right and that’s incredibly compelling.”
The timeliness of the script during quarantine, with the NBA and WNBA making headlines for raising awareness to Black Lives Matter, has not been lost on Gillian. “I felt so proud of the one day shut down even though I knew [they were] going to be convinced to get back to work, but any kind of pushback that popular players make. The fact that they changed their jerseys. The fact that the men’s team took notes from the WNBA because the WNBA started all of this activism way longer. There’s a really essential moment in celebrity culture that’s going on in the basketball world. Because the world’s eyes were on them waiting for drama and instead they got a message.”
The future of screenwriting in Hollywood
Gillian has a job in a pandemic, which many are struggling to find, and is helping fight the patriarchy both in her writing and her work with BIPOC TV and Film. So what’s next for her?
“I’m only interested in things I’ve never seen before. I’m only interested in talking about things we’re too embarrassed to talk about. I have a show about body image and another about polygamy. I like writing things where the person you don’t expect to be the hero is the hero, and attacking stuff from a perspective we don’t get to see first. Everything I do has to have a message. There’s so much stuff out there. There’s so much content out there. And I only have so many years on this planet, I want to write something that makes me change. I don’t care about what sells. But I feel like if I’m feeling it then other people are feeling it.”
Check out Gillian’s screenwriting profile to see more of her projects and accolades. For more interviews and insider tips, sign up for the Launch Pad newsletter for updates about live events with writers, directors, producers, and decision-makers in Hollywood.