A weekend at The Toronto Screenwriting Conference

By Marsha Greene

After a jam-packed weekend at the Toronto Screenwriting Conference, I went home feeling totally stretched — my mind from the insightful panelists, my voice from greeting and meeting industry folks, and my stomach from Caplansky’s grilled cheese sandwiches.

If you’ve talked to me or follow me on Twitter, it’s no secret that I was most looking forward to seeing Mara Brock Akil at the conference. She did not disappoint. One of her many insights from the panel was this: own your authority. When she was the youngest person in the room, she owned it to be the authority on the voices of the young characters. She was raised by a single parent, and she owned her ability to speak to that experience. It’s great advice in general, and especially for young writers trying to find their place in the room. If you haven’t seen her newest BET show Being Mary Jane, you should— it’s a masterclass in owning your vision, and there’s nothing like it on television right now.

Day 1 also included “Crafting Mythic Stories with David. S. Goyer,” who delivered a fine-tuned presentation that was the perfect blend of instruction and personal reflection. He spoke about finding the universal truths in mythic stories that connect with the audience on a human level, even if your subject matter is super-human. Goyer is a total pro, and it doesn’t hurt that from the middle of the theatre he looked remarkably like Stanley Tucci.

I was disappointed to have missed Corey Mandell’s “Creating a Successful TV Series Engine” in the afternoon. Call it the gift and the curse of free coffee — I took a bathroom break and by the time I returned to the theatre it was full. But I did manage to get highlights from the magical TSC Twitter Elves, who diligently captured each panel in a series of 140-character posts.

“Checking In with Eugene and Dan Levy” was the perfect start for a sleepy Sunday morning. They took us through their journey of bringing Schitt’s Creek to the screen, and it was super fun hearing the more personal father-son moments, like when Eugene said to Dan re: the show, “This isn’t Girls, Daniel.”

Jeff Melvoin’s panel “Running the Show: Moving from Writer to Showrunner” managed to terrify us with the responsibilities of showrunners and delight us with the best use of clip art since the early 80s. I left it thinking, “You have to be crazy to want to do this job!” Luckily, Melvoin implied being crazy is a prerequisite.

Day 2 ended with the hilarious Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair of High Maintenance, “The Greatest Show not on Television.” It was their first trip to Canada and they praised our politeness as a people (though I submit one ride on the TTC during rush hour would banish that opinion). While the success of their web series is probably not duplicable, they gave great insights on their collaboration with Vimeo and filmmaking on a budget.

All in all, it was a great weekend and I’m incredibly grateful to TV, eh? for the opportunity to attend the conference. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find out what moisturizer Mara Brock Akil uses.

A graduate of CFC’s Bell Media Prime Time Television program, Marsha has a degree in Creative Writing from York University and was the recipient of the Brian Linehan Award for Outstanding Artistic Promise from Humber’s TV Writing and Producing program. Marsha has lent her skills to scripted and factual productions for Discovery, Food Network, Family Channel, Global and the award-winning documentary Chinee Girl. Most recently, Marsha worked as a story editor for Global’s medical drama Remedy, and as the interactive writer for Epitome’s new teen drama series Open Heart.