If you’re new to the entertainment industry, and are struggling to figure out where you belong or where your stories and talents fit in, you’re not alone. At the ScreenCraft Writers Summit in Atlanta earlier this year, writer/showrunner Ben Cory Jones (Insecure, Underground, Hand of God) shared his journey of discovering his place in the industry and the types of stories he wanted to tell.
In addition to his television work, Ben also produced a feature film, Step Sisters, with his producing partner, Lena Waithe, which is currently streaming on Netflix. Currently, Ben is helming the BET comedy series Boomerang, based on the iconic 90s film starring Eddie Murphy and Halle Berry, and is developing a drama series, Candy, about a young, African-American female mayor, for Universal Cable Productions.
Ben had some sage advice to share with the ScreenCraft audience about lessons he has learned throughout his career in Hollywood, especially as he was about to leap into new territory in the WGA Showrunner Training Program.
On knowing that you belong, no matter what level you’re at:
“I was really grateful to get into the Showrunner Training Program, but I was also really nervous. I’ve written on a lot of great shows, but I still consider myself relatively young in my career. And I knew I’d be in this program alongside, you know, showrunners that I had looked up to and admired. And usually when I go into a lot of spaces in Hollywood, I’m usually the only black person, or the youngest person, or probably the only openly gay person… A lot of times there’s a lot of nervousness and a lot of intimidation that I face in my career, and this Showrunner Training Program was no different.
…I think there are moments you’re gonna have in your life and your career where you may or may not feel like you belong in the space where you’re going to, right? But I also think that the universe conspires for you to be exactly where you need to be, even if you’re not necessarily as prepared as you may think you are. But I’m here to tell you, be who you are, tell your story, no matter what.”
On knowing that your story matters:
“As I look out into the room, I see people from all walks of life. I see black people, I see white people, Latin people, older people, younger people, people who are not from this country. And I think, when you embark on this career of being a screenwriter, there are gonna be a lot of times where you feel like your story doesn’t matter. Where your specific story that you want to tell about being an immigrant who was abused, who overcame that, who was discriminated against at college, or whatever, that your story may not matter. And the question I got a lot when I first started my career in Hollywood was, “Are you afraid of being pigeonholed writing only black characters?” And I wanted to say, “No, I can write anybody.”…But I think at this point in my career, I lean into the fact that I love to write characters of color. I love to write shows with characters of color. Be yourself, tell your story, no matter what.”
Hear more about Ben’s inspiring journey to find his place in Hollywood in his talk on TSL 360!
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Rebecca Norris is a producer, writer, and filmmaker with her production company, Freebird Entertainment. Her recent award-winning feature film, Cloudy With a Chance of Sunshine, has been distributed on Amazon Streaming and DVD. Rebecca is also a script analyst and consultant who has read for many companies, including Sundance, ScreenCraft, Bluecat, and the International Emmys, as well as her own script consultancy, Script Authority. Rebecca blogs for Screencraft, The Script Lab, WeScreenplay and Script Magazine, exploring the film writing and production process and encouraging writers to produce their own work. Follow Rebecca’s posts on Twitter at @beckaroohoo!