“It’s Always On the Page”

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Samantha Bishal

Only 20 to 25 students can be chosen to attend the  M.F.A. in Writing and Producing for Television program offered at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus.  But be warned, “You must be sure to check your ego at the door” if you’re willing to take it all on.

At an event that took place in the Great Hall, on March 29th, Acting Dean Benjamin Moore introduced screenwriter and producer Norman Steinberg and Stephen Molton, former executive at HBO and Showtime.  Both men are LIU professors in the writing program and have engulfed themselves where there true passions lie: screenwriting and producing.

Their goal for the program, which includes meeting experience with creativity, is to take what they’ve learned in the field and juxtapose that with teaching all the fundamentals of TV writing for audiences today. But they were not shy to admit that it gets a little intense.  “It’s like a writer’s equivalent of being in a band; the fur might fly but the show must go on,” Molton said.  Steinberg quickly added that there is no other program like this in the country.  And he would know.  He is Norman Steinberg.

You might have recognized Steinberg’s name because of his work as screenwriter in “Blazing Saddles,” “My Favorite Year” and “Johnny Dangerously.”  Steinberg has  won an Emmy, a Writer’s Guild Award and a British Academy Award nomination. As far as TV goes, Steinberg has worked as a writer, creator, show runner, and executive producer on shows like, “Cosby”; “When Things Were Rotten”; “Doctor, Doctor” and Showtime’s “Paradise.”  Steinberg can be described as revolutionary, a true pioneer in the television and film industry.  “Norman Steinberg is not only one of the most gifted co-writers I have ever worked with, but he also has been my dear friend since we did ‘Blazing Saddles’ together 300 years ago,” said famous screenwriter and producer Mel Brooks.  “I cherish both his talent and friendship.”

This is the same dedication Steinberg  bestows upon the students who  enroll in his program.  Even David Frankel, director of “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Marley and Me” says, “I’m blessed to call him my mentor and friend.  You’ll be blessed to call him ‘Professor Steinberg.’”

Molton and Steinberg discussed that the program is writing intensive; and by the time you graduate, you will have written an entire year of a TV show.  It is what Steinberg called a collaborative working environment, all of which is combined as an “interesting, frustrating and exhilarating experience.” Classes are held at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn, New York so students can be thrown into what an actual day at work feels like.  Working in this environment  help students learn to work as a team, sharing and supporting each other’s ideas.

“It doesn’t matter what your background is; if you have knack for TV writing it can be a fabulous career path you never thought of choosing,” Pamela Spencer, executive secretary to the Dean of the School of Visual and Performing Arts said.  “The world of television seems exciting for individuals who have a passion for storytelling.” Film student Marc Riou knew this was his path from the very beginning and after attending the lecture Riou seemed to be even more intrigued. “As a film student, TV writing is always an option.  I would like to learn about how TV is different and similar to film,” Riou said.

Some of the courses in the writing for television program include, “Producing a TV Pilot”; “HD Video Production and Post Production”; “The History of Television”; “Intellectual Property”; and “The Internet and New Distribution Techniques.”  Students taking these courses have the opportunity to attend guest lectures from veterans in the industry who share their personal experience.  Students who  complete the 48-credit program earn an M.F.A. in Writing and Producing for Television.  Anyone with a bachelor’s degree can apply; the program is diverse in ethnicity and age.

“It’s not a seller’s market but when you get your first job, you’re in,” Steinberg said. “It’s important to get into the system.”  Both speakers made it clear that Steiner Studios is a vital place for education, where running into celebs on the lot is common.  “It’s an extremely exciting time for writers with all the new media out there,” Molton said.

As the event came to an end, it became shamelessly obvious that the world will always need storytellers.

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