This week, Universal Pictures announced its selection of five writers picked to participate in the first Universal Pictures Emerging Writers Fellowship. Described as a unique and groundbreaking program created to identify and cultivate emerging, diverse voices in storytelling and screenwriting, fellows Chandus T. Jackson, Margaret Rose Lester, Steve Martinez, Ivy Pruss and Saila Reyes were chosen among 700 applicants for the coveted experience.

 “We had an incredible group of people who applied for this fellowship, and the choice was extremely tough,” said Universal Pictures Co-President of Production Peter Cramer. “The five people our committee selected are tremendously talented, and we are looking forward to working with them as they embark on the next phase of their careers.” 

Giving talented up and comers the guidance needed to make it in the world of Hollywood, industry heavyweights have signed on to participate as mentors and guest speakers, including producer Will Packer (Think Like a Man Too, About Last Night, Ride Along), writer-producer Chris Morgan (The Fast & Furious franchise), writer-producer Jeremy Garelick (The Break-Up), legendary writer-producer Suzanne de Passe of de Passe Jones Entertainment (Lady Sings the Blues, Sister, Sister), and writer-producer Cheo Hodari Coker (Notorious, Almost Human, Southland).

“I was flattered to be asked,” says Coker, who’s currently working on the upcoming season of Showtime’s Ray Donovan. “Because there are so few writers of color and minorities in Hollywood that I felt like the people they’re asking to be involved can offer a unique perspective on things that happen to writers, the practical stuff, like how to interpret studio notes, how to deliver all the various steps from conception to outline through shooting draft. It’s important that people who are in it have a chance to mentor those so they have a chance to survive and stay in it.”

Chosen fellows are paired up with mentors who become a sounding board to advise individually and meet with the group as a whole. “The Emerging Writers Fellowship is designed to provide the fellows with the greatest possible exposure to our industry, but it’s also a great opportunity for Universal,” said Jeffrey Kirschenbaum, who works as Co-President of Production with Cramer.  “The five fellows have very different backgrounds, giving our team the chance to benefit from their fresh perspectives on some of the projects we currently have in development.”  

“It doesn’t matter black, white, whatever, there are so many pitfalls that can befall you as a writer, like how to navigate the politics of writing a feature for a studio and at the same time get the actual work done,” says Coker. “And the only way to get through it is to have gone through it. There used to be a studio system. There used to be a way for writers to actively work for a studio. And I think in a way, this program kind of harkens to that. It’s basically old school mentorship.”