BGN got to speak with the writers of the hit HBO show Insecure, Ben Cory Jones and Amy Aniobi, as they worked with HBO’s The Studio. The program is billed as a “creative experience celebrating the LGBTQ+ community.” It runs through August 19 in Provincetown, Massachusetts bringing in creatives from HBO’s shows each week. Ben and Amy were there representing Insecure and lending their experience to the panel of creatives The Studio has featured thus far. They spoke with BGN about the behind the scenes that makes the onscreen product so real, diverse, and reflective of the lives so many of their fans are leading in real life.
True Diversity in the Writer’s Room Matters
The writers were both on a panel that highlighted the importance of representation. Insecure is a show that practices what it preaches. Amy explained that the diversity in the writer’s room makes representation a priority in front of the camera and behind the scenes. In fact, she says that the entire process of conceiving an episode to its performance is affected by having so many groups represented in the room.
She told BGN just how diverse the writer’s room is. Out of the 11 writers in the room, seven of the them are woman. The team also has queer men—one is black and another Latinx. Queer black women and a queer white woman. This is in addition to a cis white man, as well as straight black men and women. The writers also have a wide range in age as well. Such diversity is necessary for a show and should be a model for Hollywood writer’s rooms, but it isn’t.
The reason is that industry is currently stuck on a narrow view of what diversity means. Amy says, “there are different types of diversity and very often Hollywood gets boiled down to white and black and that’s it.” She explains how life is so much more—which requires the industry to open their view to include age, experience, skill sets, and more.
In the end, that diversity makes Insecure so much better than many of its peers on the air today. The characters and plots are what viewers tune in for, but it also makes the characters so much richer. Amy gives a great example during our talk. Issa’s brother on the show is a gay black man. Typically in Hollywood, such a character in the same show as black women always ends up becoming a stereotypical best friend to the woman.
So, instead of making the brother Ahmal (Jean Elie) best friends with Kelli (played by actress and writer for the show Natasha Rothwell), the writers made them instant enemies.
These issues often bring debate, which the creators and producers welcome and foster in this writer’s room. Ben told us, “the room is so diverse. So, it’s interesting which side of the coin people fall on.” He went on to say that the writers in the room intentionally take on the stereotypes and they try to figure out how to turn those stereotypes upside down.
Some Tips for Writers Waiting to Come Up
Ben and Amy ended the conversation with some practical advice for writers looking to break into a Hollywood writer’s room. First, Amy says to, “write the story that is authentic to you. Now, specificity leads to universality that didn’t used to be the case people.” She went on to talk about how shows had to appeal to the whole family in order to get on air. Today, writers can create a work that is specific to their personal experience and the audience will love it.
Next, Amy says to get help and find your people. “[Writing] doesn’t have to be something the you’re pursuing in solitude. It also doesn’t have to be something that, because you don’t have money you can’t do it.” Instead, she urges all writers to take classes, join online groups or forums—somehow tap into that larger community. The reason is not just to make friends or to have a social life—although those can be a plus.
Find your community because when you’re growing together and networking across you’ll be moving up with your peers and that matters.” Thus, inserting yourself into the writing community is for networking, finding opportunities, getting feedback on your work and establishing relationships that help to nurture your art.
He added that fellowships and other programs are out there that can help writers do all these things in one place. BLCKSTR is one such program. Ben urges writers to make an account on the site, upload a finished script and take the next step to pay for an evaluation. Industry professionals give the script a number between 1 and 10. Anything above an 8.5 is sent out to other professionals that include agents, studio execs, directors, producers, and more. Ben is even on the list of people who get those high-ranking scripts. He reads them too.
The Studio runs through August 19, 2018 in Provincetown, MA. Check their website for more details.
Insecure Season 3 airs Sunday, August 12, on HBO.