More than 1,800 students came to the UCLA campus on Tuesday, June 28 as UCLA Extension held its 3rd Annual Certificate Graduation Ceremony. Held in the historic and atmospheric Royce Hall on the UCLA campus, the UCLA Alumni Band and Cheer Squad were on hand to liven up the atmosphere for the filled-to-capacity crowd. Television Writing Certificate student Paige Suth was one of the graduates at this year’s ceremony, and the Writers’ Program asked her a few questions about her experience in the program.
Writers’ Program: Are you looking forward to graduation?
Paige Suth: Yes. I wasn’t able to graduate from the university I attended for my undergraduate degree, so for me it’s like two graduations wrapped into one. I’ve got a great feeling of accomplishment knowing that my educational journey is, for the moment, complete.
WP: Who do you have coming out to celebrate?
PS: My grandparents, my parents, and my younger sister all drove down from the Bay Area to watch me graduate. Maybe now my mom will stop sending me pamphlets for Culinary School and accept that I’ve chosen to make a living/starve while writing sitcoms.
WP: What made you choose the Television Certificate Program?
PS: I started taking classes at Extension while I was still attending UC Irvine. I quickly realized that I enjoyed my Extension classes more than anything else I was taking at UCI, and I appreciated the huge variety of classes the Writers’ Program had to offer, so I moved out to Los Angeles and enrolled in the certificate program.
WP: What was the experience like?
PS: Squishy. Just kidding. It was great to be in a classroom with people who all had similar goals, but entirely different viewpoints. I think everyone wants to believe that their idea or their pitch is the best, but being stuck in a classroom with a dozen other people forces you to hear different views on your own work which can produce an even funnier, more cohesive project. It’s like having a test audience for your show every step of the way.
WP: What classes did you particularly enjoy?
PS: I can’t talk about my experience with the Writers’ Program without mentioning the Master Class in Half-Hour Comedy Pilot Writing with Phil Kellard. I honestly can’t think of a better way to hone your skills as a television writer than being sequestered in a classroom with strangers multiple hours a week, for six months, functioning like a real writer’s room. By the end of the six months, no one’s a stranger and you know everyone else’s project as well as your own. Somewhere around month five I knew exactly who to turn to if I had a joke issue, and exactly who to ask about whether or not my story was flowing correctly. I can read my script now and see everyone else’s comedy fingerprints on it, and yet it still speaks true to my tone and my style.
WP: How has the WP helped you to reach your goals?
PS: I think one of the best ways the Writers’ Program helps students reach their goals is by giving them access to a diverse network of faculty that have worked in the industry and have different insights and tips to pass on to their students. I’ve learned valuable lessons from each and every class and every teacher, and I continue to draw on what I’ve learned in my work today. When I took Intro to Screenwriting I with Ron Suppa I learned to progress and build scenes with the minimum amount of dialogue needed, let the action speak first, then flesh out as need be. In Writing the Horror Film with Phil Eisner, I learned that a creeping sense of dread is better than a cheap scare. In Writing the Half-Hour Comedy Script with Bill Grundfest I learned to, and I’m quoting directly here, “Ask yourself, ‘What is the worst possible thing that can happen to these characters?’ Do that, then solve it in 21 minutes with commercial breaks.” Each one of these pearls of wisdom has influenced my writing immensely and provided me with a great foundation to build any script, regardless of genre, style, or topic.
WP: What are you working on now?
PS: I’m actually in the process of writing and illustrating my own graphic novel. It’s kind of a classic superhero story with a bit of a twist. I was always a comic and sci-fi fan growing up so it’s really a labor of love. I’m always amazed how much I draw on my knowledge of basic script structuring as I’m working through the graphic novel medium. It’s almost as if I’m writing a TV show, but instead of actors, I have pictures. Essentially it’s the largest game of Pictionary ever, and I just have to cross my fingers and hope that my team is really good at guessing.
WP: What would you tell other writers who are considering enrolling in the certificate?
PS: First, I would say, take every class you possibly can, and as many different ones as you can. You never know where you may learn something that you’ll be able to use later. Secondly, and somewhat in the same vein, never assume that someone who has a different writing sensibility than you, does not have valuable insights for your script. Thirdly, and most importantly, your classmates are your captive audience, try out new things on them and listen to their feedback. Chances are if an entire room of people has a problem with your script or dislikes a joke, there are more than a few people outside the classroom who would think the same.
WP: Now that you’re finished with your certificate, are you planning to stay in touch with the Writers’ Program community?
PS: A few of the Master Class students and I actually meet every couple weeks to go over our current work and swap feedback and notes. It’s great to have that kind of a support group to draw on whether you’re working on sitcom specs, or graphic novels, or anything in between. There’s always someone there with a valuable insight or a great tip.
Congratulations on your graduation, Paige!
Sara Bond is the Program Assistant for Creative Writing (Online) and Events.