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Groundbreaking Writer/Producer Jill Soloway Conducts Master Class at ELA

What’s it like to participate in a master class with Emmy Award-winning writer, producer, and director Jill Soloway? Twelve students in Emerson College’s low-residency MFA in Writing for Film & Television had that opportunity during a week-long residency January 8-13 at Emerson Los Angeles.

“I was thrilled when I found out,” said Kylie Rolincik MFA ’18. “I love Transparent. I love the cast and writing. It comes from a deep place within [Soloway], you can tell.”

Jill Soloway, center, poses with students in Emerson College's low-residency MFA in Writing for Film & Television. Photo/Daryl Paranada

As Emerson College’s Spring 2017 Semel Chair in Screenwriting, Soloway conducted a master class and writing workshop for Rolincik and her classmates. The MFA students learned about the heroine’s journey from Soloway, received feedback on their writing, and screened work of her choosing. The Semel Chair class and workshop are part of a week of seminars, lectures, and writing workshops with Emerson faculty.  

“I always wanted to be a chair,” Soloway joked with the students. “I’m just really grateful to have the opportunity to pretend to be an academic.”

Soloway’s original Amazon series, Transparent, centers around a transgender woman (Jeffrey Tambor) and her complicated family. It has received two Golden Globe Awards and eight Emmys, including two for Soloway’s direction. In addition to creating, writing, and executive producing Transparent, Soloway wrote four seasons on HBO’s Six Feet Under and ultimately rose to be the series’ co-executive producer. She was also the showrunner for the second season of Showtime’s United States of Tara. Production is underway on her latest series, I Love Dick, also on Amazon, adapted from the Chris Kraus novel.

Writer/producer Jill Soloway listens to sudents in Emerson College's low-residency MFA in Writing for Film & Television. Photo/Daryl Paranada

“Having Jill here is amazing for our students,” said Jean Stawarz, program director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Film & Television and associate professor in the Visual and Media Arts Department. “They get to have this incredible, firsthand experience from someone who’s doing incredible, groundbreaking work.”

That sentiment was shared by all of the students in the program.

“I was over the moon when I found out she was our Chair,” said Colorado-based Rebecca Mesple MFA ’18, a singer/songwriter and stay-at-home mom who planned to stay in LA after the week-long residency to take meetings and build connections. “I appreciate that her show, Transparent, brings an immediate empathy to characters who are completely different from me.”

Jill Soloway, center, poses with students in Emerson College's low-residency MFA in Writing for Film & Television. Photo/Daryl Paranada

Joel Potrykus MFA ’18, a filmmaker and teacher from Grand Rapids, Mich., was excited to have Soloway as Chair because he was looking forward to learning her perspective as someone working in the industry. For Matt McAskill MFA ‘18, a film critic and materials manager in the semiconductor manufacturing industry, the excitement he felt about learning from Soloway was tempered with a bit of nervousness.

“When you have someone who’s won Emmys looking at your work, it can be a bit scary,” said McAskill, who hails from Boston. “But I’m grateful, because we’re all trying to learn and become better writers.”

Meghan Cable MFA ’18, who recently earned her bachelor’s degree, said learning how to work past her self-doubt was one of the biggest takeways she’d gotten from the time she spent with Soloway.

“If you believe [in] what you’re doing and remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, you’ll lose that feeling [of self-doubt],” said Cable, who’s based in Philadelphia.

Rolincik, a freelance writer and production assistant from Massachusetts, described her time with Soloway as invigorating and inspiring.

“Meeting Jill is definitely an extraordinary opportunity that none of us take for granted,” she said. “I can’t believe she’s here.”

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