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Emerson Connection Helps Alumni Writers Get TV Movies Made

Dan Vignolo and Matt Harrison on Emerson TV set
Dan Vignolo ’17, left, and Matt Harrison ’17, on the set of an Emerson TV show. The two are now writing partners. Courtesy photo.

By Daryl Paranada

Emerson alumni writers will soon find their romantic comedy and thriller scripts airing on the small screen. Thanks to a little bit of hustle and the Emerson alumni connection.

Lexi Lewis ’17, manager of development and executive producer at Reel One Entertainment, has had a hand in seeing scripts from Abigail Bahret, MFA ’18, and Jordan Robinson ’19 make their way from development to production.

Lexi Lewis publicity shot
Lexi Lewis ’17. Courtesy photo

“I love getting to connect with new writers. While the stories that we tell sometimes on the surface can seem familiar or something that has been done before, I love to collaborate with writers to bring a fresh take to the romance or thriller we’ve seen a million times and find a new and surprising way in,” said Lewis.

Founded in 2001, Reel One Entertainment develops, finances, produces, and distributes commercial television films and series for a worldwide audience. It is one of the most prolific independent producers and distributors of scripted programming for the U.S. and international market, as well as one of the leading suppliers of movies to Lifetime and the domestic rom-com market. Lewis helps usher in her fair share of the more than 80 TV movies the company makes each year.

“It’s kind of an exciting timeline, especially compared to other elements of the industry. In this space, especially for Abigail and Jordan, it was all done in about a year-and-a-half timeline. Sometimes it can be faster,” said Lewis. “You will see your story, if it’s going to come to life, within two years.”

Prior to her job at Reel One Entertainment, Lewis worked as a senior coordinator at the Hallmark Channel, which she says was a kind of boot camp for learning the development and production process. It helped her understand the TV movie world, preparing Lewis for her career at Reel One.

Jordan Robinson on set
Jordan Robinson ’19

Connections Delivered

Given the fast-paced nature of her industry, Lewis sought out writers who could pitch story ideas and understood the brands Reel One usually pitches to. She reached out to Laura Daroca, associate director of student and alumni transitional services at Emerson College Los Angeles, who helped connect Lewis to various alumni, including Robinson. He submitted a few writing samples to Lewis and was then invited to pitch ideas.

“I looked at a lot of thriller movies for Lifetime that Reel One had made before I pitched to them. I was more concerned with creating something that they would like, as opposed to something that I would normally write,” said Robinson, who held jobs as production secretary at Crypt TV, freelanced as a set and office production assistant, and waited tables after graduating. “Lifetime accepted the first idea that I submitted.”

That movie, Revenge Delivered, is set to air on Lifetime in April 2021, and is about a dark truth that comes to light when a renowned obstetrician suspects that one of her student residents is secretly the vengeful daughter of someone from her past. Lewis praised Robinson’s understanding of the genre.

Robinson calls the process a learning experience. After Reel One sold the story to Lifetime in May 2020, he spent a couple of months working on a few outlines for the movie, then completed a draft of the script. By August 2020, a draft was in Lewis’s inbox and filming launched in Canada at the beginning of December.

“I’m pleased with the overall result. They hardly changed anything from my script, which made me happy. There were a few decisions made on their part that I would have done a little differently, but that is to be expected. Overall, I was satisfied,” said Robinson, who’s currently writing a horror movie. “I would gladly do more of these.”

For Daroca, seeing the Emerson community come together in this way is one of the best parts of her job.

“It’s thrilling to connect young alumni and recent graduates to new career opportunities and help them jump-start their careers,” said Daroca. “Bringing Jordan and Lexi together, and seeing their project come to life, is exciting and shows the power of the Emerson alumni community.”

Abigail Bahret head shot
Abigail Bahret, MFA ’18

Catching a Break

Bahret connected with Lewis through retired faculty member Jim Macak, who publishes a jobs blast newsletter he sends to alumni. Bahret soft pitched a few ideas to Lewis before submitting them formally. From there, she wrote film treatments for two of her pitches. One was chosen for an outline and eventually greenlit.

The film, which was shot in Canada this past February, is set to air worldwide this summer. It is tentatively titled Fishing for Love. Its main character is Kendall, a successful restaurant designer who comes home to Mystic Bay for the annual Big Catch Festival, where she finds herself in uncharted waters with town newcomer Zack. Is Kendall baited for trouble in her hometown or will she catch true love?

Lewis complimented Bahret’s understanding of the rom-com genre while still presenting a realistic view of an idealistic world.

“It’s so different from writing for myself or for a class or for a group of other writers. Going through the process of writing for executives at all stages… I learned so much,” said Bahret, who has already pitched Lewis some new ideas and is working on a few independent films on her own. “I really loved the experience.”

Even though she doesn’t consider herself a romantic comedy writer, Bahret said it was fun to go outside of her lane. Some of what she learned throughout the process has even carried over to the writing of her own independent films.

“I learned how to deal with notes I didn’t agree with. If I felt strongly about a storyline, I had to decide when to fight for it and when to let go,” said Bahret.

Lewis has built a connection with a handful of alumni writers, including the writing team of Daniel Vignolo ’17 and Matt Harrison ’17. Vignolo knew Lewis from a class they’d taken together at Emerson LA. He found out that Lewis was seeking story ideas through Macak’s newsletter, and sent her an original pilot he’d written with Harrison. Now, the duo has a couple of rom-com projects currently in development.

“It was a fun challenge to step out of our comfort zone, since Matt and I are strict comedy writers. It’s helped us with other projects and made us faster and better writers,” said Vignolo, who met Harrison while in a class at Emerson. Together, they worked on a show for Emerson Independent Video that won them an EVVY Award. “We’re excited for the opportunity to get our work made and seen by others.”

“When I told my parents about [the movies], they were excited because it’s stuff my family will be able to watch,” said Vignolo. “Becoming a showrunner and running a production company are long-term goals. Right now, we’re making pitches and getting our stuff read, which is going well, probably due, in part, to getting these movies sold. It gives us more credibility when we go out for stuff.”

For Lewis, helping Emersonians hungry to express their creativity is something she loves.

“It wasn’t too long ago that I was that person who graduated,” said Lewis, who is part of the musical improv team, The Understudies, and wants to run and star in her own show one day. “Every time I have taken a chance on helping an Emersonian, they’ve knocked it out of the park.”

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