Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

INTERVIEW: New NBCUniversal Writer Incubator Program Seeks Asian Pacific Stories

There’s still time to apply to showrunner Soo Hugh’s new Asian Pacific writer incubator program. Applications are due March 31, 2022.

We recently caught up with Soo and her former assistant, Ria Tobaccowala (who will now helm the incubator), to learn more about the program’s mission to highlight stories from the Asian Pacific Islander diaspora. The program offers a rare opportunity for writers to grow their writing community while being paid to develop a pilot script.

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The Thousand Miles Project
Deadline: March 31

The Thousand Miles Project

The name of the incubator, The Thousand Miles Project, is rooted in the ancient Chinese proverb: “The journey of a thousand miles must always begin with that first single step.” It likens the process of breaking into the Hollywood studio production system as a long journey ahead, in part because Soo and Ria have experienced this first hand.

“I know, just from growing up, that the idea of even breaking into movies and television felt like this 10,000-foot dream,” Soo explained during an interview with SoCreate. “I just, through fortunate events, managed to find myself here.”

While Soo explained that she did have some lucky breaks to land her where she’s at now as the showrunner for the highly anticipated Apple TV+ series “Pachinko,” premiering March 25, she wanted a way to help other Asian Pacific storytellers break into the business. Ria, meanwhile, is a first-generation American raised on Chicago’s South Side. She’s a Google staffer-turned-filmmaker with a graduate degree from the film program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and her stories explore racial identity and multiculturalism.

“But what happens to the people who don’t grow up in the traditional corridors of L.A. or New York or who didn’t go to certain schools? How do we give them the same access points that I was fortunate to have? That was always a dream of mine to do,” Soo explained.

The pair have been in research and development on this program for some time now. Soo’s latest role is helping make the dream come to fruition: Universal Content Studio (UCP), a division of Universal Studio Group, agreed to provide resources for the incubator during deal talks with Soo.

“They’re very forward-thinking,” Soo said. “They understand that having more and more diverse voices makes for better television. How can we bring more Asian-Americans, Asians, and global thinkers and creators into our studio system? And so we started talking, and the idea grew and grew, and I really found a like-minded group of supporters there.”

Incubator Program Rundown

Soo and Ria worked with UCP to develop the incubator over the past year. It will accept 20 writers or writing teams for the program. It begins in June 2022. In it, participants will:

  • Participate in a two-day virtual workshop designed to teach writers about the television writing industry through panel discussions with professional writers, managers, development executives, and agents.

  • Be invited to apply to participate in a 24-week development lab based on their story idea proposal, which should be a story told through the lenses of Asian and Pacific Islander community members. Then, program administrators will help pick three writers or writing teams to participate in the development lab from the submitted proposals.

  • The three selected proposal teams will then work with Soo, Ria, their team, and UCP to write a pilot script and potentially develop their project further with UCP. They’ll meet bi-weekly with additional monthly meetings with Soo and Ria.

  • In the end, Soo and Ria hope to see three new shows in production. Each of the writers with those winning projects will be compensated and will be able to call themselves paid writers.

“We really want to help emerging artists who have not had an opportunity to be maybe a showrunner’s assistant to get into the industry, give them a great deep dive into what it takes to create a show, give them the major craft lessons, like the stuff that is important when you build a series, and then hopefully from there they’ll get an opportunity to develop some of those stories with us in the incubator,” Ria, Soo’s former assistant on shows such as AMC’s “The Terror,” explained.

Writing Incubator Goals

The program has two goals to accomplish to be successful. 

“The first goal is how do we bring diverse voices, voices that aren’t traditionally represented within the Hollywood filmmaking system, into the studio practice,” Soo told us. Second, “Ria and I really have dreams of not only just [doing this] within America but now that filmmaking has become so globalized, not just in the production of it but also in the development of it, we’d really love to form strong bonds between the American system and the systems in Korea and Japan, Thailand, Singapore. It’s exploding.”

Ria said the incubator isn’t all that different from other programs like it that have a goal of helping to grow and develop new voices and help new writers get their stories out there. But the thing that differs is the community and safe space that Ria and Soo hope to provide for emerging Asian and Pacific Islander storytellers – not just the ones who already understand how Hollywood works – because everyone is capable of telling great stories if they’re prepared.

“Everyone has a story to tell, and we’d love to foster the community together,” Soo added.

“I think it’s really important to create these systems, and, more than systems, create these really safe spaces and communities to help people do this! Because this dream that we all have, it’s very hard. And it can be a very lonely path,” Ria said. “So, creating this community, having this tribe of people who are all having that kind of crazy dream of telling stories on film, it’s important to have other people there with you who are going to pat your back and say keep going, keep going.”

Keep going, and apply here by March 31.