It’s the Age of Content, a time when WiFi and cellular data services are faster than ever, and accessible to nearly anyone. In a country like the U.S., where smartphone ownership is consistently on the rise, people are getting more and more accustomed to watching whatever they want, whenever they want, and they’re willing to juggle multiple streaming services to get the job done. And every company with even just a toe dipped into the realm of streaming entertainment wants a piece of the pie, or preferably the whole pie. Yahoo! tried and failed to pioneer their own streaming service with original content, ditto for NBC’s short-lived streaming service, Seeso. Netflix and Hulu are the big dogs, each scrambling to make and keep exclusive deals with historic television shows as well as producing their own original content from scratch, in as many genres as possible.
The streaming boom has created a significant demand for high-quality screenwriters, which in turn has helped develop an incredibly competitive market for young and established screenwriters alike. The craft consists of more than just writing though — it’s the meticulous attempts of writing perfection that weed out the best from the aspiring. Gone are the days of mailing a spec script to a studio and waiting with fingers crossed. These days it takes a different kind of writer to make it to the top.
Enter Vidhya Iyer, who is not worried. Not one bit.
And why should she be? Vidhya is a CAPE Fellow (that’s the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment), she made the Launchpad Tracking Board’s list of Top 100 Writers, and her short film, Raksha, was accepted by 10 different film festivals and won the Best Short Film award at the Delhi International Short Film Festival. Oh yeah, and she won the highly sought-after Sloan Award, too.
This lady is dynamite, intent on helping Hollywood nurture a wider worldview, one that accepts more creative women and people of color, letting them tell their stories.
During a recent conversation with Vidhya, she provided some insight into one of her recent projects that helped accomplish exactly that. In fact, it’s the piece that earned her a spot on the Top 100 list.
“PG 30 is very much inspired by my personal story. It’s a story of a third culture Indian-American woman who loses herself while trying to please everyone else in her life. There’s an unplanned pregnancy and several unfortunate but comical events. I think there is a lack of representation of South Asian LGBTQ folks on screen, and their experience coming out and living their authentic lives is so specific and different. The other lead is an Indian-American gay man and [the character] is based on a close personal friend. I wanted to show his story in a way that doesn’t subordinate that journey or use it as a tool for sassy humor.”
Vidhya excels at tackling serious subject matter via a lighthearted, humorous approach. And it has a lot to do with her influences.
“I’ve always had an entertainment-first approach to writing, because that’s what I enjoy watching. I love filmmakers and writers who have fun with their art. Taika Waititi is a filmmaker I admire deeply. On the TV side, I am a huge fan of Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the creator of Bojack Horseman. My idol right now is Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She tells the kinds of stories I want to tell: stories of women being funny, women having fun and being badass.”
Her love of comedy extends well past the page, too. Vidhya regularly performs stand-up comedy as well as improv comedy with the uber-famous UCB, a group which has a history of grooming incredibly successful comedians, and in particular many well-known female comedians including Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation, Louie), Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call), Ellie Kemper (The Office, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), and the ultra-successful duo of Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson (Broad City).
And her skills aren’t limited to comedy, either. Vidhya was also recently asked to write a script for an Indian-American thriller feature film.
“The core concept of the film is very interesting. It’s an entirely silent feature thriller in the vein of A Quiet Place, but as a thriller and not a horror film. The working title is Melody. I worked closely with the director and the producer while writing the first draft. I focused on the structure and setting up the key twists (important for a thriller) and once I was happy with that draft, I focused more on character arcs and honing the visual narrative. Finally, once I had all of that set in stone, I moved on to polish the script and add the little flourishes that make the script pop, little clues like a fallen button for the audience to clue in on, so they’re more engaged. I’m excited to see where the project goes. It’s officially out of my hands and heading into the pre-production stages.”
And that’s how screenwriting goes: it always hits a point where the screenwriter has to let go and hope for the best. Of course, Vidhya has already made peace with this reality.
“It’s the lack of control over the millions of different little variables that are involved between the completion of a draft and the end of a shoot. Financing, pilot orders, series orders, distribution, casting, those are all out of my hands and I like to think that there is a rhythm to the timing of projects. Usually it is the development process that takes ages with so many stages of different folks weighing in. I think that it’s done the way it is for a good reason. Workshopping a script to get it in the best shape makes the shoots incredibly painless and allows room for directors to play with visuals.”
Now, back to that extremely competitive market. I asked Vidhya if she had any wisdom to share in terms of making her way as screenwriter in such a crowded field.
“I love meeting new people and getting to know their passions and interests. I feel like I come away from every conversation with a new idea for a cool series, movie, or show. The fun thing about being a screenwriter in LA is the people you talk to also work in the industry. I’ve had meetings and found myself at production companies in so many different ways – through friends, through my representatives, and just sometimes because I reached out to people I admired as a fan and they responded. I think the key strategy is to be genuine and ask questions. Most importantly, you really shouldn’t ask the people you meet for the first time ever to just give you a job.”
And this is the magic of the entertainment industry: it’s inherently highly collaborative, and individuals who thrive in that environment ultimately find ways to make their voices heard, even using the voices of others to send a particular message.
It’s an exciting time to be a screenwriter and an even more exciting time to be Vidhya Iyer. We can only hope that her work will help usher in an era of inclusion and diversity for the entertainment industry, not just here in Hollywood, but worldwide.