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September 03, 2019

Spurred to Success

Support for seasoned writers at L.A.’s Rideback Ranch

Dinah Eng
  • Creators in the first Rideback TV Incubator: (clockwise from top left) Robert Taylor; writing partners Susan Cohen and Sydnie Suskind; Jovan Robinson; Tracy A. Whitaker; Brian Buccellato; Jalysa Conway; Iden Baghdadchi; Desta Tedros Reff; and Rebecca Murga (writing partner of Conway)

    Rideback TV Incubator
  • Elsie Choi

    Rideback TV Incubator
  • Kiri Hart

    Rideback TV Incubator

There's a new writer-inclusion program in town, and it's designed to help saddle up and create market-ready, straight-to-series projects for cable and streaming outlets.

The Rideback TV Incubator pairs drama writers (who were previously on show staffs) with mentors (showrunners or executive producers) for an eight-month paid residency. The May-to-December program is based at Rideback Ranch, a new creative campus in L.A.'s Filipinotown.

It's the brainchild of The Lego Movie franchise producer Dan Lin, whose Rideback production company partnered with MRC, the TV and film studio behind House of Cards and Ozark, to launch the initiative.

"The incubator is about creativity and community," says Lin, whose recent TV credits include Fox's Lethal Weapon. "When you've had some success, you should help the next generation. Many people helped me along the way. This is my way of paying it forward."

In cowboy lingo, "rideback" means to ride back and pick up a partner who's fallen from a horse; it shows loyalty and support. Lin, who has a home in Montana, came across the term in an article and then heard some cowboys talking about the kind of people with whom they wanted to build a community.

Inspired, he changed his 10-year-old Lin Pictures company name to Rideback and established the campus. It now houses Warner Animation Group's Lego team, writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller's Lord Miller company, writer-director David Ayer and Chris Long's Cedar Park Entertainment, actress-producer Margot Robbie's diverse voices LuckyChap Entertainment, animation studio Animal Logic and Rideback's own production offices.

Most TV writer-diversity programs aim to get beginners staffed on shows, Lin points out. The incubator aims to nurture more seasoned writers as they work on developing series ideas, and to provide continuing support if shows don't sell.

Some 200 applications came in during a two-week submission period, according to Elsie Choi, former head of development for Mad Rabbit, who oversees the program. She works with Kiri Hart, a consultant and former development executive for Lucasfilm, who serves as creative adviser.

"We wanted the application process to be blind because we were looking for the voices," Choi says. Samples went through two blind reads before 22 finalists were interviewed. "The creators we selected will work in a writers' room for the ideation phase. Along with their mentors, we'll bring in Kiri, guest speakers and our Rideback TV team."

The program curriculum will cover show ideation, character development, pilot outline and writing the pilot. The eight creators will each be paid a $150,000 stipend. Projects that move to series will be produced by Rideback, with financing and studio support from MRC.

"Collaboration is a big part of the Rideback ethos," Choi says. "We want to put together the best minds and create opportunities in a new way for writers."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, issue No. 7, 2019

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