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C21’s Big Picture is an ongoing initiative to support positive change in and through the content business across four key areas of focus: inclusivity & diversity, sustainability & environment, business practice & operations, and content & storytelling.

‘You need people telling you it’s okay for you to dream too’

Producer, TV writer, author and former HBO executive Kelly Edwards is president of Los Angeles-based Edwardian Pictures, an independent production company that develops and produces content for all platforms.

Edwards counts The Parkers among her TV credits

She also runs US-based non-profit organisation Colour Entertainment, which provides leadership and mentoring programmes, and networking opportunities to creative executives of colour.

Do you have a specific stated mission with regards to the four verticals within The Big Picture Network: inclusivity & diversity; sustainability & environment; business practice & operations; and content & storytelling?
Even before there was such a thing as DEI [diversity, equality and inclusion], I was the big mouth in the room yelling about the need for more diversity in programming. My last two executive roles at HBO and NBCUniversal were specifically created for that purpose. I want to expand storytelling to include the millions of other narratives that haven’t been told.

What are the biggest challenges?
When decisions are made in this business, they are made by a few people with limited contacts. There are so many creative minds out there, but without someone reaching out to bring them in, the town tends to use the same handful of executives, producers, writers, crew and directors that they always use. Getting those who have hiring power to put more people into rotation should be number one on the to-do list.

Can you give a specific example of a challenge you have faced in this area?
When I was at NBCUniversal, I was responsible for bringing more diversity to the creative executive ranks. I tackled that challenge by making introductions between hiring managers and prospective applicants well before there was an actual job open — because we all know, by the time someone has identified they have a need on their staff, the job has already been filled. Those advance general meetings resulted in quite a few hires, because the relationships had already been established before there was a need.

What books or blogs would you advise people to read to help them do better in your area of expertise?
To do well in the business, you have to understand it, so I listen to podcasts like The Town, Strictly Business and The Screenwriters’ Rant Room. Also, I wrote my book because I wanted people to know how executives think, in order to help make their entry a little easier. If someone coming into the industry can avoid a few of the usual pitfalls, then everyone wins.
As for craft, I listen to Scriptnotes and The Screenwriting Life and I read a ton of produced scripts to see how other writers handle story and character. Javier Grillo-Marxuach [The Witcher] has a blog I like, in which he details his creative process, and David H Steinberg has a page on Patreon that is absolutely worth checking out.

If three things could be removed or introduced to help, what would they be?
Our industry needs to find more ways to support emerging talent from disadvantaged socio-economic communities. I worry that folks are discouraged from being in this industry because they simply don’t have the finances to stick out the ramp-up time it takes to make a living.

Here’s what I would propose:

1. A directors’ fund for first-time filmmakers. A short film is the entry ticket to a career as a director, but these typically cost around US$30,000-US$50,000. If we could eliminate that barrier to entry, imagine how many new Spielbergs we could uncover.

2. A producers’ fund. Because producers don’t get paid until their project is made, they need funds to support their business as it gets up and running. If the big studios just took a fraction of what they spend on craft services to support more producers, we could build a terrific pipeline.

3. Writers are being asked to do a lot more free work than ever before. That’s one thing I would eliminate. If an exec likes an idea, they should buy it and then give notes, not require a writer to do unpaid work before engaging in development.

What advice would you give to someone working in a similar role to you?
Build a strong coalition with people you trust. No one survives this industry alone. You need a support system. You need people telling you they are in your corner, that you have value and that it’s okay for you to dream too.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yes! Expand your definition of success. Sometimes we get so focused on one thing — on one idea of what success looks like — that we miss all the other opportunities that are cropping up in front of us. There are more ways of getting your work out there than ever before. Take advantage of every avenue available. Make the thing and then share it with as many people as you can.

C21’s Big Picture is an ongoing initiative to support positive change in and through the content business across four key areas of focus: inclusivity & diversity, sustainability & environment, business practice & operations and content & storytelling.


Kelly Edwards
Kelly Edwards’ TV credits include Living Single, Girlfriends, The Parkers, Clueless and Two Guys & a Girl, as well as an one-hour drama series, a Hallmark movie and several award-winning shorts for HBO. For seven years, she served as HBO’s head of talent development, responsible for launching the careers of emerging artists. Edwards has been a fellow of Sundance Institute’s Episodic Lab, published an Amazon bestseller — The Executive Chair: A Writer’s Guide to TV Series Development — and served on, among others, the Annenberg Inclusion Board and the ATAS Diversity Committee. She holds a BA in theatre from Vassar and an MFA in writing for TV and film from Emerson College.