March 3, 2017
SCA Dedicates The John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television
By Desa Philadelphia
On Thursday, March 2, the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) dedicated its newly named John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television with a celebration of the Division and its benefactor, writer/director/producer John Wells.
Wells, an alumnus of the School and a member of its Board of Councilors, said his gift to name the Division was about giving back to the next generation. He told the audience gathered in the School’s Ray Stark Theatre that, as a graduate student in SCA’s Peter Stark Producing Program, he had run out of money and realized he might have to quit his studies. “My ambitions were greater than my math,” he said, recounting a conversation with the program’s founder, Art Murphy, during which he painfully broke the news. A week later, Murphy told Wells an alumnus had agreed to pay his tuition.
SCA Dean Elizabeth Daley called Wells one of the School’s “most distinguished alums” and thanked him for his “incredible vote of confidence.” “It is incredibly meaningful to the students, faculty, and staff of all seven of our Divisions, and they all join me in thanking you,” she said.
Division chair Jack Epps, who holds the Victoria and Jack Oakie Endowed Chair in Comedy, told the audience that the John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television focuses on character and storytelling. “Our philosophy is simple: great characters have great stories to tell,” he said. “If we don’t care about the characters, we won’t care about the story.” Epps thanked Wells for his “amazing support” and told him the Division’s faculty, staff, and students are thrilled the Division will bear his name. “John’s work is character-based and exemplifies all that the Division stands for and all that we strive to accomplish,” he said. “John proves that popular entertainment does not have to pander. Instead, it can entertain and elevate the discussion as well as celebrate the indomitable human spirit.”
The event was attended by members of Wells’ family as well as collaborators from all of his marquee shows, including ER, The West Wing, Third Watch, China Beach, Southland and Shameless. He noted that many of them had worked on multiple shows together. The highlight of the evening was a conversation between Wells and Emmy Award-winning actor Bradley Whitford, which mostly focused on Wells’ work as a writer and showrunner. With all his experience, Wells said, facing the blank page is still “terrifying and incredibly hard,” and the good and bad thing about being a writer is having to face that page alone. Still, he said, he is incredibly excited to do the work and to share the scenarios he conjures up for characters as he goes about his daily life. “You live in your head a lot with these characters,” he said.
The John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television offers BFA and MFA degree programs as well as minors in Screenwriting and Comedy. Its alumni include showrunners Christopher Cantwell, Nahnatchka Khan, Andrew Marlow, Prentice Penny, Shonda Rhimes, and Josh Schwartz,; screenwriters John Singleton, James Vanderbilt, and Amanda Silver; and bestselling authors Stephen Chbosky and Victoria Aveyard.