Hollywood screenwriter Josh Parkinson to teach UI class

The new course “Adaptation for Television” introduces students to the processes of a television writers’ room.


Contributed photo from Joshua Parkinson.

Archie Wagner, News Reporter

University of Iowa students can learn from a Hollywood screenwriter this spring.

The new course, a writing class called “Adaptation for Television,” will be taught by screenwriter Josh Parkinson during the next spring semester.

Parkinson has 12 years of experience working in Hollywood on shows such as “Eastbound and Down” and “The Terror” and earned a graduate degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University.

“I’ve never done anything formal for an institution like a university or something like like that,” Parkinson said. “But there’s  things that just come up occasionally where you know, I have other novelist friends who also wanted to try their hand at television writing.”

While the fall Writers Room Pro-Seminar course included just under 20 students, the new course will have only six to mirror the realities of a Hollywood writers’ room.

“We could actually have two ongoing writers’ rooms at the same time, like a real showrunner would,” Parkinson said.

Director of the Magid Center for Undergraduate Writing Daniel Khalastchi said the course received many applications from students.

“The writing was so good,” Khalastchi said. “It was really hard for Josh to pick the students, but we know it’ll work because our students are so talented.”

Parkinson said one of the main components that interested him in getting involved with the class was the practical nature of it instead of it being based on a lecture format.

“There’s plenty of skill set conversations that we’re going to have in the class, but it really is about collaborating on an actual piece of work,” Parkinson said.

The class will focus on turning a piece of already existing intellectual property — comic books, novels, short stories, poems, or podcasts — and adapting it into a three or four episode mini-series.

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The class will do outlines, write collaboratively on scripts for television, and then workshop them. Khalastchi said it’s difficult to get that experience with a larger class.

With funding from donors Kevin and Donna Gruneich, Khalastchi said they created a small class. Kevin Gruneich is an alum of the UI and has been distinguished in the past for his philanthropic investments.

“Usually, the university wants a certain course size because of the way tuition dollars work out etc., and so in this case, we were able to only accept six students, and so we are really trying to mirror that writers room experience,” Khalastchi said.

Khalastchi said those involved with the course’s planning and facilitation include UI alumni, such as Vinnie Wilhelm and David Kajganich. Wilheim and Kajganich both worked on the television show “The Terror.” Kajganich is also known for his new film “Bones and All.”

“We’ve been working with them over the last couple of years to develop this course, and they’ve all committed to working with us moving forward,” Khalastchi said. “So, there might be weeks where they fly out here, or that they Zoom to actually do edits with students as well.”

The course is part of a broader program at the UI called the Iowa Writers Room, which has been expanding since 2015 before the creation of the undergraduate bachelor of arts in screenwriting in 2019.

Alan MacVey, former department of theatre arts  director for 29 years and director of the division of performing arts, developed the Iowa Writers Room program in 2018.

MacVey said he helped in the launch of a new course called the Writers Room Pro-Seminar, which focused on writing for long-term television.

UI alumni Mitch Burgess and Robin Green taught the course the first year.

“They really spent a lot of time, Robin especially, a huge amount of time with individuals, helping them to develop not just a pilot, a pilot episode plus what they call a Bible, which is an extended vision for where theories might go,” MacVey said.

Parkinson said he is old friends with Kajganich and also worked with Wilheim on “The Terror,” leading to them becoming friends.

“When they were telling me about this, I was like, this is kind of in its own way, like a service for people to get a taste of what this world is,” Parkinson said. “And like I’ve said before, all the glamor and unglamorous parts of it that you would just never know.”

Khalastchi said one of the struggles in getting the course up and running was the fear of not being able to find the right teacher.

“What’s really interesting about Josh — he comes from a fiction writing background,” Khalastchi said. “He moved toward television, [and] has had a hugely successful career doing everything from scripts, pilot scripts for television, full on movie scripts, rewrite scripts, writers room work — creating shows where he’s done all of it. And so he just fit this sort of unicorn of an idea that we had.”