The HBO Writers Fellowship

Everybody wants in.  How can you tell? They opened the submission gates this morning, and the portal, WithoutaBox, is completely overwhelmed. I have the submit page open in two browsers and the windows are blank, trying to load, on both. Paul is texting our friend Nikki, and the situation is the same all around.

The reason for the virtual mob scene rushing the portal is that submissions are limited to the first thousand people. While recent programs have required letters of recommendation from people in the industry, this one does not.  Theoretically, anyone with the writing chops–even without connections, even outside the U.S.–could gain a spot in the fellowship program. And unlike most festivals and Fellowships like Nicholl, there isn’t even an entry fee.

From the standpoint of diversity, it’s bold and brilliant to remove money and connections as filters.  From the practical standpoint of limited bandwidth, it’s  like if they’d told all the folks below deck on the Titanic they could try to get on the life boats too.

UPDATE…One hour later.

The page loaded!  And it reads…


The lifeboats have set sail, but sadly neither Paul nor I made it on one.


Was lucky enough to see this article in Deadline containing the news that HBO was going to issue some waivers, by request, allowing some of the  people who had had trouble with the website to upload, up to a new, undisclosed cap.

I sent the email as described but have not heard back yet as to whether I made it in under the cap.  I imagine folks there are scrambling to catch up, so I hope for the best. It made me feel better about the day.:)


The day after… Many people, including yours truly, have not received a response, yay or nay, from their waiver requests.  Anxiety and speculation has spurred a new community:  #WAIVERWATCH on Twitter.


Though I never received a response to my initial request. I wrote a follow-up email yesterday (Friday) and got this congenial response today (Saturday afternoon).

“Thank you for your understanding and patience.  We received 4,000 requests for waivers.  Unfortunately we cannot grant them all so we are afraid we have to say no this time around.  We sincerely hope you will consider applying in the future.”

So that is the end of that.  Interestingly, no news outlets have reported on this for three days, which seems to me like not the best reporting. If you start a story, you might want to devote a few lines to resolving it, no? There was extensive coverage of the launch a week ago, some coverage of the upload debacle three days ago and since then…nothing.  It seems like someone would have wanted to call and ask HBO for a statement, and it seems like HBO would want to make one. saying something along the lines of what they wrote to me to the other 3500 people might go a ways toward re-establishing some goodwill.  It also seems like a no-brainer to post something similar on their fellowship landing page.

I have two theories about the absence of coverage:

1) They have a PR department and this was their advice.  There is a ton of just “clamping-down” on information in this town as a problem-solving mechanism, and this was just more of it. I’m always amazed by how pervasive the No-response-is-a-valid-response attitude is in this town.

2) People higher up had the “vision” but no one with power was really engaged on the ground. Thus the lower-downs had to “execute,” and there wasn’t a lot of thought as to what kind of extra training and support that might require.

Maybe I’m just projecting this because yesterday, at my academic day job I had 160 applicants (students to a grad program) to reject.  For various reasons there’s no method to do this en masse; each rejection  has to be entered individually.  I hoped to get everyone’s done in a single day to prevent anxiety and speculation on some chat board that might exist, but somehow, by the time my co-worker and I dealt with a catering order that didn’t come, the unhoused kid having a psychotic break in the courtyard, urgent travel arrangements for some impromptu guests and a few other things—only applicants with names beginning with A thru F got rejected. The others won’t get their news until Monday, or maybe later. Not ideal. But when you have to choose between a) sending an email to some poor schlub you’re never going to see who’s probably guessed what’s up anyway; and b) preventing missteps that might piss off the important person who signs your performance reviews and your paychecks, guess who wins?  So I’m figuring the folks tasked with those 4000 waiver requests are my counterparts…only at HBO?

Leave a Reply