Three astronauts learn they must scrap a pioneering space mission and fake their Mars landing on a film set. Decades after the 1977 action film Capricorn One posed this fictional predicament, six University of Iowa students explored how the beleaguered spacemen might fare in a made-for-TV redux.
Los Angeles-based screenwriter Josh Parkinson, whose credits include the HBO comedy Eastbound and Down and AMC horror series The Terror, guided the students through this storytelling exercise in the inaugural Adaptation for Television course on the UI campus last spring. The class chose to turn the political thriller into a three-episode TV miniseries, replicating a professional writers’ room in the process.
“In a writers’ room, nobody owns the show; it’s the product of the showrunner and the people paying you,” says Parkinson. “We just work together to bring their vision to life.”
Lauren Egan (23BA) was one of a select group of undergraduate and graduate students—plucked from a pool of 88 applicants—who collaborated with Parkinson on this world-building. A major in English and creative writing and cinema, Egan gleaned valuable real-life lessons from Parkinson and a range of guest stars who had honed their writing chops at Iowa.
These Hollywood heavy hitters included former UI classmates Sam Shaw (04MFA), Lila Byock (04MFA), and Vinnie Wilhelm (04MFA)—creators, writers, and producers for award-winning shows like Castle Rock and Manhattan—as well as David Kajganich (94MFA), a prolific screenwriter and producer who was Parkinson’s showrunner on The Terror. Kajganich also taught his own weeklong screenwriting masterclass, the Big Binge, at Iowa during the fall 2023 semester.
“Those speakers showed us how much power writers have to teach an audience about a show,” says Egan. “I feel incredibly privileged to have had a practice-round version of a writers’ room.”
"In a writers’ room, nobody owns the show; We just work together to bring [the] vision to life." —Josh Parkinson
Such real-life opportunities were exactly what Kevin Gruneich (80BBA) and his wife, Donna—longtime film backers and producers—envisioned when they made a gift to establish this first-of-its-kind class at Iowa. The Gruneichs are among several literary-minded graduates and friends investing in the UI’s budding writers and strengthening its status as the Writing University—the nation’s first and best academic home for writers.
“Iowa has an amazing group of alumni involved in writing for film, TV, and theater,” says Gruneich. “We wanted to leverage that talent for students because it’s very difficult to break into this career.”
The Adaptation for Television course they created will be among Iowa’s yearly academic offerings; in fact, Parkinson will run two writers’ rooms—one focused on long-form adaptation and the other on half-hour comedy writing—this coming spring. The classes are part of the Magid Center’s Iowa Writers’ Room program, which prepares students for careers in writing long-form television and has featured other seminars by the likes of Blue Bloods creators Robin Green (77MFA) and Mitchell Burgess (78BA).
Storytellers such as Egan hope these hands-on courses will help them parlay their Iowa writing experiences into industry gigs after graduation. In Egan’s case, they say scripting for television has been a childhood dream, and Parkinson’s class moved them one step closer to realizing it: “For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write for television or movies—anything on screen. What I learned in that room will stay with me for life.”