Inside the Writers Room

Iowa screenwriters make a scene in Hollywood.

Four Iowa alumni gather at a Hollywood lounge accented with textured walls and lanterns that emit golden light. We see SAM SHAW (04MFA), LILA BYOCK (04MFA), MARK LAFFERTY (04MFA), and VINNIE WILHELM (04MFA), a group of charismatic, hilarious, and whip-smart writers who arrived at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 2002 and quickly became lifelong friends. Together, they've created, written, and produced award-winning television in Hollywood, using the lessons in storytelling and collaboration they honed at the University of Iowa.

Get to know these screenwriters, who have worked on shows like Hulu's Castle Rock, Disney+'s The Right Stuff, WGN America's Manhattan, and HBO's Watchmen. Watch Act One for the scoop on their time at Iowa, hear their musings about the creative process in Act Two, and watch them dissect a scene from Manhattan in Act Three.

Act One: Training Grounds

Iowa City proved to be the birthplace of a legendary set of relationships that would lead Shaw, Byock, Lafferty, and Wilhelm from the Iowa Writers' Workshop to the lights of Hollywood. Over a game of pool, the friends reminisce about their time at Iowa, which they say left them uniquely equipped to meet the needs of the TV industry.

Act Two: Hollywood Magic

Behind-the-scenes work on a TV show can be grueling, but it's the time spent elbow-deep in the mechanics of storytelling that continues to bring Shaw, Byock, Lafferty, and Wilhelm back to both writing and producing. There's an element of magic inherent in the way a story can come together when the writers room gets going, and it's those experiences of almost otherworldly collaboration that invigorate the group.

Act Three: Secrets of the Script

Shaw created Manhattan, a historical drama about scientists working on the top-secret Manhattan Project in the 1940s, and brought on Lafferty, Byock, and Wilhelm to join the writers room. The show, which ran on WGN America in 2014-15, reunited the four friends almost a decade after their graduation and led to many subsequent collaborations. Here, the writers analyze how two scenes came together from season two of Manhattan.



Watch trailers for the shows created or written by these Iowa grads.

Castle Rock ran for two seasons, and in 2019, the Writers Guild of America honored the show's writers—including Sam Shaw, Lila Byock, Mark Lafferty, and Vinnie Wilhelm—with the Best Original Long Form award.

In 2020, Lila Byock won an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Limited Series for her work on Watchmen. Based on the DC Comics series, the show explored the lesser-known history of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre and took on added resonance after the death of George Floyd.

Mark Lafferty served as executive producer and showrunner of The Right Stuff, a historical drama that examined the origins of America's space program.

Behind the Scenes

Discover the Iowa connections hidden inside these popular series.

Iowa, the character, in Manhattan


  • In Manhattan, actor Jefferson White (pictured above) played Private First Class Cole Dunlavey, a Jones County native whose nickname is "Iowa."
  • In episode 102 of Manhattan, Occam (played by actor Richard Schiff) mentions the Fox Head Steakhouse during an interrogation of scientist Sidney Liao (played by actor Eddie Shin). The name pays tribute to the Fox Head Tavern in Iowa City where Sam Shaw says the writers spent a lot of time as students.
Photo from Lila Byock's No Sleep Blog


Read Lila Byock's blog from the making of Manhattan, which includes exclusive photos from the set.

Photo Gallery

View photos of some of the most memorable moments of the screenwriters' careers.


DIRECTION: Seth Friedman

VIDEO: Lemonlight



WRITING: Lulu Dewey, Shelbi Thomas

WEBSITE DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT: Nick Beecher, Jimmy Losasso, Mike Miersen, Zack Schmidt

DIGITAL PROMOTION: Karla Hurley, Nicole Knoll, Katie Linder

Special Thanks

Mario Anzuoni,

Valerie Bobo

Lila Byock

Jenn Coleman


Debbie Dreusicke

Twila Dusterhoft

Sherri Furman


Benjamin Hill

Mark Hill, HBO


Kelly Huston

Colin Hutton, HBO

Isabel Ivey

Danny Kitzinger

Richard Klatt

Mark Lafferty

Dana Larson

Daniel Marlow

Jeremy Meltzer

Anton Mink

Henry Nicholls,

Beth Nicholson

Jared Salasberry

Sam Shaw

Jane Van Voorhis

WGN America

Wikipedia Commons

Vinnie Wilhelm


Learn how you can support the University of Iowa screenwriting program and the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

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