In March 2020, when the entire world was faced with the reality of a global pandemic, I, like many indie filmmakers, was desperate for a creative outlet. And with lockdowns and so much uncertainty, the idea of shooting something near others and screening films at festivals seemed to be indefinitely on hold.

Among the frightening posts of my Twitter feed in those early weeks, there was an invitation to Writer Twitter from Christian Elder, a screenwriter acquaintance that I followed. For the past few years, Twitter’s #WritingCommunity (or Screenwriting Twitter as some call it) has taken off as an incredible resource for Pre-WGA writers to exchange scripts, trade tips and encouragement, and learn from more experienced union writers.

And during the pandemic, that community exploded—it was like finding that film festival experience but from the comfort of your couch.

Christian’s post caught my eye. He wanted to assemble a team to create a Black Mirror-style anthology series based on film noir stories.

His idea was to set all of the stories in the same fictional border town of Hell, California. I ran this idea by my writing partner/wife, Sara, and we jumped at the opportunity.

Though this was a bit out of my and Sara’s wheelhouse (we typically write lighter, more comedic fare), we were up for the challenge. Because hey, not only would it keep us busy and scratch that creative itch, but it would also distract us from the bare grocery store shelves and 24-hour news.

All together, five writers were chosen to be a part of the grassroots room, and the group was as varied and as colorful as the fictional town we were about to create. Sara and I came from a filmmaking and producing background, mostly short films like this one featured on No Film School, The Faceless Man.

Christian Elder is an accomplished screenwriter and playwright. Ryan Riddle was an award-winning journalist who had begun shifting his focus to television writing. Jimmy Hurt went to military school and is a former athlete. And Christian Martin had a background in special education and is a self-proclaimed video game and D&D enthusiast. Those varied points of view and life experiences would later come out in our individual episodes.



None of us had ever been in a writers' room before, and while the studios and established shows were figuring out how to run remote rooms, we were learning the dynamics of being in a room and how to work virtually with a bunch of people we had never met.

Christian Elder took on the role of showrunner, setting the tone and leading our weekly meetings. He gave us thought exercises (like identifying the biggest strengths of each other’s scripts and then challenging us to include them in our own, or dream casting lead actors to deepen our characters and think about them from an actor’s perspective) and his leadership elevated all of our work. 

Because it was an anthology series, we didn’t follow a typical writers room model but instead adapted it to what would work for our format. Each person’s episode was going to be a standalone and their own piece of work, so we didn’t all break the stories together. Instead, our collaboration was focused on the world-building of the town.

These were real team-building moments because we could expand on each other’s ideas while fleshing out the history and lore of Hell. There were locations we all seized on, like the “Shell on the Beach Hotel” or the “Crimson King Bar” that would end up appearing in multiple episodes. We came up with an annual Founder’s Day celebration where the town celebrated the unscrupulous way Hell was formed. And then there was the shadowy corporation, Brimstone, which looms over the town and its politics.

The size of the city, its population, the different neighborhoods—everything was covered in those early sessions.

Writing the episodes

After the town became real in all of our minds, we broke off to write our individual episodes, sharing updates and continuing to exchange ideas in our weekly meetings. In essence, it became a blend of a writers' room and a writing group because it had the collaboration of a room with the independence of a group, all while keeping each other motivated and accountable.

We routed our drafts through the team for reads and notes, getting feedback that was quick, constructive, and most important, reliable.

We’ve all sent scripts to people who said they would read them and then disappeared like they owed us money, so having a group we could count on who were invested in something bigger than ourselves was a huge relief.


But the biggest benefit of all was that our weekly meetings helped us get through the tumultuous year that was 2020. There was something comforting knowing that despite what was happening out in the world, our team would be there on Zoom every Sunday.

We’d talk about our writing and what current TV shows were inspiring us, but also life and whatever craziness was going on in the news—whether it was the protests of the summer, the election, the insurrection, or the various surges of the pandemic. There were many ups and downs: some of us lost jobs, some of us got new ones, one of us got COVID, one of us got pregnant (we’ll let you guess which one).

But through it all, we supported each other during one of the weirdest years of our lives and became friends.

Producing the scripts

With our scripts finished, we’ve begun collaborating with a talented group of actors to do live Zoom readings of the episodes and are now repurposing those recordings into a serialized podcast. The episodes encompass different subgenres of noir stories, from the dark to the humorous, from a con story to a classic private eye, all tied together within the mysterious city of Hell, California.

And to see an idea and town that at one time existed only in our heads be turned into a real tangible piece of entertainment has been incredibly rewarding.


Looking back, the biggest thing I’ve learned from this entire experience is there are always ways to keep that indie DIY film spirit alive. I never would have attempted a project like this had we not needed to remain creative in the face of isolation.

And even though the world is opening back up with production and writers' rooms returning to some form of normal, the real possibility of telework is here to stay. Your collaborators no longer have to be in the same room or city or state. You don’t have to wait to join a writers' room, you can make your own room.

Use the #WritingCommunity on Twitter to find your team.Wehope anyone reading this will be inspired by our story to go out (or stay in) and create!

And we hope to see you in Hell.

You can learn more about “Hell, California” at our Twitter or YouTube or Podcast.