It was a sunny California day when Wheeling native and writer Elizabeth Stamp was out walking a friend’s dog — an “uncooperative” dog, at that — when her phone rang.
It was Ron Howard. Yes, that Ron Howard. Opie. Winthrop. Richie Cunningham. Academy Award-winning filmmaker. Producer, director, writer.
“[Clover] did not understand the significance of the call and refused to move, so I had to just pick her up and go to a quieter spot,” Stamp recalls.
Howard was on the line to tell Stamp she had been chosen as one of 25 “creators” out of 4,000 applicants for a brand-new project called Imagine Impact. She would be part of “Impact 1,” the project’s first group — working to flesh out her sitcom idea she had pitched to the Imagine Impact team.
He identified himself — not that he had to. “Yes, I know,” she thought to herself. ” I recognize your voice from everything I’ve ever watched.”
“I knew I would be notified at some point but I didn’t know if it would be an email or if someone would call, but I certainly didn’t expect Ron Howard to call. … It was a great surprise.”
When she hung up, she called her boyfriend, “but he was in the subway in New York. … I tried calling my parents (U.S. District Court Judge Frederick Stamp and Joan Stamp of Wheeling), but it was Monday night, and they were at Mexican Mondays with their friends at the Alpha as they always are.”
Imagine Impact was conceived by Howard and by Brian Grazer, an award-winning producer and author who has been making movies and television shows for more than 30 years. They pulled the content-accelerator program together just in the past year, Stamp said. Its goal, according to the website, is to cultivate and empower storytellers so they can turn an idea into a sellable screenplay, teleplay or presentation in just eight weeks, under the guidance of professionals.
Stamp further explained that Grazer, inspired by a tech accelerator program, wanted to “approach development in terms of how things are done in tech. … He wanted to take a faster approach because development can take years, and it stalls, and this is a way to cut through everything that Hollywood generally does and get good ideas to the marketplace faster.”
Elizabeth applied in July, interviewed with the Imagine Impact team in mid-August and received the good news just a couple of weeks later.
The project The Linsly School grad (2002) pitched was this: “My show is a half-hour comedy about a wayward millennial who ends up in a luxury doomsday bunker after an apocalyptic event and has to create space for herself in the community while staying on the good side of its overbearing leader,” she said.
“I think they liked the idea, and I’m very passionate about the characters and world, so I think that excitement came through.”
“My show is a half-hour comedy about a wayward millennial who ends up in a luxury doomsday bunker after an apocalyptic event and has to create space for herself in the community while staying on the good side of its overbearing leader.” — Elizabeth Stamp
The idea had been brewing for a few months, she said. “I worked on a story for CNN Style about luxury doomsday bunkers. I interviewed some CEOs of companies that produce them and got very, very fascinated with them and how they’re put together. That kind of gave me the idea to do a sitcom about it.”
On Sept. 17, Stamp began her eight-week, full-time commitment with Impact 1. She has set up shop at WeWork in the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles. Twice a week, she will meet with her “shaper,” Saladin K. Patterson, who is the showrunner for “The Last O.G.” on TBS and has worked on “Psych,” “Big Bang Theory” and “Frasier.” (A showrunner is the person who has overall creative authority and management responsibility for a television program.)
On Tuesday evenings, the group will enjoy dinner with a guest speaker, and on Fridays, they’ll have a “Lunch and Learn.” The weekly speakers are a surprise but are assured to be big names in the industry.
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On the first Tuesday, Howard and Grazer met with the group. “They’ve been very generous with their time so far.”
This week, they heard from Raphael Bob-Waksberg, creator of “BoJack Horseman,” an animated show on Netflix.
“He talked about everything from growing up to how he first got started in Hollywood to how he pitched and developed BoJack, how he runs his writers’ room and what he looks for when he staffs his writers’ room. He covered a lot. It was very helpful.”
At last week’s Lunch and Learn, the group heard from Dustin Lance Black, a writer and producer known for Milk, When We Rise and J.Edgar.
At the end of the eight weeks, she will pitch her project to networks and streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Facebook.
Last January, Stamp relocated from New York to L.A., to take advantage of another career opportunity — she had been selected as one of only eight participants in the four-month intensive Fox Writers Lab. There, she worked in a writers’ room environment. “We were all in there in together on Tuesday and Thursday nights, workshopping each others’ scripts.”
However, this television/film script writing life wasn’t her initial path out of college.
Upon graduation from Brown University in 2006, having majored in English and visual arts, she moved to New York to pursue a magazine career. She took a publishing course at Columbia, and worked at Elle Décor and Architectural Digest, before going freelance four years ago.
“I stuck with the path for a good 10 years. Then realized it sort of wasn’t enough for me, creatively. You can only write about a living room so many times before it gets a little old. You use the phrase ‘pop of color’ every single day. … So I decided to try something new and went freelance and took a summer course in TV writing at Columbia,” she said.
“I had been doing comedy for a few years at that point; I started doing sketch and improv classes at Upright Citizens Brigade in New York and had been on some sketch teams. So it felt like a natural path.”
FADE TO NOW
She hasn’t totally given up magazine writing. She is a senior contributing video writer at The Onion, as well as a contributor to archdigest.com, Vulture and a few other sites. She continues to take assignments and pitch story ideas.
But for the next couple of months, she’ll be hunkering down with the bunker idea, writing toward her future, taking advantage of the benefits of Impact 1, such as “being exposed to all the different speakers and also getting to work so closely with a mentor (Patterson) that has been in the industry for so long and has so many great credits. … Getting his feedback and notes on my script has already been so helpful,” she said.
“I think it’s great exposure, a great thing to have on my resume. And relationships are so important out here I’ve learned, so just the fact that I’m in an office every day with 24 other people who I can move forward with and climb up in the industry with will be helpful.”
Is staying in L.A. to write scripts for television and film her career goal? An emphatic “YES” was her answer.
But she won’t forget the impact her hometown has had on her.
“I was very lucky to grow up in a community that values and supports the arts. I was exposed to art classes at Stifel Fine Arts, music at the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, and theater and movies at Towngate. I’m also extremely grateful that I had parents who raised us in a house full of books, encouraged us to follow our dreams, and didn’t make me go to law school. I also had wonderful teachers at Linsly including Chad Barnett, Robin Follet, Carol Cook, Lisa Welch and Kelly Soloninka. They all set me on a creative path.”
• After nearly 38 years as reporter, bureau chief, lifestyles editor and managing editor at The Times Leader, and design editor at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, Phyllis Sigalhas joined Weelunk as managing editor. She lives in Wheeling with her husband Bruce Wheeler. Along with their two children, son-in-law and two grandchildren, food, wine, travel, theater and music are close to their hearts.