We’re excited to kick off 2024 by shining a light on the success of ProPath writer Laurie Rivlin
Heller. Laurie closed out a very successful 2023 of writing by placing in the TOP FIVE of the Final Draft Big Break 2023 TV Drama category with her pilot THE FRUITLANDERS. (the script is also listed on Coverfly as being in the top 1% of pilots in Genre/Format)
THE FRUITLANDERS tells the true story of Abigail Alcott (Marmee from the feature film LITTLE
WOMEN) who fights to save her family when her husband’s experiment in utopian living goes
off the rails. The following is a short recap of Laurie’s journey from retiree who knew she wanted to write to major film/tv writing contest finalist.
PP: HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN WRITING FOR FILM AND TV?
LRH: I spent my career working for the State of California awarding grants to environmental,
artistic, and educational projects across the state. I’d always seen myself as a writer – I was an
English major in college – so when I retired, I set out to commit myself to exploring that part of
As an avid historian, I knew I was interested in telling true stories and I was specifically
interested in women’s rights and the American transcendentalism movement. That led me to
the Concord writers which then led to the Alcott’s’ story.
The age-old question came next: where to begin? Being a complete screenwriting novice, I
enrolled in an Introduction to Screenwriting class at a community college in the Sacramento
area. After a few weeks, the covid lock downs were implemented and I realized I could take
classes online. So, I enrolled in an extension course at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
With minimal knowledge of the craft (I didn’t even have screenwriting software) I wrote a first
draft of the feature screenplay version of the story in that NYU class. And, well, the instructor
HATED IT. The problem with the earlier versions of the script was I was using a lot of direct
quotes from the real-life characters and plugging them into a screenplay format. I hadn’t yet
found my way into the story.
PP: HOW’D YOU FIND YOUR WAY INTO THE STORY?
LRH: Well, I was always interested in the idea of communes and the power structures within
them. That led me to Abigail’s story. Abigail was a mother of daughters and so am I. As I dug
deeper, I started to see more and more similarities between my own journey and Abigail’s.
PP: So, now you have an entry point into the story you can personally relate to. What happened
LRH: Well, I found very quickly I needed structure and discipline to be able to tackle this new
type of creative expression (new to me). I needed the structure of a class. So, I enrolled in the
UCLA Professional Program online. I loved the program. Yeah, it was me and a bunch of
younger writers who were writing high concept material so we may not have seen eye to eye all
the time, but it was invigorating to be in a class with a group of artists pursuing a common goal
– telling the best stories we could tell.
At the end of the yearlong UCLA program, they had a Q&A with all the instructors. This is where
I met ProPath’s Linda Voorhees and I realized very quickly she would be the perfect instructor
to guide me through the rewrite of my feature screenplay version of THE FRUITLANDERS.
PP: How was your experience with Linda in your first ProPath workshop?
LRH: Linda was perfect. She was tough, but supportive. She’d tell me to cut entire scenes. It was about learning how to collaborate and how to let go of things that may not be important in
your script. Fantastic group of collaborators. I was struggling a bit because I had so much information I wanted to get across. Way too much
for a screenplay. I soon realized the better way to approach the Alcott story was through
writing it as a limited series.
PP: The limited series has kind of taken the place of the mid budget dramatic feature. Shows
like WHITE LOTUS twenty years ago would have been made as mid-level budgeted features, but now they get the limited series treatment. So, sounds like you needed to take a new approach.
LRH: Yes, definitely. Some of my classmates in Linda’s class had also taken your (Tim’s)
workshop and I knew you allowed writers to work on either a feature or a pilot in your class, so
I registered for your workshop and adapted my feature version of the story into a pilot for a
PP: As a producer who has developed multiple biopics, my advice is always to tell the story
BEHIND the story. So, in our workshop we focused even more on Abigail’s journey as a wife and mother to activist. Focused less on story and more on character (the big difference between
features and tv/streaming).
LRH: Yeah, there was a lot of material to cover. It was great to realize I didn’t have to worry as
much about story and was able to dig deep and build a stronger character journey that myself
and audiences around the world could more strongly relate to.
PP: You finished a draft of the pilot in Tim’s workshop, then did some rewriting based off Tim’s
final notes. Then what?
LRH: I submitted it to some competitions. ProPath encourages writers to submit to legitimate
contests to see where you land with your peers. I landed well…and ended up a Top Five Finalist
in the Final Draft Big Break competition!
PP: Yeah, between their feature and pilot categories, the Final Draft Big Break competition gets
over 10,000 entries each year. So, yeah, that’s an impressive landing!
LRH: Thank you. It’s been a great ride. But there’s still lots of work to be done. I received notes
from the readers of the various competitions I submitted to and found a common thread
amongst the notes so now I’m diving into those rewrites next. In the meantime, I’ll also be
starting a new project.
PP: Yes, pushing forward is key. Sometimes it’s good to put an old project in a drawer, start a
new one, then come back to the previous project with fresh eyes.
LRH: And that’s my plan for 2024. I’ll be submitting the rewrite of THE FRUITLANDERS to
ProPath for additional feedback and I look forward to developing my new projects in future
workshops. It’s all about the collaboration and sense of community that a workshop provides.
And the great feedback from your classmates and instructors.
Congrats to Laurie on all her success!