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Life After Bing

Steven Canals ‘05, MA ‘08: Screenwriter and Executive Producer

In our “Life After Bing” series, we bring you quick interviews with alumni who are leaders in their fields, trail-blazers. Find out how these alums got to be where they are now, and how Binghamton shaped their lives.

Our featured alum is Steven Canals '05, MA '08 screenwriter and executive producer of FX's Pose. "Pose has made history as the first network television show to feature multiple transgender women as series regulars. But the existence of the production — which centers on the ball culture of 1980s New York — had a long and uncertain journey to Hollywood, as did Canals himself." Growing up in the Bronx, Steven experienced extreme violence, and addiction surrounded him. His solace? Film and television. Steven's solace became a passion and is now his career. Read more about Steven's journey and his advice to students looking to break into the film industry.

1. When did you realize you wanted to go into this field?

I grew up with a deep appreciation for film and TV because it was, and still is, my dad’s love. But it wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school that I realized I wanted to work in film and TV. I was part of an after school program -- Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice – that encourages leadership through community revitalization. Through YMPJ I learned how to handle a camera, how to edit video, how to produce content. With classmates, I co-produced a documentary short on the turf violence that ravaged my Bronx community. The experience of collaborating with peers to create content left an indelible mark.

2. Do you feel like Binghamton University prepared you for what you’re doing now?

Yes, but not in the ways you’d think. I worked as a resident assistant for two years in Onondaga Hall in CIW and I was also an orientation advisor and a conference assistant for two summers. Working as a paraprofessional taught me how to work well with others, how to use my voice with confidence and how to problem solve quickly. These are all skills that I use today as a producer of episodic television.

3. What was the most impactful class you took at Binghamton University?

I enjoyed my cinema courses, but the most impactful class I took at BU is Fundamentals of Creative Writing. My professor was Leigh Phillips, a 20-something grad student who I thought was the epitome of cool. She loved poetry and we spent the entire semester reading and writing verse. It was with Leigh that I found my voice on the page. And she was the first person to validate what I had to say. At a time when I was silencing my own voice, she turned up the volume. She told me writing was in love with me, and I took that to heart.

4. What are some common mistakes that students might make in establishing themselves in this industry?

I think the most common mistake I see when talking to aspiring writers is the urgency to launch a career quickly. I can relate to that desire to have your career begin, but that shouldn’t be your sole focus at the start. You can’t have a career if you don’t have strong material. Write a script. Actually, write several. Tell a provocative story that you are passionate about. Create a writers group, or join one for support through the process. And never forget: writing is rewriting. And trust me, you’ll spend a lot of time rewriting. It’s critical that you find ways to strengthen your stamina, because writing can be an exhausting endeavor.

5. Who would you say had the greatest influence on your career - teacher, colleague, boss, family
member - and what did you learn from that person?

The two greatest influences on my career have been my mothers – birth and work. My mom, Evelyn, is an
educator who always encouraged and validated my creative ambitions when I was a kid. She believes in me when I don’t have the capacity to do it myself. And she always lends an ear when I need to vent, and gives solid advice. My work mother, Ryan Murphy, has taught me everything I know about producing episodic television. Aside from telling me my voice matters, he’s given me the freedom to create on the page, and equipped me with the tools to be successful at it.

6. What is the biggest piece of advice you have for a student interested in this field?

There’s so much to say. I think the best piece of advice I can say to anyone interested in writing for film and TV is to work tirelessly on your craft. There’s an art to crafting a compelling story for film and TV. Read as many books about screenwriting or pilot writing as possible, and talk to other writers about their process. Spend time creating a roadmap for how to attack the page… then WRITE!

7. Are there mistakes you’ve made during your career, and if so, what lessons have you learned from them?

Of course, I’ve made mistakes. What’s important is to acknowledge the misstep and make the necessary adjustment to prevent it from happening again. The best lesson I’ve learned from a mistake is to trust my gut. My first instinct when making a decision rarely steers me in the wrong direction. If intuition is telling me something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Carolyn Bernardo is the Advancement Communications Manager for Binghamton University's Alumni Association. As a Binghamton native, she is passionate about the area and about the University. Have questions, comments or concerns about the blog? Email us at social@binghamton.edu.