Spec Spotlight: Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi on their recent sale of “Exposure”
Paths through development and medical school led Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi to TV writing, where an executive producer thought they’d make a good team. The duo scored their first feature spec sale this year with Exposure. Here’s their story.
Growing up in Venice Beach, Schore aspired to write short fiction and plays. She studied fine arts and creative writing at the University of California at Berkeley but became drawn to screenwriting, earning a Writers’ Program certificate through UCLA. “Screenwriting sort of melded the visual with the verbal. Fiction writing with more a visual approach,” she said.
She found work in development at companies such as King World Entertainment and Steven Bochco Productions, doing notes on scripts and looking for writers. Her first TV credit is as assistant to David Milch, co-creator with Bochco of NYPD Blue. She later worked as a script consultant.
Sethi, meanwhile, grew up in Calgary, Alberta. With his twin brother, he graduated from Harvard Medical School but had always been interested in writing. After a year of residency, Sethi was working in a radiation oncology program when he met writer/producer/director Amy Holden Jones, then creating a medical pilot. She enlisted Sethi as a consultant.
Although that show didn’t work out, another of hers did: 2014’s Black Box, a drama about a neuroscientist keeping her own mental illness a secret. Jones again asked Sethi to be a medical consultant; Schore helped develop the show doing research and later writing.
Jones, a veteran screenwriter (Mystic Pizza, Indecent Proposal, The Getaway), suggested that the two write together. Both were hired as writers for Code Black, the 2015 CBS medical drama now in its second season.
They’re no longer with Code Black but have a feature in the works. Entertainment One acquired their spec script, Exposure, about Rosalind Franklin, a scientist whose work in crystallography was instrumental in the discovery of DNA’s double-helix structure in 1953. Franklin died of cancer in 1958. Scientists James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Watkins later shared the Nobel Prize for the discovery in 1962.
Sethi learned about Franklin during his undergraduate study at Yale University. His genetics class read Watson’s book The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, which portrays Franklin as an antagonist. “Our professor was really interested in her true story,” he said.
Brainstorming feature ideas with Schore, he suggested Franklin, whose navigation of a male environment appealed to his writing partner on another level. “I went from the feminist mecca of Berkeley to a male-centric world,” she said.
Their biggest challenge was developing Franklin’s many layers. “The truth is that she wasn’t the most pleasant person in the world, and she wasn’t an innocent hapless character. To do justice to her complexity was a fine line to walk,” Sethi said.
“It wasn’t that Rosalind was entirely unpleasant,” Schore added. “She had all kinds of defenses she needed to survive. She had a hard time trusting people because she couldn’t really trust them.”
Although their tastes in TV differ—Schore likes Mad Men while Sethi enjoys Girls—they find that they complement each other.
“We’ve been lucky from the beginning in that we write in similar ways (even though) we both come from different backgrounds and experiences,” Sethi said.
“Roshan always tells me I sound like a development exec,” Schore said. “I think every script you read helps you understand what works and what doesn’t.”
Both of them collaborate on scripts but also will do individual passes on a script and then compare.
They advised other writers to find a mentor and to pick subjects they love. With Exposure, “this is something we thought would be a difficult sell, but it’s something that we felt passionate about, and that passion comes through,” Schore said.
The two write using Final Draft.
Valerie Kalfrin is an award-winning veteran crime journalist turned entertainment writer. A member of the Florida Film Network, she writes reviews and analysis for The Script Lab, Signature Reads (formerly known as Word and Film), and The Tampa Bay Times, among other publications. She’s also an emerging screenwriter and script consultant. She lives in Florida.