Prominent screenwriter and UI Playwrights' Workshop graduate returns for New Play Festival


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Rick Cleveland graduated from the University of Iowa Playwrights' Workshop in 1995 — a semester earlier than he intended.

The Ohio native had been discovered by Hollywood producer Barry Kemp at the annual New Play Festival — and Cleveland has been writing in the evolving entertainment industry ever since.

The Emmy Award-winning writer is back on the UI campus this week as a respondent for the New Play Festival, the same weeklong program in which he had his "very lucky break" almost 20 years ago.

"I'm talking to a lot of students," Cleveland said. "It's pretty much the same as when I went here."
Cleveland, who has written for the television shows "The West Wing," "Six Feet Under," and "Mad Men," watched and gave advice to two to three student stage productions this week, including Louisa Hill's The Zine of Grrrl Thursday night.

"[Respondents] are distinguished folks who work at major theaters or film-production companies or something, and they come to give feedback to the writers," said Patrick Reynolds, the director of The Zine of Grrrl.

Other students participating in the festival shared their support of working with Cleveland.

"[The respondents] give a response after the show," said UI junior actor Sam Moss. "They just talk about the show, the acting, and the writing. Mostly the writing because this whole week is based on the playwright's aspect."

Cleveland has worked as a writer and producer in film and television. He wrote the screenplay for the film Jerry and Tom following his graduation, which he had originally written as a play. The play was eventually made into a film, which became an official selection at Sundance and aired on Showtime.

Cleveland has now began to move away from traditional television.

Recently, he was part of the writing team of the first exclusive Netflix original, "House of Cards," a

David Fincher-produced political drama starring Kevin Spacey. The show is a remake of a BBC miniseries from the 1990s.

"Netflix will make more money if it owns the show rather than buying it from someone else," he said.

Cleveland said the pitch was going to go to HBO through a pilot. However, Netflix intercepted the idea with a $100 million offer. Netflix agreed to taking the 27-episode series prior to review of the show. 

"After a show has been piloted, which means it has been written, actors have been paid, and it's already been filmed, the network will review on the show, and if it likes it, it'll buy it," he said.

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