February 28, 2016

Mad Men Writer and Executive Producer To Speak at Cornell

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Semi Chellas — the writer and executive producer of the critically acclaimed AMC drama Mad Men — will speak about her experiences in the television industry on March 10 in Klarman Hall.

Chellas’ lecture, “Telling Secrets: Notes from the Writers’ Room,” will explore the processes and inner workings of television writing, including the dynamics of writing for an auteur, according to the University.

The writer will also discuss how facts and research shape the creation of a storyline and how to approach writing for characters created by someone else.

Chellas was born and raised in Palo Alto, California and grew up in Alberta, Canada. She earned a B.A. in literature from Yale University, studied English as a Mellon fellow at Cornell and studied the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto, according to her IMDB profile.

The acclaimed writer has received six Emmy nominations for her work on Mad Men — most notably for two episodes of season five which she co-wrote with series creator Matthew Weiner. Her work on these episodes catapulted her to running the writers room for the show’s final two seasons, according to an interview with The Globe and Mail.

Chellas is most known for her work on Mad Men, which centers around the enigmatic and deeply flawed character, Don Draper, who is a wildly successful ad executive in the 1960s struggling with his own identity and sense of purpose in the series’ seven seasons.

Chellas is also the co-creator, executive producer and head writer of the award winning Canadian television series The Eleventh Hour.

Many students said they are excited to hear from a writer who was instrumental in the creation of a beloved series.

“I’m super excited to see Semi speak. I’m a really big fan of Mad Men — it’s smart and sophisticated with a great story,” said Marina Watts ’16. “It opens up viewers to the sensational world of advertising during the ’60s with compelling characters you love to hate and hate to love,” said Watts, who is also a writer for The Sun’s Arts & Entertainment section. “As a history buff, I can also appreciate how everything revolves around America’s change.”

Molly Kluger ’17 said she is excited to learn about the creation of her favorite characters in Chellas’ lecture.

“The character development through the series was so well done that it is hard to not form personal attachments to the characters,” Kluger said. “I am excited to get a glimpse of how Mad Men came to life through Semi Chella’s writing.”

Mad Men is credited with changing the landscape of modern television in more ways than one, including its inclusion and development of strong women characters, its use of “period” as a character in itself and, most notably its development of a highly stylized and sophisticated television show, according to the L.A. Times.

Watts said she hopes the Chellas’ talk will help improve her own writing.

“The little pointers and takeaways she will have for college students will be so important,” Watts said. “After working on what is hailed as the smartest show on television — she knows what works, what doesn’t and has mastered the art of storytelling.”