Driven, creative and determined, Ilana Peña has found that her success as a television writer stems from her ability to trust the process, remember her roots and use a strong, specific voice to defend herself. As showrunner of “Diary of a Future President” on Disney+, she often reflects on her past to look to the future.
A former “theatre child”, Peña has always been interested in the arts. She spent her childhood performing in plays, but first became interested in directing at the age of thirteen when she took a video course at Belvoir Terrace, a theater camp. summer that “nurtured all aspects of the arts”. While creating her first short film at camp, she discovered a passion for creating stories and working on multiple aspects of them to bring them to life. Then, as a theater major at Northwestern University, Peña explored various interests in her field and quickly fell in love with playwriting. However, it wasn’t until he took a television writing course during his senior year of college that Peña found the area of work that most excited him and best suited his interests.
“Everything I loved about acting and everything I started to really love about film and…running with a camera at camp clicked with television. It was collaborative; it was character-driven Peña said, knowing then that was what she wanted to do.
After graduation, Peña sought to build on the momentum she had built in college. She used to create and lead projects and she had the experience and skills for it, but “nobody cared”. While she struggled to find a job at first, she used the extra time she had to develop her craft and find her footing.
“This time allowed me to write my not so good drafts of things that luckily no one saw, but also to get into a rhythm and figure out what I wanted to do,” Peña said in reflection.
Breaking into the television industry, Peña rose through the ranks by verbalizing his goals. She worked on a handful of shows before becoming the showrunner’s assistant on the CW series “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Still, she was determined to be a writer and wasn’t afraid to ask for the role. In the fourth season of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” her tenacity paid off: she was promoted to the show’s editor.
“You have to be strong and specific about what you want,” she said of her success strategy.
Attracted by her success, agents quickly approached her looking for a new comedy. She was tasked with creating a story that is fully her own. Growing up watching “Boy Meets World” and “Lizzie McGuire,” Peña knew she wanted to create a coming-of-age show with a protagonist similar to herself, a Cuban-American girl from Miami. So she started writing “Diary of a Future President,” a comedy-drama series currently airing on Disney+.
“The image I had when I came up with the idea was of a young Latina like ‘this’ on the side of a bus,” Peña said, smiling and sporting a pose of confident power. arms crossed, shoulders back.
With “Diary”, Peña had the opportunity to create stories as she wanted since making the short film at camp. As showrunner, she reported on the details of all aspects of the series – including working with the costume designer, writing new scripts, deciding the volume of a phone sound effect – and she loved working. with the team of “passionate and motivated experts. ”
Peña thinks storytelling through television is “literal magic.” “I haven’t lost the stars in my eyes,” she said of her enthusiasm for the craft.
Even still, she encountered challenges while working on the show.
“Diary” was widely perceived as a “Latinx show”, a label that Peña resists. She felt compelled to represent an entire culture, even though the story was simply inspired by her own childhood. The show follows a young Latina girl, yes, but it’s basically a story of growing up: having a first crush, forgetting about homework and fighting with her siblings.
Even though it was canceled after just two seasons, Peña wouldn’t change much if she had the chance to go back in time to work on ‘Diary’ again — she’d only be encouraging her past to have more confidence. in his abilities and instincts.
“Actually, I know what I’m doing. And what I don’t know I can and will learn,” she said. “But having confidence in my own skin, owning the fact that I’m a creator, owning the fact that I’m an executive producer and owning the fact that this is my story…if I could go back in time, I would own it this a little earlier.
“Diary of a Future President” flourished when Peña’s confidence flourished, which she compared to her memories of filming at camp. She cites “unbridled confidence” and confidence in herself as necessary qualities that she continues to channel after her work on the show ends.
“You must own what you want; you have to proclaim it,” Peña said. Especially in the TV industry, people are often willing to help but can’t read minds. She advised, “People need to know you want something, and they need to know what you want.”
Peña’s outstanding career is fueled by her ability to ask for what she wants – and she’s not done yet. She has a lot ahead of her, including two potential shows and a few feature films. “I want to do things, I want to keep writing and directing and producing, but I also want to use my little corner to empower other voices,” she said. Inspired by the encouraging mentors and patrons who have helped her on her own journey, she is committed to nurturing the talents of emerging writers in the future.
“I feel so lucky to finally be in the room and finally to be at the table that I’ve dreamed of being at since I was thirteen and running around with a camera. I hope that from my little corner I can make access a little easier for people who try to break in [to the television industry]. I want to raise voices that are not just mine,” Peña said. “I would love to empower people the same way I was blessed to be when I was starting out.”