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  • Writer's pictureJoe Yates

How I Became a Writer for Molly of Denali

Updated: Jan 5

Molly of Denali is an action-adventure comedy that follows the adventures of feisty and resourceful 10-year-old Molly Mabray, an Alaska Native girl, her dog Suki, and friends Tooey and Trini on their adventures in epically beautiful Alaska.

Molly of Denali (MOD) is the first Alaskan Native lead character shown on national TV. Because of this show, my daughter and son will be able to watch a character whom their cultures on national TV look like and talk about. Having a MOD show is truly special, and the crazy part is... I get to tell my kids I was a part of the show.

So, how did someone like me become a writer for a national TV show? Let's press rewind to the beginning of 2018.

Luckily, one of my cousins was a Production Assistant (PA) for WBGH (now GBH)...The company that created MOD... told me they were looking for Alaskan Native Writers about two weeks before the job went public. During this time, I was still in college, brand new to making films and trying to figure out how things work. With some convincing, I updated my movie resume, film reel, and my latest script.

With connections from one of my professors at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), I became friends with the Creative Producer of MOD on Facebook. I applied within the hour, and she said they were looking for writers.

Growing up on an island in Alaska, our culture was all I knew. With learning how to make films and writing scripts... I thought I had a real chance. The only real thing is that the only actual script that I wrote....wasn't child-appropriate. It was a script based on a true story from my childhood.

Fast forward a few months... I got an email saying I was chosen as one of the six writers. The email also mentioned that I was traveling to Vancouver, BC, for training in three weeks. I was hesitant to leave my young family for a couple of weeks. My wife told me this show could be huge and that I should accept the offer. So, that's what I did. I emailed them back with a smile on my face.

While attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), I traveled to Vancouver, BC, to learn the ABCs and 1-2-3s of how to write the PBS Kids way. This was an all-week, in-person (before Covid-19), exclusive training by Emmy Award Winners. Keep this in mind, this was my third year in college, and I was still learning the basics of filmmaking, and now I am in this room full of beyond gifted writers.

While in Vancouver, BC, we visited Atomic Cartoons, which animated cartoons for PBS Kids. They gave us a tour around the building. I geeked out when I overlooked someone's shoulder as they were animating Curious George on their computer. They then told us that they just purchased the building next door to be able to make Molly of Denali. There must have been over 20 animators working on multiple episodes.

The head employees at Atomic Cartoons then introduced us to all the animators. We had a meeting where they gave us a sneak peek of the intro and the first episode, Grandpa's Drum. This was when I realized that this wasn't just another typical show. There wasn't a dye-eye in the room.

During our time in Vancouver, BC, we received assignments for our first episode. For me, it was the Native Youth Olympics—more on this in a future blog.

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