By LaTina Emerson
As a TV writer, comedian and independent filmmaker, Lamar Woods is a triple threat in Hollywood.
A staff writer for two popular TV shows, “Survivor’s Remorse” (Starz) and “New Girl” (Fox), Woods has now added a feature film to his repertoire, a comedy called “It’s a Party,” which he wrote and produced with a longtime friend. After premiering at the Atlanta Film Festival in April and at Los Angeles’ Asian Pacific Film Festival in May, the movie is getting rave reviews, and Woods hopes to land a distribution deal and a nationwide theater run soon.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Woods majored in philosophy and religious studies at Georgia State, which has had a profound impact on his career.
“My college experience was so important to me,” he said. “At the time, I didn’t know I wanted to pursue comedy or screenwriting, but the religious studies program at Georgia State was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It helped me understand people better. The fact that I was able to learn about Islam, Sikhism, Judaism and Christianity allowed me to empathize with people and be more open to them, which made me a better writer.”
After earning his degree in 2009, Woods and his childhood friend, Weldon Wong Powers, who’d long dreamed of becoming a director, packed up and moved to Los Angeles. Powers is now the director, co-writer and co-producer of their comedy film “It’s a Party.”
Woods won a scholarship to take improv classes at Upright Citizens Brigade, a comedy theater started by Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts and Matt Besser, where he developed his skills and met some of his closest friends.
“Comedy is one of my favorite art forms because it rewards you for being true to yourself and being honest,” Woods said. “That resonates with me.”
A friend at Upright Citizens Brigade made an introduction that led to his first TV writing job for “Survivor’s Remorse,” a Starz show produced by NBA star LeBron James, in 2015. That job led to a gig at “New Girl,” which brought him on staff at Fox for the popular sitcom’s sixth and seventh seasons.
While different shows, “Survivor’s Remorse” and “New Girl” have given Woods valuable career experiences. He got his first taste of being in a writers’ room at “Survivor’s Remorse,” which had a staff of eight writers.
“We were all in a room pitching ideas, and it was such a good experience because the show was specifically about an African-American family,” Woods said. “All I had to do was speak from my own experiences, and the stories would resonate. That made the work feel comfortable from the start. I really liked that job.”
While working on “New Girl,” Woods said that when it was his episode, he would run the room.
“You really take ownership of your episode,” he said, “rewriting scenes on set and making sure everything comes out correctly. It was great, and it also helped me when I had to do it on my own for my independent film.”
Woods believed in Powers’ talent, so they decided to enter the indie film world. They started by making a short film for “It’s a Party” and then raised funds to make it a feature. Their 77-minute comedy is set in Atlanta and has an ensemble cast.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Woods said. “It’s about a surprise party for a rapper who never shows up, sort of like [Samuel Beckett’s play] ‘Waiting for Godot.’ It’s very indie. It takes place in one location.”
Woods has a role in the film, and he met many of his cast mates when he was scouting for comedic talent at stand-up clubs for his Northside Comedy videos, as well as from the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy scene..
“I really believe in the talent,” he said. “It’s a very diverse, African-American film that features L.A.’s next generation of comedians. They’re all the funniest people I’ve ever met, so I feel very confident in their ability to carry the film. It also has Big Gipp from Goodie Mob in it, who was my favorite rapper growing up, which is awesome.”
The film first premiered in January, and after two more appearances on the festival circuit, it is riding a wave of success. But Woods and Powers are already looking ahead to their next film, a romantic comedy. The script has been completed, and they’re in the early stages of production.
For those who want to pursue a creative career, Woods’ advice is to realize the value of the people around you.
“I think a lot of people are waiting for someone high up to validate them and don’t see validation from their friends as important,” Woods said. “I feel like sometimes we’re waiting for Shonda Rhimes to swoop down and save us, but your best friend might be the next Shonda Rhimes, and you don’t even know it.”