Niskayuna native living out screenwriting dream with ‘Ms. Marvel’ and other projects

Iman Vellani, right, arrives at the premiere of "Ms. Marvel" on June 2 at El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles. She stars as Kamala/Ms. Marvel on Disney+. Inset photo: Kate Gritmon, part of the writing team for "Ms. Marvel" and a Niskayuna High School graduate. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Iman Vellani, right, arrives at the premiere of "Ms. Marvel" on June 2 at El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles. She stars as Kamala/Ms. Marvel on Disney+. Inset photo: Kate Gritmon, part of the writing team for "Ms. Marvel" and a Niskayuna High School graduate. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

NISKAYUNA – Kate Gritmon’s career has taken her on the set of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” filming in Northern Ireland, to the writers’ room of “Ms. Marvel,” streaming on Disney+.

The journey all started in Niskayuna, where she grew up. As a child, Gritmon loved TV and film but it wasn’t until attending film classes in Niskayuna High School’s art program that she realized working in the industry was even a possibility.

“I was so fortunate that Niskayuna has such an amazing art program for their students. There were a lot of film classes available. I took those, and I absolutely loved them,” Gritmon said.

That included Stephen Honicki’s film classes, which had a big influence on her.

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“Not everybody’s going to be as much of a fanatic about movies and TV as I was, and so I didn’t have a lot of people that could go in-depth on it and he would. That was amazing,” Gritmon said.

She also credits Patty Rand, who taught Advanced Placement English at the high school, for helping her develop her writing and storytelling skills.

After graduating from Niskayuna in 2002, she went on to study screenwriting with a concentration in adaptation at Columbia College of Chicago. While there, she took a five-week intensive course in Los Angeles and got to work on a studio lot, studying screenwriting and meeting people in the industry.

That’s when she knew she wanted to make the leap and move out to the city after college, which she did in 2007.

“The hardest part about the entertainment industry is that there isn’t one way. With doctors or lawyers or accountants, there’s a pretty logical step and a process and, unfortunately, with the entertainment industry, much of it is who you know,” Gritmon said.

She started as a receptionist for Creative Artists Agency, one of the largest talent agencies in the city.

“I started working my way up at that company and getting my feet wet learning a lot about what goes on and from there what really happens is you just start networking a lot and meeting a lot of people,” Gritmon said.

She went on to work for screenwriter/director Paul Haggis (who is currently embroiled in a civil rape lawsuit), then moved to HBO, where she started as the assistant to the head of business affairs.

All the while, she was working on her own screenwriting projects at night. Eventually, a writer’s assistant position opened on the show “Game of Thrones” and she leaped at the chance.

“That was really one of my biggest first forays into TV,” Gritmon said. “I got to go to set and go to Northern Ireland and learn from these creators how to really build out a show like that. My style of writing has always been what’s called genre, [which includes] fantasy, sci-fi, and world-building. It was a perfect fit for my own self-interest and there was obviously a lot to learn from them.”

One of the biggest takeaways was the importance of understanding the psychology of an audience.

“Fantasy up until ‘Game of Thrones’ had a really bad rap. It wasn’t for a mass audience, it was intended to be for people like me, [who are] a little bit more into that kind of thing. It really changed the genre, so that anyone and everyone was interested in watching it,” Gritmon said.

Unfortunately, the job afforded no time for Gritmon to work on her own screenwriting projects. So she left the show after a short time and took another job as an assistant at a production company.

“I was nervous it was going to be a bad move but it wasn’t because while I was this assistant, I was able to finally write the script that [got] me my managers and my agents and my lawyer and got me out and writing full time. It was what I needed,” Gritmon said.

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“But, I always say, for 10-plus years, I had two jobs. I’d have my day job that paid the bills, and then I’d go home and write,” she added.

That work paid off, leading her to the live-action features writing program with Walt Disney, where she helped develop original ideas and rework scripts. From there, she landed a spot in the writers’ room for “Ms. Marvel.”

“That was a fantastic moment. Being a huge ‘Marvel’ fan, I was beside myself when I got that job,” Gritmon said.

That was back in 2019. Working with a team of seven writers, along with assistants, she helped pen the script for what’s become one of the highest-rated Marvel shows.

“Ms. Marvel,” which was released on Disney+ this summer, follows Kamala (played by Iman Vellani), a Pakistani-American high school student and superhero fan who doesn’t fit in at school and sometimes at home. Her life changes drastically when she gets superpowers like the heroes she’s looked up to.

Much of the series reflects on Kamala’s experiences as a Pakistani-American and many of the writers were Muslim and/or Pakistani. It was a learning experience for Gritmon, who is white.

“It was just a truly beautiful [and] astounding learning experience about a culture and religion that has both been underrepresented and misrepresented throughout history. We don’t get to see a lot of joy and celebration in that community. It’s always been portrayed in such a negative light,” Gritmon said.

The show’s main character is comedic and charismatic and, in Marvel fashion, the episodes feature plenty of jokes and lighthearted banter.

However, it also delves into tougher topics, including the traumatic partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Gritmon, prior to working on the show, hadn’t been familiar with partition and noted that Google searches for the term soared after the show aired this summer.

It was gratifying to Gritmon to have the show spur on viewers’ curiosity to learn more and it fits with her writing philosophy, which she jokingly calls “broccoli with cheese.”

“How do you get the most nutritious message across in the most delicious way, so that you can allow it to be highly digestible to a large audience? I think that’s why I’ve always been drawn to the sci-fi genre and fantasy because there’s a lot you can say, but in a really fun way [that makes] them want to hear about it,” Gritmon said.

Writing for the show was nerve-wracking at times, partly because Marvel has a large and enthusiastic fan base and Gritmon wanted to make sure the show lived up to fans’ expectations. She also wanted to ensure that the representation of the Pakistani-American experience was authentic.

In episode two, which Gritmon is credited for writing, a portion of the events take place in a mosque, and before writing the episode she was worried about writing the scenes inauthentically. Luckily, she had some help from the other writers on the team.

“I was so fortunate and blessed to have such wonderful coworkers that are Muslim and were able to really talk me through this whole experience of what happens when you walk into a mosque,” Gritmon said.

The show was written well before the pandemic, however, the production was delayed by it. When the show finally aired this summer, watching it was surreal.

“It was the first time I’d gotten to see somebody saying my words and that was a deeply emotional moment for me. It’s what I’ve been striving for. So it really blew me away,” Gritmon said. “The cast is so phenomenal that they truly were exactly as I imagined them in my mind and I wasn’t expecting that. It 100% encompassed the feeling that we wanted out of the show. I was so thrilled with the result.”

It seems most critics and viewers agreed. As of Nov. 3, it’s the highest-rated Marvel according to Rotten Tomatoes, where it has a 97% rating.

In a review, The Guardian wrote “The whole thing is full of charm (love the graffiti that animates as Kamala and her ever-active imagination walk past), wit, warmth, brio and truth. It’s just – yes, I’m afraid I’m going to – it’s just Marvel-ous.”

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There’s no word yet on season two. In the meantime, Gritmon has been working on other projects, including an adaptation of “Keeper of the Lost Cities,” by Shannon Messenger, a popular children’s book series, a project which Ben Affleck is directing. She’s also working on developing an animated series and working with screenwriter/producer Oliver Goldstick to adapt the historical fiction book “The Glass Ocean” by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White.

To work on a project-by-project basis is both liberating and a challenge.

“It’s not a business for the faint of heart,” Gritmon said. “I received very good advice from one of my closest friends years ago when I was struggling . . . He said, ‘If you can picture yourself doing anything else, then you shouldn’t be doing this.’ I really just couldn’t picture myself doing anything else.”

“I’m just so thrilled to be paid to write and live out my dream and be able to share my thoughts and ideas with the world through these stories,” Gritmon added.

While she lives in Los Angeles, depending on the project, she’s sometimes able to work remotely and visit her family. Since her parents moved from the Capital Region to Delaware several years ago, Gritmon doesn’t get to visit the area as much as she’d like. However, when her parents return to Schenectady, they pick up bread from Perreca’s and freeze it for special occasions with the family.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Your Niskayuna

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