Laurel Brown ’99: Getting to the good story

Autumn 2017

Publicity poster for "The Sticks"

It’s hard to think of many adolescent horrors worse than moving to a new town — and school — while in junior high. So what do you do when you’re not only the new girl in class, but also you discover that the forests near your home writhe with slimy monsters? If you’re Casey Jamison, the main character in The Sticks — a new web series created by Laurel Brown ’99 — you band together with some other brave preteens and fight the frights yourself.

The first season of The Sticks premiered on YouTube in September after a successful Kickstarter campaign this past summer. Brown originally wrote the show as a television pilot years ago, so she chopped up her initial script and wrote lots of new content with co-writer Matthew Buza. They ended up with 10 five-minute episodes that they filmed in Snohomish County, Wash., in early August.

Brown and Buza wrote the series with a middle-grade audience in mind. Writing for this age group, Brown said, has certain storytelling freedoms. “The audience is sophisticated enough that you can tell really interesting stories, but you don’t have to get into the love triangles  … you don’t need all the extra drama,” she said. “You can just get to the good story.” And, just as importantly, she added, you can get to the jokes.

Laurel Brown '99

Laurel Brown ’99, creator of The Sticks.

Brown’s path to screenwriting has hardly been traditional. She graduated from Colgate with a degree in astrophysics and a minor in history. After two years with the Peace Corps teaching science and English in Tanzania, she decided she didn’t want to pursue astrophysics further. So, she enrolled at Columbia University to study the history of science in the Middle East. In her downtime, she stumbled into a new interest. To de-stress after long afternoons studying, she wrote “silly recaps” of forums she participated in online. She found that she loved writing fun, lighter material outside the constraints of academic writing.

It turned out to be useful practice. When she graduated with her PhD in 2009, “just in time for no jobs to exist,” she joked, she turned to freelance writing. After about a year, she landed a job writing about television and entertainment. It didn’t take her long, though, to realize she eventually wanted to write for television, not just about it.

Brown’s writing is heavily influenced by science fiction and fantasy. The Sticks, in particular, draws from spooky books and shows that were popular in her youth, like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Goosebumps. She’s also attracted to the horror-comedy of cult-classic shows like Supernatural and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Brown and Buza are hopeful that season one will attract a large audience; if it does, they plan to launch another Kickstarter campaign to fund subsequent seasons. That perpetual possibility of more drew her to television (over film) in the first place.

“I like writing episodes, the ongoing story that comes back,” Brown said. “The most frustrating part about reading a book or watching a movie is when it’s really good and you really enjoy it and then it’s over. A good show can go on for ages.”

— Jess Kibler