WESTERLY — When Desmond Moran was a senior at Westerly High School in 2008, he and two fellow students placed third in the annual Teen TV/Radio Commercial Challenge, a statewide video contest sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to help curb drinking and driving.
Earlier this month, Moran, now 32 and a Los Angeles-based television writer and producer, found out that his new television series Halfsies had been selected as a finalist for the upcoming Catalyst Story Institute festival in Duluth, Minn.
“I haven’t thought about this contest in years,” Moran said with a hearty laugh as he recalled the high school video project. “I dated Liz Francese and Cam Nigrelli, and I think we won tickets to a Death Cab for Cutie concert.”
Moran was on the phone from Denver Friday afternoon. He just flew to Colorado from his home in Los Angeles to meet up with his boyfriend, he said, so they could travel across the country together.
“Actually, we’re on our way to Rhode Island,” added Moran, who attended State Street School and Babcock Middle School before graduating from Westerly High in 2008.
“My first job ever was as a paperboy for The Westerly Sun,” Moran added with another hearty laugh.
Moran, the only son of Carmelia Moran, a single mother who moved to Providence after Desmond went to college at the School of Film and Television at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, was also the editor-in-chief of the Barker, Westerly High School student newspaper.
“I worked my way up from being a staff writer,” said Moran, who went on to praise his time at Westerly schools.
“My third grade teacher, Linda Piscatelli, was my favorite teacher ever,” he said, “and I loved Anne Barnhart, my high school English teacher. It opened my eyes to life outside of our little bubble in Rhode Island and exposed me to so much good literature.”
“And Ryan Zemanek and Mr. Bonner,” he added. “I think I took every film and video production class I could from him.”
Moran said his love of television started “at a very young age” and with his mother.
“We did that together,” he said. “We sat together and watched TV… all the old sitcoms. ‘I Love Lucy’, ‘The Jeffersons’ … I loved TV.”
Moran said he began working his way through the television industry after graduating from Loyola, where he studied film and television production.
“My break in television came with ‘Good Girls’ in 2017,” he said.
“I love writing and writing stories for TV,” said Moran, who served as producer on Peacock’s Queer as Folk and was a writer on Freeform’s hit comedy Grown-ish — a spin-off of Black ish” — and in seasons one and two of NBC/Netflix’s “Good Girls.”
He is also Executive Producer on Hulu’s upcoming reinterpretation and adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s national bestseller, Tiny Beautiful Things, which will star Kathryn Hahn and be produced by Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon.
“We’re filming now,” Moran said. “I was on the set yesterday.”
After two years writing on Grown-ish, Moran said he landed a small part that he enjoyed.
“It connects my two loves,” added Moran, who was involved in theater productions when he was at Westerly High School.
He has a role in his new show Halfsies, which tells the story of six black half-siblings who all struggle to define themselves as they re-enter each other’s lives after the death of their eldest sibling.
The brothers include Caleb (played by Moran), who puts up with racism in the gay community; recovering drug addict Theo (played by Galen J. Williams) who tries to find a new path in life; the born again Silas (played by Devere Rogers) who struggles with a sinful temptation; parole officer Anton (Jerah Milligan), who struggles to provide for his family; and father-to-be Tarik (Wade Allain-Marcus), who is determined to be a better father than the one they all share.
“As the brothers try to bond for the first time in their lives, they will find that their issues, fears and dreams make them more of a family than blood ever could,” the series said in a statement.
“At a time of uncertainty for our industry, this year’s Storytellers reflect the ingenuity, resilience and stunning creativity required to create and share content in today’s rapidly evolving entertainment landscape,” said Philip Gilpin Jr. , Executive Director of Catalyst. in a statement, “These are stories that need to be told by creators who deserve the attention of the industry and we’re excited to give them a platform at this year’s festival.”
Although Moran will be traveling and unable to attend the festival, he praised the organizers and said he was pleased with the positive attention the project has received.
Before being selected for the Catalyst Story Institute Showcase and Festival, Halfsies was accepted at Outfest, a Los Angeles festival created to showcase diverse LGBTQIA+ stories and empower storytellers.
The Catalyst Institute is a nonprofit organization that helps creators advance their careers and find outlets for their content at the festival, held each year in Duluth.
“Catalyst helps emerging talent create content for television, connect with industry leaders and boost their careers,” Rasky Partners’ Erin McGarvey said in a statement about Moran and “Halfsies,” adding that the festival has about 1,000 project submissions receives every year.
“Des is one of only a handful of creators whose work is on display,” added McGarvey. “Less than 10 percent of all entries are shown at the festival, which attracts agents, producers, directors and other television industry executives looking for new talent and new programs.”
“It’s really exciting,” said Moran, who can now claim the title of co-executive producer.
Moran said he’s working on some new projects but is hesitant to share too much information.
“Can I just say I have a TV and feature film project in different stages?” he asked.