Sundance Institute announced the 12 fellows chosen to participate in its first-ever Episodic: Pilot to Series Lab, designed as an immersive two-part experience hosted on Sundance Collab, where selected emerging TV writers will workshop an original pilot and develop a series overview.
Beginning with the Lab, Fellows will benefit from a full year of customized, ongoing support from Feature Film Program staff, Creative Advisors and Industry Mentors, led by Founding Director of the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program, Michelle Satter and Director of the Episodic Program, Jennifer Goyne Blake. Working with accomplished showrunners, the Fellows will participate in one-on-one story meetings, craft workshops, and Writers’ Rooms, which together provide creative and strategic tools for success. Creative Advisors joining this year’s Lab are Erica Rivinoja, Danny Chun, Sanjay Shah, Graham Yost, Teresa Hsiao, LaToya Morgan, Shalisha Francis, Lee Eisenberg, Charles Eglee, Malcolm Spellman, Katori Hall and Jenny Bicks.
The upcoming gathering of the Episodic Lab: Pilot to Series will take place October 10–12, 2020; fellows will reconvene in February 2021 with a polished draft of their Lab project to participate in pitch sessions, group conversations about the episodic landscape, and meet with producers and creative executives to discuss next steps and career goals. Industry mentors include: Kathryn Tyus-Adair, Justin Rosenblatt, Yvette Urbina, Tiffany Hawthorne, Carrie Gillogly, Marta Fernandez, Sarah Timberman, Deniese Davis and Candace Rodney.
“Sundance Institute champions independent creators,” says Satter, “and we need to stay nimble and responsive across formats, media and narrative structure. By convening emerging talent together with established advisors, we aim to create a basis for sustainable careers, even among an ever-evolving industry. With the ongoing support of our Episodic team and Advisors, many of our writers have been staffed on shows, and a growing number are now developing their pilots at a variety of networks.
“We’re excited to support these visionary writers at this pivotal stage in their artistic development – providing a targeted intervention to empower and nurture them as they hone their craft and give shape to their ideas,” adds Goyne Blake. “As the episodic space rapidly evolves, TV writers need sustained, meaningful mentorship to build sustainable careers.”
The projects and fellows selected for the 2020 Episodic Lab: Pilot to Series are:
Desperate to leave their previous lives behind, a trio of street hustlers look to solve the clues behind an underworld myth called The Cavi, a West Coast tall tale that is said to lead to a hidden treasure for the ages.
Justin Calen Chenn was a homeless teenager when a fly-ass Black man who drove a mad chicken blue Chevy took him under his wing. Growing up as a motel kid, he got involved in a life of street hustle and organized crime, but left that world behind after witnessing a horrific incident in 2016. A former participant in the Imagine Impact accelerator, Justin is writing and/or producing projects with notables such as eOne, Chernin Entertainment, Lucas Foster, Sly Stallone’s Balboa, Justin Lin, Matt Jackson, and Imagine Entertainment. He is also working with Jari Jones, Stephen “Dr” Love’s Made With Love, Amy Jephta, Don Lee, Stephan James, Young Thug’s 300 Entertainment, and Regina King’s Royal Ties.
A Dignified Death
A by-the-book former ICU nurse starts working at a hospice agency where she clashes with her rule-bending veteran supervisor, and learns what it really means to provide patients with a dignified death.
Lauren Glover is a Los Angeles-based dramedy writer originally from Columbia, Maryland. A former registered nurse with experience working in the psychiatric, intensive care, and hospice fields, Lauren writes darkly comedic stories with a humanistic and nuanced approach. Lauren is currently a writers’ assistant on Amazon’s Fairfax. She was previously a showrunner’s assistant to Pam Veasey on LA’s Finest. Lauren is developing her pilot A Dignified Death with producer Aaliyah Williams.
When a die-hard New York Baby Boomer and his Gen Z granddaughter move to Baltimore and become unlikely roommates, they must navigate their new city and deal with their own questionable life choices.
Elissa Blount Moorhead is a filmmaker exploring the poetics of everyday Black life. She directed Jay Z’s long form music video 4:44, Back and Song, an experimental 4-channel film, and an episode of PBS/Firelight Media’s new series Masters in the Making. Elissa created and directed a 3D mapping and augmented reality installation called As of A Now. She is the author of P is for Pussy, an illustrated “children’s” book and is featured in the anthology How We Fight White Supremacy: A Field Guide to Black Resistance. Eilssa was previously supported by the Episodic Program as a Fellow in the 2020 Sundance Institute Episodic Makers Lab. Moorhead has been recognized with the Sundance Institute | Comedy Central Comedy Fellowship.
Ericka Blount Danois has worked as a music and culture writer, screenwriter, author, researcher, and producer. Her award-winning works include Love, Peace and Soul: The History of the Show Soul Train and the documentaries Time is 11/matic, Tupac (Untitled), and PBS’s Finding Your Roots. Ericka’s interview portfolio includes conversations with Fidel Castro, Earth Wind & Fire, Lenny Kravitz, and Andy Rooney. She is the recipient of a Ruby Award, Deadline Club Journalism Award for Columbia University, and an award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Ericka was previously supported by the Episodic Program as a Fellow in the 2020 Sundance Institute Episodic Makers Lab. Danois has been recognized with the Sundance Institute | Comedy Central Comedy Fellowship.
From Guantánamo, with Love
When an 18-year-old Yemeni is mistaken for a battle-hardened al Qaeda general, he’s sent to the world’s most notorious military prison, where he fights to survive, regain his humanity, and win back his freedom. Based on true stories.
Antonio Aiello is a writer, editor, and story consultant. As former content director for PEN America, Aiello developed written and multimedia content at the intersection of free expression advocacy and the literary arts to give voice to issues of social justice and writers in peril around the world. This included producing mini documentaries, founding and editing Glossolalia, a magazine of international literary translations, developing graphic narratives, and directing the PEN America multimedia archive in collaboration with Princeton University. Aiello is a founding board member of Writ., a new arts organization promoting safe and equitable creative communities. He is currently collaborating with Mansoor Adayfi on a series of projects including graphic stories and Adayfi’s memoir, Don’t Forget Us Here, to be published by Hachette in 2021.
Mansoor Adayfi is a writer, artist, and former Guantánamo detainee who was held for over 14 years without charges. Adayfi has written several pieces published in the New York Times, including the Modern Love column “Taking Marriage Classes at Guantánamo”; the introduction for the exhibit Art from Guantanamo, which ran at John Jay College in 2017-2018; and a series of graphic stories published in The Nib and the forthcoming Guantanamo Voices. Adayfi participated in the creation of the award-winning radio documentary The Art of Now for BBC radio about art from Guantánamo and the CPC podcast Love Me, which aired on NPR’s Snap Judgment. From Guantanamo, with Love is inspired by Adayfi’s real life experiences as chronicled in his forthcoming book Don’t Forget Us Here, written in collaboration with Antonio Aiello, to be published by Hachette in 2021.
Hannah with the Dogs
After leaving her relationship, quitting her job, and cutting ties with her religion, Hannah copes the only way she knows how: by talking to lots of dogs—who also talk back to her.
Yvonne Hana Yi is a screenwriter from the San Francisco Bay Area. She recently served on the writing staff of Raising Dion’s second season for Netflix/MACRO, and her original pilot Rose is being produced by The Black List and Gemma Chan’s IG Productions. She is also an alum of The Black List/Women in Film Episodic Lab. Yvonne is a graduate of NYU, where she earned a degree in Media Studies and Art History, and the UCLA MFA Screenwriting program.
Mandingo is the portrait of a Black male athlete’s search for purpose and meaning in his life after he is released early from prison.
Terrance Daye is an award winning poet and filmmaker from Long Island, New York. His creative work reimagines traditional representations of black masculinity and male identity and invests strongly in destigmatizing mental illness within the black community. Terrance received his Bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College and his Master’s in Fine Arts in filmmaking at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Terrance is a two-time Spike Lee Production Fund recipient and a 2018 Sundance Ignite Fellow. His most recent film project –Ship: A Visual Poem was awarded a Short Film Jury Award for U.S. Fiction at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
In this surreal comedy, eight sixty-somethings living out their golden years in an otherworldly suburb find their way of life threatened by the arrival of a mysterious newcomer with no memories of her past.
Born and raised in North County St. Louis, Johnny Alvarez is a queer writer/filmmaker and second-generation Cuban American. He is an alumnus of OutSet: The Young Filmmakers Project and Actuality Media’s Documentary Outreach Program. Johnny’s short film Victory Boulevard premiered at the 2018 Outfest Film Festival and went on to play at festivals in Chicago, Seattle, and North Carolina. His short documentary Tu Calle, Nuestro Estrado, shot on location in Cochabamba, Bolivia, premiered at the 2017 My Hero International Film Festival. His writing has been featured in LEVEL, Plenitude Magazine, The Hunger Journal, and Quiet Lightning. Johnny is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago’s film and television programs and currently resides in Los Angeles. Alvarez has been recognized with the Sundance Institute | Comedy Central Comedy Fellowship.
Iran’s most revered assassin is living an idyllic family life in the U.S. after she betrayed her terrorist father and delivered him to the CIA. But she’s forced back in the field when he escapes, kidnaps her son, and launches a global war.
Born and raised in war-torn Beirut, Nicole M. Saad lived out her political thrillers from a young age. In a land conditioned by calamity, her world was run by fierce and passionate women who created a sense of normalcy, and Nicole took diligent notes that would later influence her writing. Armed with a BA in English Literature & Creative writing from FIU, Nicole set out to create fascinating characters in spellbinding global settings, interweaving volatile, historical and political events into nimble storytelling.
Too Long at the Fair
A failing writer and struggling choreographer hatch a plan to find financial security by fulfilling the role-playing fantasies of the Los Angeles ultrarich.
Jessie Barr is a filmmaker based in Los Angeles. She is a director, writer, actor, and producer with a background in independent film, digital storytelling, and theater. She made her feature film directorial debut with Sophie Jones, from executive producer Nicole Holofcener, which she directed, co-wrote, and produced. Sophie Jones premiered in competition at Deauville 2020. Her short film, Too Long at the Fair, which she co-wrote, co-directed and stars in with Lena Hudson, and her award-winning original series, Om City, which she created and stars in with her husband Tom O’Brien, have screened at film festivals around the world, including the Tribeca Film Festival, Manchester Film Festival, and the San Diego International Film Festival. Her work has been featured as a New York Times TV Critic’s Pick, Short of the Week, Vimeo Staff Pick, and USA Today’s “Web to Watch.” Jessie was previously supported by the Episodic Program as a Fellow in the 2020 Sundance Institute Episodic Makers Lab.
Lena Hudson is a Brooklyn-based actor, writer, and director. Her work includes the solo clown-cabaret, Showwomanship, a musical odyssey about the greatest showbiz diva you’ve never heard of. Her short film Too Long at the Fair, which she co-wrote and directed with Jessie Barr, premiered at the LAShorts International Film Festival and can be seen online via Short of the Week and NoBudge. Lena also worked as a producer on the feature film Ghostwritten, starring Jay Duplass and directed by Thomas Matthews. Lena was previously supported by the Episodic Program as a Fellow in the 2020 Sundance Institute Episodic Makers Lab.
The Sundance Institute Episodic Program is made possible by Founding Supporters Lyn and Norman Lear and Cindy Harrell Horn and Alan Horn. Leadership Supporters are AMC and SundanceTV, Comedy Central, Netflix, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, STARZ, and WarnerMedia.
As a champion and curator of independent stories for the stage and screen, Sundance Institute provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, film composing, and digital media to create and thrive. Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, the Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally.Sundance Co//ab, a digital community platform, brings artists together to learn from each other and Sundance Advisors and connect in a creative space, developing and sharing works in progress. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences and artists to ignite new ideas, discover original voices, and build a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as Clemency, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Zola, On The Record, Boys State, The Farewell, Honeyland, One Child Nation, The Souvenir, The Infiltrators, Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Fruitvale Station, City So Real, Top of the Lake, Between the World & Me, Wild Goose Dreams and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
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