Los Angeles, CA — Sundance Institute today announced the 11 original projects selected for its third annual Episodic Story Lab. The spec pilots, which range from dystopian sci-fi to historical comedy, explore themes of personal and social identity, family dysfunction, political extremism, and the limits of human understanding. The Episodic Story Lab is the centerpiece of the Institute’s year-round support program for emerging television writers.
During the Lab, the 13 selected writers (the “Fellows”) will participate in individual and group creative meetings, writers’ rooms, case study screenings, and pitch sessions to further develop their pilot scripts with guidance from accomplished showrunners, producers and television executives. Beginning with the Lab, Fellows will benefit from 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 Senior Manager of the Episodic Story Lab, Jennifer Goyne Blake.
“With the Episodic Story Lab, we’re continuing to identify and amplify the most creative emerging voices in independent storytelling,” said Michelle Satter. “We hope that bringing together this diverse group of Fellows, Advisors and Mentors, with their broad ranges of storytelling experiences and perspectives, will spark conversations and learning about the writing process, navigating the industry, and how the episodic format continues to evolve.”
The Sundance Institute Episodic Story Initiative and Lab is made possible by Founding Supporters Lyn and Norman Lear, and Cindy Harrell Horn and Alan Horn. Leadership Supporters are A&E; Amazon Studios; AMC and SundanceTV; BET; Netflix; RT/features; Time Warner, Turner, Warner Brothers and HBO.
Creative Advisors for the Lab include: Chris Brancato (Co-Creator and Showrunner, Narcos), Daniel Chun (Head Writer, The Office), Chic Eglee (Writer/Producer), Kerry Ehrin (Co-Creator and Executive Producer, Bates Motel), Lee Eisenberg (Co-Creator, Hello Ladies), Ali LeRoi (Executive Producer and Director, Survivor’s Remorse), , Glen Mazzara (Creator, Damien), Jeff Melvoin (Executive Producer, Army Wives), Erica Rivinoja (Co-Executive Producer, The Last Man On Earth), Meredith Stiehm (Executive Producer, Homeland), Liz Tigelaar (Showrunner and Executive Producer, Casual) and Daniel Zelman (Executive Producer, Bloodline).
Industry Mentors include: Bob DeBitetto (President, Brand Strategy, Business Development and A+E Studios, A+E Networks) Dante Di Loreto (President of Television, Chernin Entertainment), Susie Fitzgerald (Executive Vice President of Scripted Programming, AMC and SundanceTV), Peter Friedlander (Vice President, Original Series, Netflix), Charles King (Founder/CEO, MACRO), Zola Mashariki (Head of Original Programming, BET), Francesca Orsi (Co-Head of Programming, HBO), Katherine Pope (Head of Television, Studio 8), Gina Kwon (Development Executive, Amazon Studios), Sarah Timberman (Producer and Principal, Timberman-Beverly Productions) and David Zucker (President of Television, Scott Free).
Artists and projects selected for the 2016 Sundance Institute Episodic Story Lab:
By Connie O’Donahue & Jeremy Nielsen
Set in the 1950’s, this alternate-history western follows a wounded veteran in the aftermath of the Second Atomic War, as he sets off across the radioactive wasteland of the new American frontier to find the men who massacred his platoon and murdered his family. In the process, he will uncover a rising political conspiracy with global implications.
A California native, Connie O’Donahue is an award-winning screenwriter currently living in Riverton, Wyoming, where she produces and films documentary shorts for Wyoming PBS. She’s an Official Artist of the 2015 New York Television Festival and alumna of the ABC Daytime Writers Development Program.
Jeremy Nielsen is currently the only film professor in the state of Wyoming. With an MFA in Film and Media Arts from the University of Utah, Nielsen has over 15 years of teaching experience in the juvenile justice system, higher education, and at Spy Hop, a non-profit youth media studio in Salt Lake City.
By Marlena Rodriguez
This half-hour comedy follows Melanie Lopez, who is unexpectedly forced to drop out of college and find a job after a family financial crisis. Now, she must learn to navigate the roads of adulthood as the newest employee of the Chicago DMV.
Marlena Rodriguez is a comedian currently based in New York City, after spending four years in Chicago where she studied and toured with The Second City. She’s written and starred in web series, including, “We Have To Move,” and the Broadway Video/Mas Mejor-produced “Bouncers.” Most recently, Marlena wrote for Season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
By Rafael Agustin
Sixteen-year-old Rafa has it all — he’s junior class president, homecoming prince and is all-but-guaranteed a scholarship to UCLA. But this all-American high school student’s life is turned upside down when he discovers he may not be American after all.
Rafa is the co-writer and co-star of the award-winning, autobiographical comedy, N*GGER WETB*CK CH*NK. He is a recipient of the Emerging Leader Award by LA Times’ Latinos De Hoy, as well as the Alumnus of the Year Award by Mt. San Antonio College. Rafa is the Executive Director of Edward James Olmos’ Latino Film Institute Youth Cinema Project. He received his BA and MA from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film & Television, and is an alumnus of the CBS Diversity Comedy Showcase.
By Eboni Freeman
After the death of her father, fourteen-year-old Cori is forced to relocate from the Midwest to Compton to live with her two headstrong aunts, Mary and JoJo Lovely (one forty, the other sixteen). This half-hour dramedy follows the lives of the Lovely women as they struggle to cohabitate and learn how to be a family.
Eboni Freeman is a native Angeleno who received her BA from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!). Post graduation, Eboni was the recipient of the Guy Hanks & Marvin Miller Screenwriting Fellowship. Since then, Eboni has worked as a comedy writer for DanceOn Network and The Peak. She is also a proud member of Fox Sports where she was awarded an Emmy for her work during the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
By John McClain
When autistic teen Tanner Wool goes missing, his alcoholic older brother Campbell begins his own amateur investigation into the boy’s disappearance, suspecting it may be connected to the otherworldly Marfa Lights.
John McClain is a writer and filmmaker from Texas, currently based in Los Angeles. Since earning his MFA in playwriting from UCLA, he’s worked as assistant to comedy writer Brent Forrester, a writers’ assistant on the first season of WGN’s Underground, and has taught dramatic writing at UCLA and Northwestern.
By Donald Joh
A secret police officer in a totalitarian state discovers the existence of a serial killer who targets children. He defies orders to drop the case and launches his own investigation, calling into question his deepest beliefs and threatening the life of his family.
Donald Joh studied drawing and photography at the University of Michigan and earned an MFA in Cinema & Television at the University of Southern California. After college, he developed his storytelling craft both by screenwriting and by editing on shows like The Office and House. A spec pilot led to his first staff writing job on Covert Affairs for USA Network. He recently worked in the editorial department for the NBC drama Game of Silence.
By Colin McLaughlin
The Olympians is an animated comedy about the gods of the Greek Pantheon, the world’s most dysfunctional family. Tensions mount after Zeus, bored with immortality, indulges an escalating partying habit that threatens the future of man and god alike.
Colin McLaughlin is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter. He studied Film & Television production at the University of Texas at Austin and is currently a writer’s assistant on the Nickelodeon show Henry Danger.
Tales Below Dixie
By Mike Flynn
Tales Below Dixie is an anthology series that explores the intersecting lives of criminal investigators and their suspects against the backdrop of the crumbling American south. Set in northern Georgia, the first season tells the story of Abraham Redding, a pragmatic federal agent on the verge of retirement, whose final investigation into the terrorist acts of a right-winged extremist drags him back into a haunting case from his past.
Flynn is a Los Angeles-based writer from College Park, GA who holds a degree in TV & Film from San Diego State University. His short fiction has been published in Five Quarterly. He has written on the NAACP Image Award-nominated series Detroit 1-8-7 and is currently staffed on Greenleaf, headed into its second season on OWN.
By Nilanjana Bose & Jakub Ciupinski
In the dark polar night of an antarctic winter, a group of scientists inhabiting a remote research station discover a perplexing anomaly in a nearby lake, setting in motion a series of events that upend their lives and their notion of reality.
Nilanjana Bose is an actor and writer based in New York City. She made her television acting debut on NBC’s Crossbones and has acted in numerous plays in New York and regionally. She grew up in India where she trained as a classical dancer. She studied acting/drama at the Juilliard School.
Jakub Ciupinski is a Polish composer and writer living in New York City. His music has been commissioned by the leading institutions and soloists of classical music and performed in the most prestigious venues around the world. He is also the creator/inventor of ‘Hacked Theremin’ and currently serves as the head of the Studio Composition program at SUNY, Purchase. He is a graduate of the Juilliard School.
The Wolfman of Pacoima
By Calvin Lee Reeder
A hard living 24-hour notary public has carved out a tiny unfulfilling life on the outskirts of the San Fernando Valley, but his world is transformed when he stumbles upon a portal to an alternate dimension.
Calvin Lee Reeder made a name for himself with lo-fi genre shorts like “Piledriver” and “Little Farm”. His controversial features films The Rambler and The Oregonian excited Sundance Midnight audiences just as his shorts before them. He recently returned with “The Procedure”, which took home The Sundance Short Film Jury Award for U.S. Fiction.
By Hilary Helding
Your Majesty is a family comedy about a single father trying to raise three kids and find love while also working a full-time job… in 1539 as the King of England.
Hilary Helding escaped her little house on the prairie to live and write in a little apartment in the Valley. After graduating from Columbia College in Chicago, she moved out to Los Angeles where she is currently developing a project with John Riggi and creating sarcastic greeting cards in her spare time.
Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, and new media to create and thrive. 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. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences to artists in igniting new ideas, discovering original voices, and building a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, Sin Nombre, The Invisible War, The Square, Dirty Wars, Spring Awakening, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
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