The TV scriptwriters workshop is held in partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal, The Walt Disney Company, HBO, and Kung Fu Monkey Productions. It is designed to prepare Native Americans for writing careers at major television networks. Fellows take part in a five-week curriculum curated by seasoned writing executives.
The lab was created to expand the amount of Native Americans working behind the camera, and as a way to increase fair and accurate portrayals of Native Americans on television. During the 2013-14 television season, Native Americans composed only 0.1% of writers staffed on TV shows, according to the 2015 Writers Guild of America-West TV Staffing Brief.
Between 2008 and 2014, the number of employed Native American television writers declined 60 percent, from 10 to just 4 writers. Native Americans were the most underrepresented in sector employment by a factor of 12 to 1.
The lab consist of daily workshops, seminars and one-on-one mentoring to help each writer develop and complete a pilot in five weeks and hone skills to prepare the writers to move into staff writing positions.
“We’re excited to bring together this remarkable group of Native American writers with distinctive voices and dynamic stories,” said LA Skins Fest executive director Ian Skorodin. “Once again we have a stellar group of Native writers who have shown considerable talent and even greater potential. We welcome them to the program to advance their expertise and professional skills with the aim of seeing them build careers as writers.”
“As a longtime sponsor of the LA Skins Fest and a founding partner of their Native American Writers Lab, we are thrilled to continue our relationship with an organization that is vital to increasing Native American representation in entertainment. Their programs continue to introduce us to talented Native American writers, actors and directors – some of whom have been a part of our pipeline programs and staffed on our series,” said Karen Horne, SVP Programming Talent Development & Inclusion, NBC Entertainment and Universal Television.
The 2019 NATIVE AMERICAN TV WRITERS LAB fellows:
John Timothy (Muscogee Creek)
John Timothy (Muscogee/Creek) is a Brooklyn-based writer and comedian. He teaches and performs at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York where you can see him every Saturday night with his team, The Curfew. With his writing partner Patrick Mahoney, he co-wrote “The Third Party”, a mockumentary feature comedy about third party presidential candidates in the 2016 election. It was accepted into the 2017 New York Independent Film Festival and now lives on the internet someplace. In addition to writing and performing, John also co-hosts The Big F***, Brooklyn’s only variety comedy show on a boat.
Shelley Dennis (Choctaw)
Shelley was born into a family of Choctaw storytellers in small town Oklahoma. She fell in love with theatre and bringing compelling characters to life as early as elementary school – writing and directing her own plays. When her third grade class was “good,” the teacher allowed Shelley to grace the class with her creations. She took a brief time-out when she was scouted by a modeling agency and flown to Milan, where she made a living being tall and hungry. Her modeling days provided her with a plethora of questionable experiences, many of which inspire her projects. Shelley has written for Disney’s Tangled TV Show and toured alongside Wayne Brady, doing both standup and improv. She recently co-created and starred in an 8-episode VR comedy, Sestra!Sestra!, now available on Oculus Rift and Oculus Go!
William Paul Smith (Eastern Shoshone Tribe)
William Paul Smith is an Eastern Shoshone actor, writer, and filmmaker. He was born in Ashland, Oregon, and raised in Northern California. Smith earned a BFA in Screenwriting and Directing from the School of the Visual Arts (SVA) in New York and attended Columbia University’s MFA Film Directing Program. In 2017, he received his MFA in Creative Writing from the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). His work examines culture, identity, gender, sexuality, and spiritually through a Native lens, adopting a filmic language that traverses narrative, documentary, and interdisciplinary cinema. Smith directed the documentary, Labor of Life, and his feature-length cinematic poem, Izhar’s Ghost, a collaboration with MASS MoCA that portrays artist Izhar Patkin during his 2014 retrospect The Wandering Veil, is currently in post-production. Smith is the president of WATER, an an art collective that propels Native American scholarship, identity, art, and activism at CalArts, where he was awarded a 2017 Teaching Fellowship and taught in the Critical Studies Department.
Cara Jade Myers (Kiowa / Wichita)
My love for storytelling started at a young age, when I wrote of my dog and a magical world we got lost in. I’m still writing about magic and being lost in a world I don’t understand, but now the problems are slightly more complicated, and my form has improved. Storytelling is more than just a passion, it’s been my escape. At five years old I would tell stories to my puppies, so they wouldn’t be scared when my drunk father hit my mom. Around the age of nine I would watch music videos non-stop because at that time they were like mini movies as I avoided my strung-out step-dad. What can I say, my mom knew how to pick’em. And high school is it’s own trauma, but at least I discovered my love of reading. As an adult, I decided to go into the stable world of acting. That was sarcasm, just to clarify. All jokes aside, it’s a form of storytelling that I love. What I don’t love is reading script after script of women (especially native women) misrepresented and reduced to half-naked props, but that is a whole different rant. After reading so many scripts, naturally ideas for TV and film would pop in my head. And like any good writer I would scribble a few notes on whatever paper was closest and put it in a disheveled pile of half written sparks of creativity. I am very proud of this pile and get renewed excitement every time I try to organize it.
Micah Wright (Muscogee Creek)
Micah Ian War Dog Wright is an enrolled member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. He has worked as a writer, director, designer, and producer. His feature film writing/directing debut, the comedic horror thriller They’re Watching was released in theaters and is now available on Netflix and iTunes worldwide. Most recently, Micah served as the Chief Content Officer of FNX, the country’s only Native American television network, where he produced over 200 episodes of 12 nonfiction documentary series he created.
Micah started his career in television animation where he wrote, storyboarded, directed, and composed songs for shows like The Angry Beavers and Ozzy & Drix, before creating Nick’s first ever action show Constant Payne. Micah also worked in videogames where he wrote and designed on over 50 games including entries in the Call of Duty, Transformers, Ratchet & Clank, Destroy All Humans, and Looney Tunes franchises, among others. Micah has written six graphic novels and four published books of propaganda posters. Micah is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America, where he founded the Native American & World Indigenous Writers Committee.
Carolina Hoyos (Quechua-Inka)
Carolina Hoyos is a first generation Peruvian Quechua-Inca Afro-Latina. Born in Washington, DC, and raised between the quiet suburbs of Virginia and the gritty streets of Baltimore, Carolina has also lived in NYC, San Francisco and Montgomery, Alabama, before making LA her home. She splits time between writing and acting for stage and film as well as releasing records as singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist, A Girl I Know. She sings and plays as Antonella in Nicolas Winding Refyn’s upcoming Amazon Prime series “Too Old To Die Young”. Recent stage work includes Glass Ceilings, Good for Otto, Soledad, Match, Sincerely, Mom and Sitting Bull’s Last Waltz.
Carolina also writes and performs with improv and sketch troupes at UCB, iOWest, Comedy Central, ACME Noho, and The Clubhouse. Her troupe Nightpantz was named WhoHaHa’s Best Original Sketch. Carolina is in development to direct dramatic short “Children of the Sun”, co-direct sitcom pilot “Dad Pad”, and has begun research on an international political drama based on her family’s involvement in world politics from the Civil Rights movement to the Gulf War.
Robert Vestal (Cherokee)
Robert Vestal (Cherokee descent) is an actor, writer, and director based in Los Angeles. Rob is a graduate of the University of Chicago, studied at The Second City, and is also a graduate of The Groundlings. He has appeared in numerous commercials and is a veteran of the Stage having performed in front of an audience literally thousands of times. His film and television credits include ER, It’s All Relative, and the ALMA Award winning film No Turning Back. In 2014 Rob won the Von Marie Atchley Excellence in Playwriting Award for his short play A Little off the Top. His other writing and directing credits range from stage plays to short films and include Reservoir Logs, The Key to the Fourth Wall, The Bullfrog Lover, and I Know What You Did Last Spring Break, which was a finalist in YouTube’s Sketchies II contest. Rob also appeared in the video game Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.
At the end of the program, each participant will have completed an original television script and will take creative meetings with our corporate partners.