Film Independent‘s 14th annual Screenwriting Lab, sponsored by WGA West, is a five-week program designed to help writers improve their craft and take their current scripts to the next level while learning about the industry and the craft. Robin Swicord and Jeff Stockwell return as this year’s mentors, and speakers include Short Term 12‘s Destin Daniel Cretton and Orange Is The New Black‘s Sian Heder. One of the 10 screenwriters on this year’s list, Edi Ibok, won the Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television Screenwriting Fellowship for his script Trauma. He will receive a $10,000 grant to develop the screenplay through the lab. Here’s the full list of fellows and their projects:
1. Broad Street Diner – Three elderly male friends who meet daily at a neighborhood diner, find that 70 is the new 40 as they deal with friendship, new love, sickness and fatherhood, making it hard for them to retire from “Life.”
Fred Thomas Jr. the seven time 2012 N.A.A.C.P award nominee and winner of Best Director, Best Playwright and Best Producer for his play 12’ x 9’ is an alumnus of Lincoln University, where he received his Bachelors in Journalism before attending Temple University and receiving his Masters in Film and Media Arts. To date, Thomas is the producer of the feature The Bachelor Party for Image Entertainment, director and a producer of the film 24 Hour Love, director/writer on the web series The Taboo Diaries, director on Moms the web series, and the co-writer/producer/director for the stage play What Would Divas Do? Divalogues, for TV One’s Network show R&B Divas L.A.
2. Forbidden Steps – A Muslim daughter struggles with the divisions between her passion for dancing and the will of her family.
Iram Parveen Bilal was raised in Nigeria and Pakistan, and is conscious of the rare opportunity and voice she has on the filmmaking playground. Having directed internationally recognized, award-winning short films, Josh is her feature debut that just released theatrically nationwide in Pakistan. Josh has been commissioned by Channel 4 and is in the process of international distribution. Other feature projects in development have received attention by IFP, The Academy’s Nicholl Writing Fellowship, Mumbai Mahindra Sankalan Lab, Film Independent and Women In Film. A Film Independent Fellow, Bilal has participated in Film Independent’s Project Involve, Directing Lab and Screenwriting Lab. Prominent awards and honors include the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, Stark Special Project Scholarship, Mabel Beckman Leadership Award, Paul Studenski Fellowship and the Dean’s Cup. She is an honors graduate of CalTech and the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC. More on www.iramparveenbilal.com.
3. Jamie and Jackie – Jamie and Jackie is the story of a small time thief who lives the life of a ghost until the day he’s invited to play a strange game with a woman he meets at a hotel.
Tarik Karam is a filmmaker based in New York City who has worked side by side with director Stephen Daldry for the past six years. He co-produced the Oscar nominated Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close while also serving as Second Unit Director. Previously, Tarik collaborated with Daldry on the Oscar-nominated The Reader, serving as Second Unit Director and Associate Producer. Most recently, Tarik completed a short film entitled “ZZZZZZZ,” about two sleepwalkers in love, which premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival and is set to play this year’s Austin Film Festival. Tarik graduated from the American Film Institute (AFI) with an MFA in Film Direction. He is a proud member of the DGA and his work can be found at www.tarikkaram.com.
4. Jane – After her sister’s fatal back alley abortion, Teresa, a bright, but naïve 1960’s college student, joins “Jane,” an underground group who break the law and risk their lives to help women find access to safe abortions.
Natalija Vekic is a screenwriter and director whose short films “The Sacred Heart” and “The Girl with the Pearl Suspended” have screened at the New York Underground Film Festival, Ann Arbor Film Festival, and Mill Valley International Film Festival. Natalija won a Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival for her short film “Lost & Found,” was the recipient of the prestigious Princess Grace Award in film and a San Francisco Individual Arts Commission Grant. She is a co-producer on the documentary Strand: A Natural History of Cinema, directed by long time collaborator Christian Bruno. Strand received the inaugural Film Independent Fast Track HBO Fellowship and was selected to participate in the Documentary Lab at Film Independent. Vekic is a recent graduate of the UCLA MFA screenwriting program where she spent countless sleepless nights writing screenplays and TV pilots. She received theExecutive Board Award Fellowship, a UCLA Graduate Fellowship and was one of eight writers selected to work with Academy Award-winning screenwriter and UCLA alum Dustin Lance Black in a feature screenwriting seminar. She researched and wrote Jane, which was inspired by a brave group of feminists in Chicago who broke the law to make sure women had access to safe abortions. Vekic has a special place in her screenplays for runaways, outlaws and all the beautiful misfits who make the world so amazing. Family turmoil, forgiveness and how the past always manages to creep into the present — are at the heart of many of her scripts.
5. Love on the Tundra – Seemingly together, type-A Emily becomes obsessed with trying to “save” mentally ill Jacob, but in the process of helping him get better, begins to psychologically unravel herself.
Dana Turken is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker whose work lives somewhere between the real and the surreal, the dramatic and the comically absurd. She has directed eight short films and one play, through the Francis Ford Coppola One Act Festival. Dana grew up in Detroit and spent her youth training as a dancer. She studied semiotics at Brown University, directing at Prague’s FAMU Film Academy, and received her MFA in directing from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television. A member of the International Cinematographers Guild, she spent five years in New York working in the camera department on feature films, episodic television, music videos, and commercials, before moving to Los Angeles to pursue her MFA. While at UCLA, Turken’s short film, “Love on the Tundra,” screened at the Seattle International Film Festival and the Athens Film and Video Festival, among others. Her film, “Arthur and the Bunnies,” premiered at the Palm Springs International ShortFest, and went on to screen at numerous venues, including, Comic-Con, Camerimage, Mill Valley Film Festival, Cucalorus, REDCAT, and the Columbus International Film Festival, where it won the Best of Festival award. In 2012, she was a directing fellow in Film Independent’s Project Involve. She recently directed a short screwball comedy, produced by Film Independent and sponsored by the Lincoln Motor Company and Vanity Fair. Turken is currently writing a script for independent producer Bergen Swanson about the 1960s battle between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs.
6. The Murch – An extremely smart boy from the Midwest moves to the projects of North Carolina and learns that there is a high price for trying to fit in.
Elliott Williams was born in Seattle, but claims New York, North Carolina and Los Angeles as home. He has lived on both coasts, but he’s almost lived in half the states in the US. He began his corporate career as a management professional in the Fortune 10 Company GE Capital before moving on to pharmaceutical sales and management. Williams is also an Emmy award-winning producer who began his career behind the camera with a bit of good fortune. Williams’ first professional offering was the 2010 Official Sundance Selection Night Catches Us, which was also a winner at the Seattle International Film Festival and nominated for Best First Feature at The Spirit Awards before being distributed by Magnolia Pictures. He went back to school and earned a Master’s degree in Producing from the American Film Institute (AFI) and, while there, he produced the award-winning comedy web series #nitTWITS based on funny tweets. Upon completion of school, his thesis film, “Usagi-san,” won The Grand Jury Prize at the Ivy Film Festival, a Student Emmy Award and a BAFTA-LA Special Jury Prize. He also began writing at AFI and The Murch is his first screenplay. Elliott is very happy and proud to be a part of Film Independent’s Screenwriting Lab and can’t wait to see this film reach its full potential.
7. Spa Night – Struggling to escape his crumbling family life, a closeted Korean-American teenager follows his desires and finds more than he bargains for at the Korean spa.
Andrew Ahn is a Korean-American filmmaker born and raised in Los Angeles. His short film “Dol (First Birthday)” premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and has screened at numerous other festivals and venues around the world, including Lincoln Center, REDCAT, and the Los Angeles Film Festival. The film received the Outfest Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Short Film. An alumnus of Film Independent’s Project Involve, Ahn also participated in the Sundance Screenwriters Lab in June 2013 with his feature screenplay Spa Night. The project also received a Sundance Institute Cinereach Feature Film Fellow grant. Ahn is an alumnus of Film Independent’s Project Involve. He graduated from Brown University with a degree in English and received an MFA in Film Directing from the California Institute of the Arts.
8. Sugar – When a seasoned war correspondent is executed in a fancy Nairobi suburb, his 29 year-old lover is forced to confront corrupt politicians, Somali extremists and her own demons, in order to halt a coup d’état and expose the conspiracy behind his death.
A University of Chicago and AFI graduate born in New York and currently residing in Los Angeles, Thymaya Payne has directed a number of films including the short films “Apparent Horizon” (starring Peter Coyote), “Let’s Not and Say We Did,” and “Coup De Grace,” which premiered at the HBO Latino Film festival. In the summer of 2010 he completed his documentary film Love Limits, which was later released by Icarus films. In 2008 Payne began a four-year journey to direct and produce an in-depth documentary about Somali piracy and its root causes called Stolen Seas. The film premiered at the Locarno Film festival and was awarded the Boccolino’ D’oro. Later, at the Palm Springs Film Festival, Stolen Seas won the John Schlesinger award for best Documentary. “A dangerous 90-minute immersion in a world where lawlessness applies to all sides” said Variety. The New York Times called the Stolen Seas “Magnificent.” Stolen Seas was theatrically released in early 2013.
9. Trauma – A veteran discharged after a spontaneous act of violence struggles to reorient himself to home town life and must face emotional scars resulting from a sexual assault he experienced in the military.
Edi Ibok wrote for online sites including IGN and Cracked.com and worked as a videographer and editor after graduating from Princeton University with a BA in Philosophy. While enrolled in Loyola Marymount University’s Graduate Program in Film and Television Production, he won the Cosgrove Family Endowment and LMU’s Oscar Micheaux Award. After earning his MFA, he photographed projects for the 18th Street Arts Center before his current job in distribution at Fox Home Entertainment.
10. Varenya – Varenya, a South Indian Hindu priest, accepts a young apprentice and is forced to question the doctrines of his religion.
Shripriya Mahesh is an Indian-born filmmaker based in San Francisco and New York City. Mahesh wrote and directed “The Color of Time,” a short film featuring Oscar nominees, James Franco and Jessica Chastain. The short is part of the collaborative feature film, Tar, which premiered at the Rome Film Festival. Her award-winning short films have played at the Palm Springs International ShortFest, the Rhode Island International Film Festival, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival (Frameline) and dozens more. Her film, “Reprise”, won the Best Student Film Award at the 12th deadCenter Film Festival, the Best Short by a Woman award at the 9th Salento International Film Festival, and was a finalist for the 6th Iris Prize. Mahesh’s first feature, Varenya, has been selected for IFP’s Emerging Storyteller section and will participate in Independent Film Week, 2013. It has also been selected for Film Independent’s Screenwriting Lab, 2013. Mahesh had a successful career in Silicon Valley, ultimately managing a $400M business for eBay, before leaving the corporate world to dedicate herself to filmmaking. She is an MFA candidate at NYU’s Tisch Graduate Film Program, where she was awarded a Tisch School of the Arts Fellowship. She also earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.