The Sundance Institute has selected 10 projects for its second Episodic Story Lab for creators of TV and Online series. Fellows this year hail from diverse creative disciplines including filmmaking, music, literature, comedy and new media. This year’s projects, chosen from out of more than 2,500 submissions, come from creators including Matt Berninger of rock band The National; Oscar-nominated filmmakers of The Square, Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim; and Blue Valentine co-writer Cami Delavigne. The Lab is one of 24 residency Labs the Institute hosts each year for independent artists in theatre, film, new media and episodic content.
Under the leadership of Michelle Satter, Founding Director of the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program, with Jennifer Goyne Blake, Senior Manager of the Episodic Story Lab, Fellows will work with an accomplished group of showrunners, television executives and producers on developing their spec pilot and series overview. They will participate in one-on-one creative story meetings, Writers’ Rooms for selected projects, pitch sessions and group conversations about the creative process and current episodic field.
“We are excited by the diversity of perspectives represented by this new group, whose projects are ambitious, timely and original in voice and vision,” said Satter.
Following the Lab, Fellows receive customized, year-round support from Feature Film Program staff, Creative Advisors and Industry Mentors.
Those Creative Advisors Include Rich Appel (Family Guy), Mara Brock Akil (Being Mary Jane), Howard Gordon (Homeland), Jenni Konner (Girls), Jenny Bicks (Sex and the City), Chris Brancato (Narcos), Tom Fontana (Oz), Howard Gordon (Homeland), Amy Lippman (Masters of Sex), Glen Mazzara (Damien), Jeff Melvoin (Army Wives) and Veena Sud (The Killing), and writer/producer Chic Eglee.
Industry Mentors include a number of top executives and producers such as Betsy Beers (Shondaland), Bob DeBitetto (A+E Studios, A+E Networks), Dante Di Loreto (Chernin Entertainment), Susie Fitzgerald (AMC and SundanceTV), Peter Friedlander (Netflix Original Series), Mark Johnson (Gran Via Productions), Sophie Mas (RT Features), Erica Motley (Sonar Entertainment), Francesca Orsi (HBO) and Sarah Timberman (Timberman-Beverly Productions).
“By offering both creative and industry guidance, our Episodic Story Lab prepares exciting, diverse voices to navigate the evolving landscape for episodic stories in order to advance both their projects and their careers,” said Keri Putnam, Executive Director of Sundance Institute in announcing the Fellows.
Artists and projects selected for the 2015 Episodic Story Lab are:
12 Miles South
By Michael Krikorian
After a gang killing goes wrong, Los Angeles faces a resurgence of violence that threatens to unravel the city’s fragile peace. In 12 Miles South, a cop, a reporter and a gang leader on death row find their agendas dangerously entwined as they deal with the fallout.
Krikorian is a veteran Los Angeles crime reporter and the author of the critically acclaimed novel Southside. Born in Chinatown and raised in Gardena, Krikorian was a writer for the Los Angeles Times for 11 years. He continues to report about L.A. street gangs on his website “Krikorian Writes.”
By John Lopez
In Crude, a young mother desperate to sustain her family’s existence leaves them behind to pursue a steady job in a North Dakota oil boomtown. A brutal murder on the outskirts of town sets a chain of events in motion that thrusts her into the middle of a war between a drug cartel, a Native American gang, and an overtaxed local sheriff.
Lopez, a Los Angeles native, has been a regular contributor to Grantland’s “Hollywood Prospectus,” Vanity Fair’s “Little Gold Men,” GQ and The Huffington Post. Most recently he directed segments for NBC’s 2014 Actor’s Showcase and served as associate producer on Hossein Amini’s film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Two Faces of January.
By Christianne Hedtke
In 1939 Paris, bohemian Jewish heiress Peggy Guggenheim sets out to establish the first museum dedicated to the art of her time – mischievous, radical Surrealism. As Hitler expands his assault on Europe and wages war on so-called “degenerate” art, Peggy is torn between helping these endangered artists escape and rescuing the art itself.
Hedtke is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter. She was born and raised in Minnesota, and studied film and art at the University of Denver. Prior to her time in LA, Hedtke developed original content for Nickelodeon in New York, and has spent over a decade on staff at the Telluride Film Festival. She is a founding member of the Greenpoint Writers Group, and a contributor to MovieMaker Magazine.
Hell or High Water
By Maria Melnik
Hell or High Water takes place during the five-year construction of the Hoover Dam at the height of the Great Depression. Part Western, part political dystopia, part steampunk clash of primordial rock and radical technology, it tells the story of the men and women who lived and died to make the desert bloom.
Born in Magadan, Russia, Melnik immigrated to Alaska at the age of 11. She received her BA from Vassar and her MFA from the UCLA School of Film and Television. She is currently a staff writer on the upcoming series American Gods on Starz.
By Mishna Wolff
I’m Down is the story of a socially awkward white girl whose new-agey mother leaves her in the hands of her father, a white man who self-identifies as black. This dysfunctional family comedy, set in 1990s-era Seattle, explores racial identity and the lengths to which a child will go to win a parent’s love.
Wolff is the bestselling author of the critically acclaimed memoir I’m Down. Her award-winning book is taught at high schools and colleges throughout America and sold at the Nobel Peace Museum and Northwest African American Museum. Wolff is an alumna of the 2009 Sundance Institute January Screenwriters Lab.
Mistaken for Strangers
By Matt Berninger and Carin Besser
Based on the acclaimed documentary of the same name, Mistaken for Strangers is the story of an indie rock singer and his family whose lives are upturned when his band begins to enjoy mainstream success and his unemployed younger brother moves in to help out.
Berninger is the lead singer of The National, the Grammy-nominated indie rock band, and the newly-formed EL VY. He produced the music documentary Mistaken for Strangers with his wife, Besser who worked as a fiction editor at The New Yorker before moving to Los Angeles. She co-produced and co-edited the documentary Mistaken for Strangers, which opened the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.
By Mac Smullen
At the dawn of the Cold War, a group of CIA agents with conflicting agendas find their morals tested and their lives changed by the clandestine efforts to exploit the newly discovered chemical compound LSD.
Smullen is a writer and filmmaker from New York. Since graduating from SUNY Purchase’s Conservatory of Film, Smullen has worked as a freelance editor, directed music videos for Stones Throw Records and had original short fiction published by American Eldritch.
By Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim
Radicals is a limited series about three Muslim-American friends from Jersey City’s “Little Arabia” whose lives are ripped apart after the FBI accuses them of orchestrating a terrorist plot on American soil.
Noujaim is the Academy Award-nominated director and producer of The Square, which received the prestigious Directors Guild and International Documentary Awards in 2014 and was the first film to win the Audience Award at both the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals. The film was supported by the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program in 2012. Noujaim has produced and directed other award-winning films including Rafea: Solar Mama, Control Room and Startup.com.
Amer also produced The Square, which won three Emmys for Directing, Cinematography and Editing. The film was seen in over 50 film festivals around the world and was the recipient of the 2014 IDA Award and Berlinale’s Amnesty International Award, among many others.
By Cami Delavigne
Inspired by the short story by Caitlin Horrocks, The Sleep is a supernatural dark comedy about a small-town history teacher and his two children who, grieving the death of their wife and mother, decide to hibernate through the winter. When they awake as younger, better versions of themselves, their transformation attracts both devotees and detractors to their quiet New England town.
Delavigne co-wrote Blue Valentine, the romantic drama starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010. She is currently a staff writer for The Son, the upcoming AMC multi-generational drama. She also teaches screenwriting at NYU.
By Akilah Hughes and Lyle Friedman
Unlikely is a comedy web series about a pair of biracial twins, one of whom looks white, the other black. After transferring to the same college in their senior year, the codependent siblings struggle to find their own identities while keeping their close bond.
Hughes is a writer, stand-up comedian and YouTuber residing in Brooklyn. She is currently a digital correspondent for Fusion’s Pop and Culture team. In the fall of 2016, Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House, is publishing a collection of her personal essays.
Friedman is currently a staff writer for Darren Star’s new hit TV show Younger. She co-created the web series #hotmessmoves and has a project in development with Jill Soloway. Lyle trained at both UCB and the LAByrinth Theatre Company in New York.