Founded in 2016, the Native American TV Writers Lab is an intensive TV scriptwriting workshop, which prepares Native Americans for careers as writers. Its mission is to expand the amount of Native Americans working behind the camera, thereby increasing fair and accurate portrayals of Native Americans on TV. According to the WGA West’s 2020 Inclusion Report, the Native American and indigenous population currently represents just 1.1% of working television writers.
The Native American TV Writers Lab takes fellows through a five-week curriculum, curated by seasoned writing professionals, which consists of daily workshops, seminars and one-on-one mentoring. The goal is to have each writing fellow develop and complete a pilot script within five weeks, whiling honing skills that will enable them to move into positions, as staff writers.
The Native American Media Alliance’s partners in putting together the lab include Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Cherokee Nation Film Office, Kung Fu Monkey Productions, Snowpants Productions and Decolonizing Wealth Project.
“We live in an incredibly exciting time – we are finally seeing television shows about Native American people, by Native people, with Native artists on both sides of the camera,” said William Jehu Garroutte (Cherokee Nation), who executive produces ABC’s Dark Horse and serves as Director of Education for the Native American Media Alliance. “As an alumni of the first Native American TV Writers Lab, I am excited to see this initiative continue to bolster our community, to empower our writers and storytellers. Every year, this program builds on an incredible community of talented artists. I look forward to the new and groundbreaking projects the 2021 cohort has to offer.”
Selected fellows for the 6th annual Native American TV Writers Lab include:
- Alex Nystrom, an Ojibwe writer, director and producer from Minneapolis, Minnesota. After sound-mixing indie films, Alex moved to New Orleans to pursue filmmaking full-time. He worked his way up the camera department on films such as Transformers: The Last Knight, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 22 Jump Street, and many others. During that time, he wrote and directed several short films including Addam, which was awarded the Promising Filmmaker Grant at the Louisiana Film Prize. Nystrom now resides in Los Angeles and works as a director’s assistant to Amman Abbasi, director of Dayveon (Sundance Film Festival ‘17) and the upcoming feature, The Quench. He most recently produced a documentary short for the Hindsight Project via Firelight Media, Reel South, and CAAM that will premiere this year.
- Glenís Hunter (Shinnecock), a New York actress, writer and filmmaker based in LA. From a young age she discovered the performing arts as a way of self-expression. Growing up in the Dominican Republic and then moving back to New York in 2001, she got the opportunity to embrace her diverse multicultural (Black, Latinx and Native American) background through spoken word, screen writing and activism. After graduating from SUNY New Paltz with a Bachelors of Arts, she decided to pursue acting and writing full-time. Past writing credits include short films, such as Dinner Date, A Walk in The Park and Woke. Woke premiered at many film festivals in 2019, including LA Skins Fest.
- Diego Moreno (Pascua Yaqui), a screenwriter from Tucson, Arizona. He received his BA in Film and Media Studies from Dartmouth College in 2018. His Native Horror script, My-A-Knee, won the Laing Memorial Screenplay Award in 2016. His most recent television project, Casino Coyote, is a 60-minute family crime drama set on an Indian reservation near the Arizona/Mexico border. Diego is currently an MFA candidate in the screenwriting program at the Institute of American Indian Arts.
- Andrina Smith (Shinnecock), a storyteller, writer, and performer who graduated from Emerson College with a theatre degree in a pre-Hamilton world. She knew if she wanted to see stories like hers, she’d have to write them. Growing up Shinnecock in the Hamptons (where her tribe is located), her work frequently explores identity, race, and the experience of 1%-adjacent life. She trained at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater so she could explore all of those constructs, but in a funny way. Prior to all theatre going dark, she performed monthly with Like Butter, her sketch team at The PIT in NYC.
- Author and filmmaker Brian Young, a graduate of both Yale University with a Bachelor’s in Film Studies and Columbia University with a Master’s in Creative Writing Fiction. An enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, he grew up on the Navajo Reservation but now currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. As an undergraduate, Brian won a fellowship with the prestigious Sundance Ford Foundation with one of his feature length scripts. He has worked on several short films including Tsídii Nááts’íílid – Rainbow Bird and A Conversation on Race with Native Americans for the short documentary series produced by the New York Times. Brian is currently working on his second book with Heartdrum, an imprint of HarperCollins.
- Shelby Ramirez, a Navajo (Diné) and Mexican American artist from the Navajo Nation (Dinétah.) She grew up in towns on the border of the reservation, and has a strong love for her land and people. She studied film with a focus on animation at Dartmouth College. Her final project was an animation which won Dartmouth’s ASIFA Animation Award. Since 2015, she has worked on multiple television shows for Nickelodeon and Fox. She enjoys writing and drawing stories which have minority female leads. Her stories seek to break down tropes and stereotypes, while touching on the experiences of modern day Native people. Shelby is a 2020 Native American Animation Lab fellow.
- JohnTom Knight, a proud member of the Cherokee Nation, who was born at the Claremore Indian Hospital in Claremore, Oklahoma. More recently, he was selected as a fellow and participated in LA Skins Fest’s 2nd Annual Native American Animation Lab. Through this, he was able to meet and pitch an original series concept to executives at Cartoon Network, Crunchyroll, Sony Pictures Animation, and Kung Fu Monkey Productions. In 2019, JohnTom was selected as a finalist for the Walt Disney Writing Program. Following this, he served as a production intern with [adult swim] where he was able to work on Squidbillies, 12 Oz. Mouse, Williams Street Swap Shop, and more. During his time at [adult swim], JohnTom wrote and created a number of original animated shorts that aired on [adult swim] streams. Fast forward to today, JohnTom works full time in the video game industry.
- Liz Stephens, a Los Angeles-based enrolled member of the Choctaw tribe of Oklahoma. A performer in early versions of The Moth series, she’s now the author of memoir The Days Are Gods on University of Nebraska Press, and contributor to a number of anthologies. Her writing often examines themes of memory and identity, in her present projects through a lens of blue-collar and sex work, and rural and queer life, with, one reviewer notes, “the humor of an insider and the humility of an observer.” With a PhD in creative nonfiction storytelling and American Studies, she teaches memoir at UCLA and young screenwriters at Chapman University. She’s the winner of a Frederick Manfred Award of Western Literature, and finalist for the Duke University Documentary Prize. She runs a writer’s residency in Wonder Valley, California in an off-grid cabin outside Joshua Tree, as Mojave Desert Arts. Current projects include pilots The Future of Birds, a girl’s race away from her childhood in a dystopian Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree, four 19-yr-olds completing community service in Joshua Tree National Park instead of jail time.
- Jeremy Charles, a writer/director/producer and Cherokee citizen from Oologah, Oklahoma. Native representation in film is his mission, forming FireThief Productions in 2014. He is a co-creator, director and producer for Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People, now in its seventh season. This series has earned 9 regional Emmys, including an Emmy for Best Director in 2017. His narrative short Totsu (Redbird) premiered in 2020 and went on to win “Achievement in Film” at L.A. Skins Film Festival. An original animated series in the Cherokee language, Inage’i (In The Woods), is currently in production. His direction of the music video for “Everybody Needs” by Branjae earned the Judge’s Choice Graphex award in 2018, and he took the stage as a TEDx speaker 2014. His films have been selected for numerous film festivals around the world.
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