On Tuesday, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group announced that it is launching a new Animation Writers Program, aimed at uplifting underrepresented voices in film and television.
The writers selected for the program’s inaugural cohort are Shari Coleman, Kiana Johnson, Senibo Myers, David Ngo and Joe Winters. Each was selected for one of three writing tracks: a Film Track, or one of two TV Tracks catered towards different demographics (Preschool ages 3-5 or Kids ages 6-11).
The Universal Animation Writers Program was conceived by NBCUniversal’s Global Talent Development & Inclusion team, the goal being to identify and develop an inclusive group of talent who can build upon the Studio’s commitment to telling stories with unique narratives that appeal to and reflect the vast diversity of its audiences.
The first five writers in the one-year paid program will benefit from professional development, as well as an immersive experience of the Studio’s production process, through workshops, seminars, sponsorship, and executive, filmmaker and showrunner- led roundtable discussions. They will also have the opportunity to collaborate closely with creative execs at DreamWorks Animation and Illumination, as they develop their material, as well as business units and production entities affiliated with UFEG and NBCUniversal including Universal 1440 Entertainment, Universal Studio Group and the Entertainment Group.
“DreamWorks has always been a place to build the dreams of unconventional heroes. This endeavor requires diverse voices from unique backgrounds. Thank you to the Global Talent Development & Inclusion team for building the Animation Writers Program and shining a light on underrepresented talent,” said Margie Cohn, President of DreamWorks Animation. “We are excited to dig in and begin working with this promising group of writers.”
“Identifying and nurturing first time filmmakers and talent has always been a central pillar of Illumination’s process,” added Chris Meledandri, Founder and CEO of Illumination. “We look forward to collaborating with the extraordinary group of inaugural participants in the Animation Writers program to develop new and innovative animated projects.”
The Universal Animation Writers Program is the second of its kind from UFEG, which also boats a long-running writers program for live-action. Notable alumni of the Universal Writers Program include Juel Taylor (Creed II), who is currently developing a project with Universal and Lebron James’ The SpringHill Company; Sarah Cho, a staff writer on the upcoming Hulu and Universal Content Productions series The Girl from Plainville; and Leon Hendrix, co-writer and exec producer of Cointelpro, a drama series in development at Peacock.
Additional information on participants in the 2021 Universal Animation Writers Program can be found below:
Shari Coleman (TV, Kids 6-11)
Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, though a self-proclaimed “child of the world”, Shari Coleman is certainly a child at heart. Growing up having been impacted by numerous animated shows and movies, Coleman aims to create stories that’ll give a voice to the unseen and the unheard. Being fortunate enough to do a bit of international volunteering in her high school years opened her eyes to new cultures, experiences and the wonders of the world we live in. Her career began when she suddenly realized at the peak of college app season that she in fact did not want to pursue medicine and would pursue film instead. A decision, to note, that made her father less than thrilled. Yet, growing up biracial gave her enough experience in consistently redefining people’s expectations and perceptions of her to prove him wrong. Attending CSU Northridge, Coleman did just that. Within the distinction of receiving her B.A. in Film Production, she was awarded with the titles of Hollywood Foreign Press Association Scholar and Fellow as well as the opportunity to direct her first short film, Home, which will run the festival circuit this summer. She was also fortunate enough to work the Cannes Film Festival and be personally recommended to the Academy Gold program (now Gold Rising). Coleman currently has TV credits for Disney Channel’s Bunk’d and an editorial credit for AMC’s Creepshow Animated Special.
Kiana Johnson (TV, Kids 6-11)
A native Texan, Kiana Johnson has spent a majority of her life traveling up and down I-35. Born and raised in San Antonio, she graduated in 2018 from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in Radio-TV-Film with a focus in Screenwriting. During her time at UT, Johnson co-founded the Black Film Student Association with two friends to provide a safe-space and learning community for people of color. Her awards include advancing to the second round in AFF’s 2019 Comedy Spec Category, and winning ‘Class Clown’ on five separate occasions from unaffiliated organizations. After graduation, Johnson bagged groceries to fund her life in LA, writing and reading in her spare time. A queer, Black woman, Johnson loves to write characters that reflect the magic and diversity of the people she’s met. She adores fantasy, sci-fi, and Whataburger, and maintains that it’s better than In-N-Out.
Senibo Myers (TV, Preschool)
Senibo Myers is a writer who loves to explore unique friendships between characters of varying backgrounds, experiences, and identities, including people, animals, and even inanimate objects. He holds a B.A. in Digital Cinema/Screenwriting from DePaul University, an M.F.A. in Dramatic Writing from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and is a proud #GirlDad. His writing was presented in the Tisch Dramatic Writing Fellowship of New Works and the Black is the New Black Play Festival, which he co-produced. Myers was a Finalist for J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot Mentorship Program and a Semifinalist in the PlayStation Emerging Filmmakers Program. He’s worked at Nickelodeon, MTV, Spike TV, DreamWorks, and ABC. He has written for the MTV Movie Awards, People’s Choice Awards, and America’s Best Dance Crew. For Myers, storytelling is an all-you-can-eat buffet, and he’s got his sweatpants on.
David Ngo (Film)
David Ngo is a current screenwriter, former television executive, occasional college lecturer, sometimes filmmaker, always a parent, frequent script consultant, forever Vietnamese American, infinite pop culture enthusiast, and consistent podcaster filling out his bingo card of an entertainment career. Ngo’s work has taken him to fellowship in the NBC “Writers on the Verge” program, dishing celebrity news at E! Entertainment, teaching eager minds in the Asian American Studies department at Cal State Fullerton, directing a documentary about a beauty pageant for seniors, photographing motels, writing copy without spoilers for streamers, pondering if they’ll make Saved by the Bell: Retirement Home one day, and seeking the best untold tales he can uncover on his podcast, The Best Story I Never Told.
Joe Winters (TV, Kids 6-11)
Growing up in Northern Virginia, Joe Winters always had an inkling they were a little different from the other kids at their Catholic school. It wasn’t until they were called “gay” (and subsequently Googled what “gay” was) that they began to understand that difference. Once they came to terms with and started to explore their sexuality, life felt a whole lot more complicated, especially when they were put into therapy because of it. It was during this time of uncertainty that they clung onto animated fantasy shows to help transport them away to far off lands where it was okay to be different. When they couldn’t be in these fantastical worlds, they found solace in theatre. This ultimately led them to Virginia Commonwealth University, where they received their B.F.A. in Theatre Performance. After graduating college, a series of unfortunate events landed Winters in a deep depression. Luckily their time in theatre led them to discover the world of Drag, and “Zelda Peaches” was born. Drag not only helped to save their life, but also to accept their non-binary identity. Finally comfortable with who they were, they came to the realization that instead of being in other people’s stories they would rather create their own. They wanted to write the kind of shows they needed as a kid – edgy, animated fantasy-comedies highlighting queer identities and mental health struggles. With that knowledge, they flitted away to Los Angeles where they studied TV Writing at UCLA. Since then, they have worn many different hats on various productions, including the opportunity to intern at Hey Qween!, a revered queer talk show. Their writing has also been recognized by The Script Lab, ScreenCraft, Launch Pad, and Final Draft’s Big Break.