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Programs Thu 2.15.2024

Film Independent Episodic Lab Announces New Fellows, Grant Recipients 

Writing a feature film is easy. All you need is one gimmicky logline, as cheap and single-serving-disposable as a coffee pod from the complimentary hotel room K-Cup spinner. Once you stumble upon one of these so-called “high concept” ideas, the script practically writes, sells and produces itself. It’s creative work for stupid babies, as all filmmakers will surely agree–totally unlike, in other words, the act of conceptualizing an entire episodic series, a demonstration of storytelling virtuosity so complex and adult it straddles the border between ancient Euclidean geometry and New Age witchcraft.  

Okay, so maybe that’s a little extreme. But for aspiring series creators and showrunners, structuring a workable, potentially long-running television concept requires imagination and problem-solving on both the micro- and macro- levels–a mastery of tone, plot and characterization across variable interlocking units of temporal storytelling: scenes, dramatic acts, full episodes, multi-episode arcs and complete seasons. 

Enter the Film Independent Episodic Lab, the 7th edition of which is currently underway in Los Angeles. This year, the Lab welcomes eight new writers to a two-week, in-person program designed to support each Fellow’s project through intensive industry and creative mentoring, as well as networking with top studios and network execs. It’s the seventh edition of Lab, part Film Independent’s Artist Development programs.   

The Film Independent Episodic Lab Fellows

“We’re delighted to support a group of innovative and authentic writers telling stories that are both entertaining and impactful. It’s an honor to be able to nurture their artistic voices and careers in the Episodic Lab,” says Dea Vazquez, Film Independent’s Associate Director of Fiction Programs.

The Episodic Lab Creative Advisors and Guest Speakers include Wendy Calhoun, Linda Yvette Chávez, KD Dávila, Kelly Kulchak, Gina Kwon, Justin S. Lee, Missy Laney, Jennifer Levine, Glen Mazzara, Dani Melia, Marc Mounier, Van B. Nguyen, James Ponsoldt, Robbie Pickering, Gina Reyes, Erica Rosbe, Ellen Shanman, Jiah Shin, McKenna Stephens and Ligiah Villalobos. 

This year’s Episodic Lab Projects are:

  • Title: Beige Is Not Dead
  • Writer: Catherine Durickas
  • Logline: In 2074, when a boring-ass introvert briefly dies only to find out she’s been permanently deleted by the System, she delves into the underground society to regain her existence, aided by her fuck-up guardian robot. 
  • Title: Dear Azza,
  • Writer: Azza Malik
  • Logline: The Sudanese sisters with opposing values try to navigate faith, love lives and their place in Khartoum’s tight-knit society. **MPAC Hollywood Bureau Writing Fellowship Awardee** 
  • Title: Jourdain 
  • Writer: Robert ToTeras 
  • Logline: In Reconstruction-era New Orleans, one of America’s first Black detectives battles widespread prejudice, police corruption and mistrust from his own community, while being tasked with solving America’s first sensationalist child-abduction.
  • Title: Overcast 
  • Writer: Robert Cohen, Iona Uricaru 
  • Logline: A multi-episode psycho-political thriller set in the early days of the American space program, focusing on the German scientists who worked for the Nazis before being brought to the US, and asking the question: “How much of the past can we jettison along the way as we try to attain lift-off to the future?” **Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship Awardee** 
  • Title: The Machetero 
  • Director: Myles Hawthorne, Giovanni Maldonado Chinea 
  • Logline: At the turn of the 20th Century, a Puerto Rican freedom fighter turned machete-wielding assassin and his fiery, pre-teen daughter wander lawless roads in search of the American who destroyed their lives.
  • Title: ZHIZHA! (紙紮!) 
  • Writer: Desdemona Chiang 
  • Logline: In the wake of their mother’s death, two sisters struggle to keep their relationship and family business, the last Taoist funeral paper effigy maker in Southern California, alive.

Past Episodic Lab Fellows include April Shih, who has written on FX’s Fargo, Dave, Mrs. America and You’re the Worst, and struck an overall deal at FX Productions; Kimi Lee, who wrote on Amazon’s Expats, Apple’s The Morning Show; Henry “Hank” Jones, who has written on ABC’s Will Trent and Apple’s Truth Be Told; KD Dávila, who has written on CBS’s Salvation and Freeform’s Motherland: Fort Salem; Stephanie Adams-Santos, who has written on The CW’s Two Sentence Horror Stories; and Van B. Nguyen, who is a writer on CBS’s Blue Bloods. 

This year’s Episodic Lab Fellow’s are: 


Catherine Durickas

LA-based Catherine Durickas is an award-winning writer, producer and human. Since graduating summa cum laude from UVM majoring in both Theater and Anthropology, her work has been recognized in numerous festivals, including Sundance and the Austin Film Festival. She’s studied at every major comedy theater in LA and has a consistently sold-out show with her sketch team Rabble Rabble at the Elysian Theater. Her recent accomplishments include producing Five, winner of Best Short Film at Italy’s Versi di Luce Film Festival, and dishing out questionable advice to anyone who will listen. Her work is darkly comedic, brightly self-deprecating, and medium-ly realistic. 


Azza Malik

Azza Malik is a Sudanese writer who was raised in the tight-knit community of Khartoum, where the enigmatic dance of politics, legacy and family that played out behind closed doors became the seed from which her ideas emerged. Malik aims to tell stories that involve dissecting the broader geopolitical frameworks to bridge the gap between East and West. A writer of geopolitics, drama and action, Malik has ambitions to direct as well, bringing these stories to the big screen. Malik worked at HBO, Hello Sunshine, UTA and more whilst earning her MFA from USC’s Peter Stark Producing program. Upon graduating, she worked as an executive assistant to managers at TFC, a boutique management firm and production company. Most recently, she worked under the showrunner, director and EP duo, Daniel & Ben Barnz. 


Robert ToTeras

For the last fifteen years Robert ToTeras has worked as a film and television composer. ToTeras has been obsessed with writing for about as long as he’s been obsessed with music. He has immersed himself in the work of writers such as David Milch, David Chase and Tony Gilroy. Robert wants to write the stories he would watch. Since 2013 he  has scored Oxygen’s hit series Cold Justice, produced by Dick Wolf. Robert has also scored shows for Netflix, including the series Sugar Rush, for which he won a 2020 BMI Award. He recently scored the docuseries Let Us Prey: A Ministry of Scandals, airing on Max, as well as the PBS documentary The Niagara Movement – The Early Battle for Civil Rights, directed by Academy Award nominee Lawrence Hott. Robert spent three years as a professional blackjack gambler and member of a card-counting team in Las Vegas. He has been politely escorted, by well-dressed security teams with earpieces, out of numerous well-known gaming establishments. And yes: he’s currently writing a script about it. 


Robert Cohan

Robert Cohen is the author of six works of fiction. His stories and essays have appeared in Harpers, Paris Review, The Atlantic, The New York Times and elsewhere. His awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award and a Pushcart Prize. He teaches at Middlebury College. 





Iona Uricaru

Ioana Uricaru is a Romanian-American filmmaker. She is interested in stories that reconsider the historical past while focusing on the details of lived experience. She co-directed the omnibus Tales From the Golden Age (Official Selection, Cannes Film Festival) and co-wrote and directed Lemonade, a Film Independent Spirit Award Someone to Watch Award nominee and winner of several festival awards. Her work has been part of the official selections at the Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, Tribeca and AFI festivals, and was supported by the Cannes Cinefondation Residency and the Sundance Institute Feature Film program. Ioana is a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. 


Giovanni Maldonado Chinea

Giovanni Maldonado Chinea is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter and amateur salsa dancer. Despite his Italian-sounding name, Giovanni was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He ultimately traded gorgeous beaches and unbearable humidity for the smog and dust of Los Angeles, graduating from the AFI Conservatory with an MFA in Screenwriting. Giovanni’s pilot script, Novia – co-written with Myles Clifford Hawthorne and based on the life of Mexican film legend, Lupita Tovar – was featured on the Black List’s inaugural Latinx TV List, and his work focuses on the underrepresented, his Latin roots, and his deep love for genre. 


Myles Hawthorne

Myles Clifford Hawthorne (he/they) is a Black List-recognized writer, director, and occasional reality TV producer (Big Brother / The Challenge: USA) based in Los Angeles. He was born and raised among the trees and fog of the Pacific Northwest, where he earned a BA in history and worked for a while as a pun-slinging tour guide in Seattle. A screenwriting graduate of the AFI Conservatory, his work has been featured on the inaugural Latinx TV List (with co-writer Giovanni Maldonado Chinea) and is distinguished for its rich characters, structure, and genre blending. 


Desdemona Chiang

Desdemona Chiang is a Taiwan-born American director and writer based in Seattle, Washington and Ashland, Oregon. She has over 20 years of experience directing in American regional theater and writes stories about unique intergenerational immigrant experiences. Her TV pilot, Made in USA, has been developed with Sundance, The Orchard Project, The Writers Lab and was a winner of the WeScreenplay Diverse Voices Lab. Desdemona is also part of the inaugural cohort of the Sundance Institute Asian American Fellowship and the AFI DWW+ class of 2024, where she wrote and directed a short film adaptation of Made in USA.


Film Independent is also excited to award the MPAC Hollywood Bureau Writing Fellowship Grant to Azza Malik who will receive a $10,000 grant from the MPAC Hollywood Bureau for her pilot, Dear Azza,.

This year’s Fellows are supported by Netflix and its Fund for Creative Equity. As a returning sponsor, Netflix will pair each Fellow with an executive to serve as their Industry Advisor, providing them with opportunities to learn from award-winning creative executives helming Netflix films and series. This access is a crucial step in helping the Fellows move forward in their careers.

“I’m honored to be the recipient of the MPAC Grant for Dear Azza,” said Malik. “This project is a love letter to Sudan as she’s fallen into war. It is the story of three Sudanese sisters who are at war with themselves as well as everything they once knew. Grateful for MPAC’s support in championing a Sudanese story; global awareness of our identity is more crucial now than ever before.” 

Film Independent is excited to award this year’s Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Grant to Robert Cohen and Ioana Uricaru, who will receive a $20,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to support the development of their pilot, Overcast, through the Episodic Lab. 

“We are honored and excited to receive the support and recognition of the Alfred P. Sloan development grant,” writes Cohen and Uricaru. “Our series delves into the heart of difficult questions about science, morality and politics. The Foundation’s support is essential for telling this story, and it will be instrumental in ensuring a fascinating piece of American and science history receives the visibility it deserves.”

Film Independent Artist Development programs promote unique independent voices by helping filmmakers create and advance new work through Project Involve; Filmmaker Labs (Directing, Documentary, Episodic, Producing and Screenwriting); Fast Track finance market and Fiscal Sponsorship, as well as through grants and awards that provide over one million dollars annually to visual storytellers. 

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