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Programs Wed 4.17.2024

Open Dialogue: Meet the 2024 Film Independent Screenwriting Lab Fellows!

Exterior. Establishing: Film Independent HQ. Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles. PRELAP the sounds of passionate conversation and laughter. CUT TO: Interior, Conference Room, Film Independent HQ. Seven new screenwriting FELLOWS are arrayed around a table, the Hollywood Sign visible on the distant hills outside the window. They’re here to develop six deeply personal and wholly original feature film projects under the steady guiding hand of Film Independent’s SCREENWRITING LAB (31, strong-willed but nurturing; seasoned but not too stuffy it can’t still cut the rug, especially when an open bar is involved). A fun, creative, safe space.


(Roll credits)

Sorry–we wish our story could’ve been longer but there wasn’t really any dramatic conflict at the Screenwriting Lab this year, just a lot of productive discussion and writing workshops with lead creative advisors Javier Fuentes-León, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi, Jessica Sharzer, Jeff Stockwell and Christopher Makoto Yogi. Additional guest speakers and advisors include Ruth Atkinson, Danielle Renfrew Behrens, Bridget Savage Cole, Lauren Craniotes, Ellie Foumbi, Priyanka Kapoor, Danielle Krudy, Amanda Marshall, Josh Peters, Jon Schumacher, Ellen Shanman, Lauren Shelton and Caddy Vanasirikul. But there was still plenty of character development, on the page and off.

Previous Film Independent Screenwriting Lab projects have included Billy Luther’s Frybread Face and Me, winner of the Best Narrative Feature at the 2023 Urbanworld Film Festival, currently on Netflix; Academy Award winner Chloé Zhao’s feature debut Songs My Brothers Taught Me; Andrew Ahn’s Spirit Award-winning debut Spa Night; 37 Seconds by HIKARI, now on Netflix; Ani Simon Kennedy’s A Short History of the Long Road, which premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, and Kate Marks’ The Cow of Queens, a 2020 Nichols Fellowship recipient.

Film Independent’s Artist Development programs promote unique independent voices by helping filmmakers create and advance new work through Project Involve, Documentary Producing Lab, DocStory Lab, Episodic Lab, Episodic Directing Intensive, Screenwriting Lab, Producing Lab, Fast Track finance market and Fiscal Sponsorship, as well as grants and awards that provide over one million dollars annually.

The Film Independent Screenwriting Lab is supported by Final Draft. The 2024 Screenwriting Lab projects are:

  • Project: Burning Well
  • Writer/Director: MG Evangelista
  • Logline: In a reimagining of the Prodigal Son story, on receiving news of his mother’s illness, a young trans man returns home to mend complicated relationships and rediscover what love and family really mean.
  • Project: Not My Name
  • Writer/Director: Juan Paulo Laserna
  • Logline: 1996 – As Colombia descends into bloody insurgent warfare, a family must travel on a perilous country road to visit their ailing grandfather. Their fear of kidnapping forces them to rely on their youngest child to conceal their fake identities, exposing him to the reality of war.
  • Project: Promise
  • Writer/Director: Naomi Iwamoto
  • Logline: A coming-of-age story that follows an ambitious teen with a drug habit who learns how to grieve and love her mom.
  • Project: Role Play
  • Writer/Director: Omer Ben Shachar
  • Writer: Thomas Kivney
  • Logline: A struggling actor agrees to help a powerful casting director boost her newly-out son’s confidence by posing as the most supportive guy on Grindr. But as he starts developing feelings for her son, they all realize that even the most well-conceived plot can’t protect you from the realities of love.
  • Title: The Manager’s Wife
  • Writer/Director: Jhanvi Motla
  • Logline: Reunited with her husband Abhi after nearly two years at his newly acquired motel, Nitya arrives in California only to discover dark secrets about her new life that threaten to unravel their marriage.
  • Project: Thirty Grand
  • Writer/Director: Mary Dauterman
  • Logline: Two Gap employees discover a bag of cash in a dressing room at the top of their shift on Black Friday. All hell breaks loose.


Now let’s meet the minds behind this incredible, diverse range of stories:


MG Evangelista

MG Evangelista was born in Manila and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Evangelista received the 2023 United States Artists Fellowship in Film. Their debut feature film, Burning Well, has been developed and supported by Tribeca, Array, the Torino Feature Film Lab and the SFFilm Rainin Grant. The feature is based on their award-winning short film Fran This Summer, which played in 30 festivals, including Sundance. Evangelista’s body of work includes the VR dramedy Water Melts, the Film Independent Project Involve short La Gloria and the award-winning short documentary They Call Me Suki, about legendary AAPI activist Suki Terada Ports.



Juan Paulo Laserna

Juan Paulo Laserna is a screenwriter, director and producer whose stories utilize magical realism and dark humor to develop contemporary dramas and crime narratives related to immigration. His award-winning feature film, Las Malas Lenguas, premiered at the LA Film Festival and had a theatrical release in Colombia and on STARZ in the US. He graduated with honors from Columbia University, where he was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Screenplay Award and the KOB Mentorship Grant. He most recently worked alongside the lead director on the Netflix adaptation for One Hundred Years of Solitude.



Naomi Iwamoto

Naomi Iwamoto is a Japanese American writer-director. In television, she’s written for Hulu’s half-hour dramedy Tiny Beautiful Things, Lena Waithe’s Twenties, CBS’s Happy Together, NBC’s Connecting and an upcoming Marvel series. She is an alumni of the HALF Director Shadowing Program and is a 23-24’ AFI DWW+ Fellow, where she directed her latest short, Sixteen. Her previous short Lost & Found toured internationally, ending its run at Paramount Studios’ Women Behind the Lens Showcase. Her work explores full, complicated and honest renderings of women and Asian Americans on screen, dealing with the bits that are too uncomfortably honest with humor.



Omer Ben-Shachar

Omer Ben-Shachar is a queer Los Angeles-based writer/director. His short Tree #3 (2019) won a Student Academy Award, was nominated for a Student Emmy and received top prizes at UrbanWorld, HollyShorts and Palm Springs, among other festivals. His experimental short Down Here (2023) was a Webby Award Winner, a Vimeo Staff Pick and was nominated for a Cannes Lions Young Director Award. Omer, a directing alumnus of the AFI Conservatory, was a recent participant of Film Independent’s Project Involve Program, Warner Bros. Television Directors’ Workshop and Paramount’s Viewfinder Directors Program.



Jhanvi Motla

Jhanvi Motla is a Los Angeles based filmmaker from Mumbai and a graduate of the American Film Institute Conservatory. Her films have been exhibited at AFI Fest, Deauville Film Festival and on platforms such as Netflix and HBO Max. In Fall 2021, she produced At The Gates in association with Beacon Pictures, starring Ezekiel Pacheco, Vanessa Benavente, Noah Wyle and Miranda Otto. Her short film Mirage won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2023 Santa Fe International Film Festival. The Manager’s Wife, her feature directorial debut was part of 1497’s Features Lab in 2023, where she was mentored by Mira Nair. Jhanvi is a 2019 Film Independent Project Involve Fellow.



Mary Dauterman

Mary Dauterman is a writer-director from Texas, now based in Brooklyn. Her debut feature Booger, a body horror comedy, premiered at Fantasia Film Festival 2023. Booger was supported by Tribeca Creators Market and Film Independent. Her short films have been selected for multiple Vimeo Staff Picks, screened at 30+ festivals and on Hulu, NoBudge, Vulture and Booooooom. She has written and directed projects for Adult Swim, published two kids’ books that aren’t for kids and directed some decent commercials. She is developing her second feature, Thirty Grand, supported by Film Independent’s Fast Track and Screenwriting Lab.



Thomas Kivney

Thomas Kivney is a Los Angeles-based writer and recent graduate of the AFI Conservatory. A lifelong bookworm, he began his career in publishing, working as a book scout advising clients like Netflix and Warner Bros. His feature script, Max & Tony’s Epic One Night Stand—a very gay rom-com with aliens—was featured on the 2021 Black List. A second feature, Best Man–about the blurry lines between friendship and romance in the queer community–is currently being developed by Nicolas Blanco through Film Independent’s 2023 Imaginar Producers Residency.


For more information on any of our Artist Development Labs or the projects that have been developed in them, please contact us. Additional info can be found at filmindependent.org.

For over 40 years, Film Independent has helped filmmakers get their projects made and seen. The nonprofit organization’s core mission is to champion creative independence in visual storytelling and support a community of artists who embody diversity, innovation and uniqueness of vision.

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