ViacomCBS has unveiled the 11 writers it has chosen for its 2020-2021 Writers Mentoring Program.
This year’s participants, selected from a pool of over 1,600 applicants, include Obiageli Odimegwu, Melissa Park, Janene Lin, Bradley Estrin-Barks, Yakira Chambers, Manuel Herrera, Andrew Saito, Nina Kim, Natasha M. Hall, Sara Casey and Rishi Chitkara.
The eight-month mentoring program, which has been renamed to reflect the merger of Viacom and CBS, pairs writers with executive mentors who help them develop a new piece of material. The writers then participate in a 16-week workshop designed to teach them everything about the TV business, as well as provide them access to agents, managers, executives, showrunners and producers.
This program, which is in its 17th year, has helped launch the careers of 84 writers, including NCIS‘ Gina Monreal, Star Trek: Discovery‘s Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt, The Unicorn‘s Howard Jordan Jr., Kung Fu‘s Christina Kim, Walker‘s Paula Sabbaga, Nancy Drew‘s Lisa Bao, Clarice‘s Brandon Willer and Bret VandenBos and S.W.A.T.‘s Munis Rashid, Aaron Rahsaan Thomas and Niceole Levy.
“Our program focuses on professional growth by supporting emerging writers in their craft and providing opportunities to build relationships with Network executives and showrunners,” said Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, executive vice president of entertainment diversity and inclusion at ViacomCBS. “All of the participants from last year are now staffed on network shows, including Mom, Bull, Magnum P.I. and the upcoming The Equalizer and Clarice, and many of our alumni have gone on to become executive producers and showrunners on various television series.”
More about the participating writers here:
Obiageli Odimegwu grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. Previously, she worked as an equity trader on Wall Street before breaking her parents’ hearts by transitioning into screenwriting. In 2019, she received her MFA from USC School of Cinematic Arts. Since then, Odimegwu’s mystery and sci-fi scripts have garnered her a Humanitas New Voices Award, a BAFTA Newcomers Fellowship and a ScreenCraft Fellowship. Currently, Odimegwu works at Spotify writing narrative true crime podcasts. She is represented by MetaMorphic Entertainment.
Melissa Park is a first-generation Korean American, raised in Irvine, Calif. She graduated from Emerson College with a BFA in writing, literature and publishing. Most recently, she was a 2018 semifinalist for NBC Writers on the Verge, and a 2019 finalist for the WB Writers Workshop. Currently, she is a program assistant at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Janene Lin grew up in San Francisco surrounded by her big family of Chinese immigrants. She graduated from UC Davis with degrees in international relations and French language, and studied at the Institut d’Études Politiques in Lyon, France. She worked in brand advertising for 13 years while performing improv and stand up at comedy festivals around the world before realizing she wanted to become a screenwriter. She has delivered a TEDx Talk about spontaneous creativity, she wrote and produced a comedy web series streaming in the U.K., and she placed in various screenwriting contests including Austin Film Festival.
Bradley Estrin-Barks is a mestizo Filipino-American TV drama writer from San Francisco. Born into a mixed-race, mixed-religion family, he was raised in the Bay Area. After earning his B.A. from San Francisco State University, a move to Los Angeles led him to working as an actor and becoming an American Idol Top 30 finalist. He’s been a martial arts instructor, an LGBTQIA+ public health expert for non-profit organizations and a freelance lifestyle article writer. He worked as a writers’ PA on Sony/Amazon’s “The Boys,” and was recently hired to pen a narrative series for West Coast University. Estrin-Barks writes character-driven genre, with a passion for stories told through queer, female and unconventional family- centric lenses.
Yakira Chambers is a Los Angeles-based writer/producer/actress from Englewood, Chicago. She has an MBA and a background in corporate America. She received a scholarship to attend the British Academy of Dramatic Arts at Oxford University. Chambers’ writing has placed in the Austin Film Festival, the Sundance Screenwriters Lab and the Sundance Episodic Lab and Humanities New Voices. Chambers is a 2021 N.Y. Stage and Film Filmmakers Workshop fellow where notably Lin Manuel Miranda developed “Hamilton.”
Manuel Herrera is a writer from Mission Viejo, Calif. In his youth, Herrera cut his teeth as a playwright after being introduced to the work of Arthur Miller and Neil Simon before pivoting to film and television. He received a BFA in film production from Chapman University and started his entertainment career as a receptionist at CAA before eventually becoming an assistant in TV Lit. Subsequently, he moved to Showtime Networks where he currently works in Original Programming. Herrera primarily writes comedy, and once was considered amusing enough to be published in The New Yorker.
Andrew Saito, raised in Los Angeles, earned his B.A. in ethnic studies at UC Berkeley and his MFA at the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. He has lived in Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Cuba and Papua New Guinea as a Fulbright Scholar. For three years, he was the full-time Andrew W. Mellon Resident Playwright at San Francisco’s Cutting Ball Theater. He has worked extensively with Mayan artists and communities in Guatemala, as well as in prison reform and climate change.
Born in Atlanta and raised in Nashville by Korean immigrants, Nina Kim is a comedy writer and a recent University of Michigan graduate with a B.A. in film, television and media. She started as the writers’ production assistant on The CW’s “Nancy Drew” and Shondaland’s “Sunshine Scouts.” Most recently, she was recognized as a semifinalist and a second rounder at the 2020 Austin Film Festival and was selected as a finalist for the 2020 Warner Bros. Television Writers’ Workshop. Currently, Kim is the showrunner’s assistant on Netflix’s “Dead to Me.”
Natasha M. Hall is a bicultural drama writer with a passion for otherworldly tales and romance stories. A first-generation American, her family immigrated from Barbados to Brooklyn, New York, where she grew up in “Do or Die” Bed-Stuy. After graduating from Syracuse University, she taught English at a South Bronx middle school through Teach for America while simultaneously earning her master’s degree from Teachers College at Columbia. She then moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in television writing. Hall is a 2020 Sundance Episodic Lab second-rounder, and a WeScreenplay’s Diverse Voices winner. Also, Hall is a 2020 Women In Film and JHRTS mentee. She is repped by Industry Entertainment and UTA.
Sara Casey is a writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. Raised by journalists, she decided to go in a vastly different direction and make up stories for a living. After moving to Los Angeles, she graduated with a B.A. from UCLA. Previously the non-fiction coordinator at Showtime Networks, Casey currently assists a showrunner at Netflix. Her work has played at festivals across the country, and her directorial debut, “Abortion Desert,” won Best Short Narrative at Atlanta Comic Con.
Rishi Chitkara earned his B.A. in economics/business from Northwestern, and his M.F.A. in screenwriting from UCLA. He started his career as part of the DGA Assistant Director Training Program, where he ran production base camps for hit series, including “The Mentalist,” “New Girl,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “Hello Ladies.” Most recently, he developed an original television project with USA Network and is an active member of the WGA. Also, he produced two direct-to- DVD genre features and is eligible for membership with the PGA. In 2020, Chitkara completed the NBC Writers on the Verge television fellowship and has previously placed as a semi-finalist for fellowships with Warner Brothers and Disney/ABC. He’s originally from New Jersey, but after over a decade on the West Coast, considers himself a native Angeleno.