CBS Announces Writers for 2017-18 Mentoring Program

Eight writers have been selected to participate in the initiative from CBS Entertainment Diversity and Inclusion.
Courtesy of CBS
Back row, left to right: Ashley Charbonnet, Jovan Robinson, Naomi Iwamoto, Munis Rashid and April Shih; front row, left to right: Krystal Banzon, Shuo Zhang and Gil Hizon

CBS on Tuesday announced the eight writers selected to participate in its 2017-2018 Writers Mentoring Program. The CBS Entertainment Diversity and Inclusion initiative, now in its 14th year, provides mentorships, access and opportunity for writers.

This year’s participants, selected from a pool of 1,300 applicants, are: Ashley Charbonnet, Jovan Robinson, Naomi Iwamoto, Munis Rashid, April Shih, Krystal Banzon, Shuo Zhang and Gil Hizon.

The eight-month program pairs writers with an executive mentor who then helps them develop a new piece of material. Following the mentorship period, the writers participate in a 16-week workshop designed to teach them everything about the television business as well as provide them access to agents, managers, executives, showrunners and producers.

“The access and opportunities that writers receive in this program are instrumental in creating game changers in this industry," said Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, executive vp entertainment diversity, inclusion and communications at CBS Entertainment. "In its 14th year, we now have alumnae running shows and coming to us to help staff up their rooms. This program strives to lay the foundation for writers to not only staff, but also develop their professional skills that prepare them to one day run their own show.”

The Writers Mentoring Program has helped launch the careers of 62 writers, including Sabrina Almeida (SEAL Team), Morgan Faust (Legends of Tomorrow), Michael Gemballa (S.W.A.T.), Howard Jordan Jr. (Superior Donuts), Hannah Park (Bull), Paula Sabbaga (Dynasty), Josh Troke (Code Black), Julie Wong (Grey’s Anatomy), Greta Heinemann (NCIS: New Orleans), Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt (Star Trek: Discovery), Damir and Dario Konjicija (Young Sheldon), Gina Lucita Monreal (NCIS) and Aaron Rahsaan Thomas (S.W.A.T.).

Below is more information about each of the selected writers:

Krystal Banzon, drama writer
Banzon was raised in Fontana, California, by Filipino immigrant parents. She received a BA from Smith College in women’s studies, a master’s degree in new media from NYU Tisch and a Fulbright fellowship to study theater in the Philippines.
 
Ashley Charbonnet, drama writer
Charbonnet is a screenwriter from the 9th ward of New Orleans whose family roots in the Crescent City date back to the early 1800s. She holds an MFA in film from Columbia University, and her work has received honors and inclusions in programs such as the Independent Filmmaker Project’s (IFP) Emerging Narrative Initiative and the SAG Indie Reading Series.
 
Gil Hizon, comedy writer
Hizon was born and raised in the Philippines and earned BA degrees in theater and psychology from Fairfield University and TV writing/producing from Columbia College Chicago. His romantic comedy feature Finding James was recently optioned.
 
Naomi Iwamoto, comedy writer
Iwamoto grew up in Los Angeles and Tokyo. She holds an MFA in production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts and a BA from UCLA in political science and Asian American studies. Iwamoto recently completed the Ryan Murphy Television Half Foundation’s directing mentorship program.
 
Munis Rashid, drama writer
Rashid grew up in Sugar Land, Texas, and attended the University of Texas, Austin. He spent the summer of 2014 on a cross-country bicycle ride from Texas to Alaska to raise money for cancer research. Munis graduated from the American Film Institute with an MFA in screenwriting in 2016. He recently received the Grand Prize of the American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest and the Carol Mendelsohn College Drama Fellowship at the 2017 Humanitas Prize.
 
Jovan Robinson, drama writer
Robinson was raised in Milwaukee. He enlisted in the Marine Corps as a Korean linguist for military intelligence. After working alongside the NSA in a combat zone, Robinson went on to receive degrees in urban planning and film studies from UC Berkeley and a screenwriting MFA from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.
 
April Shih, comedy writer
Born and raised in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, Shih studied film at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and produced several films and plays, including the Ovation Award-winning revival of Kiss of the Spiderwoman: The Musical. April spent two years playing poker in Las Vegas before pursuing a degree in playwriting. Shih was recently selected into the 2017 Sundance Episodic Story Lab, as well as the inaugural Film Independent Episodic Lab.
 
Shuo Zhang, drama writer
Zhang was born in Beijing and grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from MIT. Zhang has since worked as an actress and writer in New York and Los Angeles and is currently enrolled in the screenwriting MFA program at USC.
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