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NBCUniversal has added another program to its suite of initiatives to develop underrepresented talent.
The Universal Animation Writers Program has selected five scribes for its inaugural class, who will be paid to develop their work for a year in close collaboration with animation creative executives from DreamWorks Animation and Illumination, who have joined the program as partners. In addition, they will attend workshops, seminars and roundtable talks with executives, filmmakers and showrunners to learn about Universal Filmed Entertainment Group’s production process, and have the chance to work with UFEG and NBCUniversal affiliates including Universal 1440 Entertainment, Universal Studio Group and the Entertainment Group.
“Identifying and nurturing first-time filmmakers and talent has always been a central pillar of Illumination’s process,” Illumination founder and CEO Chris Meledandri said in a statement. “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 program is the latest from NBCU’s Global Talent Development & Inclusion team, which last fall took the television side’s long-running Talent Infusion Programs under its banner. The new GTDI is inclusive of the company’s film and television sides; as such, the Animation Writers Program offers its participants three racks: Film, Television (Preschool ages 3-5) and Television (Kids ages 6-11).
“DreamWorks has always been a place to build the dreams of unconventional heroes. This endeavor requires diverse voices from unique backgrounds,” DWA president Margie Cohn said in a statement. “Thank you to the Global Talent Development & Inclusion team for building the Animation Writers Program and shining a light on underrepresented talent. We are excited to dig in and begin working with this promising group of writers.”
The Animation Writers Program joins UFEG’s long-running live-action counterpart. Alumni from the Universal Writers Program include Creed II co-writer Juel Taylor, now developing a project with Universal and LeBron James’ SpringHill; Sarah Cho (Hulu and Universal Content Productions’ upcoming The Girl from Plainville) and Leon Hendrix, who is co-writing and developing drama series Cointelpro at Peacock.
Read more about the inaugural Animation Writers Program participants below.
Shari Coleman (TV, Kids 6-11)
The Los Angeles native’s career began when she suddenly realized at the peak of college app season that she did not want to pursue medicine and would pursue film instead (a decision 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. After receiving her B.A. in Film Production from Cal State Northridge, she was named a Scholar and Fellow by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, recommended to the Academy Gold program (now Gold Rising) and given the opportunity to direct her first short film, Home, which will run the festival circuit this summer. 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)
Born and raised in San Antonio, Kiana Johnson has spent a majority of her life traveling up and down I-35. She graduated in 2018 from UT 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 the Austin Film Festival’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 L.A., 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 holds a B.A. in Digital Cinema/Screenwriting from DePaul University and an M.F.A. in Dramatic Writing from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. 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 and 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 former television executive, current screenwriter, 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 helped not only 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.
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