This could be the gamechanger! Talk about an exciting time for eight Native writers, including a Cherokee Nation citizen, who aspire to have their screenplays morph into a TV series. It could soon be a reality. The writers just finished taking part in the 5th Annual Native American TV Writers Lab, an intensive and selective program — with just eight spots total — that helped them perfect their projects and connects them with industry executives in television.
Lab fellows participate in a workshop series via teleconferencing during COVID-19 in June 2020.
The Cherokee Nation Film Office is proud to be a sponsor of this intensive five-week program designed to give these Native writers the skills necessary to obtain careers at major television networks. We continue to strive to increase the presence of Natives in every level of TV and film, and along with Disney Television, Sony Pictures, Comcast NBCUniversal, Kung Fu Monkey Productions and Snowpants Production, this is just one way to make that happen.
The participants, called fellows, underwent fierce competition for one of just eight spots. They started their workshop journey in April and wrapped up in June. The fellows now have a finished script and are able to meet with creative partners who could pick up their work and start a TV series, amplifying their Native voice and increasing the number of Natives in the industry. These fellows will also participate in the LA Skins Festival in the fall to get their work in front of executives and partners.
Congratulations to the 8 fellows selected, who come from different tribes and different states. We are looking forward to seeing their futures!
Doane Tuluhaq Avery (Inupiaq)
Avery’s focus is to write stories about queer, feminine and Indigenous-based narratives. She aims to blend the cinematic with surreal musical moments as a filmmaker. Avery wrote a 30-minute comedy-drama about a lesbian who is going through changes in life and finds she unleashed supernatural powers.
Emma Barrow (Cherokee Nation)
Barrow draws inspiration from her home and her family in Oklahoma and uses it in her work. She has been writing stories since she was a child and eventually got a bachelor’s in acting. After working in improv and sketch comedy, she wrote, directed and acted in her own film, “Cover Me.” Barrow is interested in exploring the relationship between diversity and prejudices and how they are reinforced. She worked on an hourlong cop drama during her time at the lab.
Sheila Chalakee (Muscogee-Creek Nation)
Chalakee has had work seen on PBS, WEtv, E! Network, Univision, FNX and Amazon Prime. She has also written for Nylon and Huffington Post about Native issues. Chalakee wrote a half-hour dark comedy that takes place in a right-to-die amusement park and centers around a doctor who wants to build a euthanasia roller coaster.
Kris Crenwelge (Choctaw)
Crenwelge writes about her experiences in sports and entertainment and is also influenced by her life with her maternal grandmother who was Choctaw. She has written for publications like Oprah’s magazine and Refinery29. In the lab, Crenwelge wrote an hourlong sci-fi family dramedy likened to “Quantum Leap,” with “Back to the Future” and “The Goonies” as influences as well.
Boise Esquerra (Hopi)
Esquerra has already been creating films and writing in the industry. He directed and wrote his own projects like “Cowboy” and his most recent, “Blackwater.” Esquerra won Achievement in Directing at the 2018 LA Skins Fest. Esquerra wants to modernize and tear down the stereotypes of Native people and his culture. He hopes to write and direct to open the industry for other Native Americans as well. Esquerra wrote an hourlong horror-drama called “Skull Springs.”
Brian Ramien (Acjachemen)
Ramien started out as an actor in the ‘90s and developed as a storyteller. He recently worked in the TV pilot “Sons of the State” that uncovers the dark issues in the social services system and how that affects a family. In the lab, Ramien wrote a half-hour comedy about a single dad who becomes a divorcee and struggles with the idea of the American Dream.
Kaherawaks Thompson (St. Regis Mohawks of Akwesasne)
Thompson is an alum of the Sundance Institute and has had short films produced from her work that screened at festivals in the U.S. and Canada. She wrote about a female punk musician who wants to make her music scene safer for women. Thompson plans to direct and produce more films based on her own stories.
Brian Vallie (Crow)
Vallie worked as an associate agent in Santa Fe before moving to LA to pursue writing. He wrote a poem titled “Indian Holocaust” that was shared in numerous publications. Vallie wrote a feature-length comedy, a feature-length horror and a one-hour crime drama and continues to work on a dark comedy novel. During the lab, he wrote a half-hour comedy.