Tribeca Film Institute’s Inaugural Episodic Workshop

The Tribeca Film Institute (TFI), with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is supporting three writers of scripted television dramas. Each of these episodic scripts stars a female scientist: WASTELAND stars a hydrologist and is about the California drought, INVISIBLE ISLANDS stars a microbiologist working on fermentation, and WILDCATTERS stars a geologist who uses her expertise to look for oil. In December of 2016, TFI hosted a three-day workshop for these projects which took place at The Park in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

The scriptwriters, all female, attended the TFI workshop along with industry mentors and scientists. The industry mentors included showrunner Tom Straw (NURSE JACKIE), and HALT AND CATCH FIRE creators Chris Contwell and Chris Rogers. "I was deeply impressed with the intimacy and tailored approach of TFI's workshop," Rogers wrote to Science & Film. "The experience of getting to know such a bright, diverse, and talented group of storytellers was not only engaging, but enlarging for me as an industry professional and creative. I think TFI's mission is such a worthy, vital and timely one, and am confident that the voices this program is currently nurturing will go on to do great things in the future."

To advise the writers on how to get a pilot to series, Maggie Mailna from VH1, Alex Schwarm from Sundance TV/AMC, and Laura Turner Garrison from Vimeo spoke. Three scientists–a biologist, geologist, and environmental engineer–heard pitches from the screenwriters on the final day of the workshop. Science & Film attended.

Dr. Edward Kennelly is a plant biologist at Lehman College who is working with writer, director, and producer Emily Lobsenz on her script INVISIBLE ISLANDS. Dr. Kennelly studies how the chemical byproducts of plants could be used for disease prevention in humans. The main character of INVISIBLE ISLANDS is a Trinidadian microbiology student with a fellowship in Montana. She is fascinated with fermentation and ends up working in a brewery, but her summer is interrupted when her professor suddenly dies. Lobsenz is centering each episode on a different microbe.

Dr. Karin Block is a geologist at City College of New York working with Jannette Bloom and Alyssa Carpenter, who are writers and actresses. Their 2014 dramatic film MAHJONG AND THE WEST premiered at the Woodstock Film Festival. Dr. Block’s research focuses on how microbes and minerals interact. Bloom and Carpenter’s series WILDCATTERS takes place in 1979 and is about two women in the oil industry. An aspiring geologist uses her expertise to select the drilling sites.

Dr. Andrew Bell teaches environmental studies at New York University in New York and Abu Dhabi, and has a degree in natural resource management. He is working with Jennifer Coates on her project WASTELAND, which first received Sloan support from NYU. WASTELAND is about a drought crisis in California’s San Joaquin Valley, and stars a female hydrologist. Coates graduated from NYU in 2016 and is now working in the writer’s room for the CBS series ZOO.

Each of these three scripts will be submitted to a Sloan jury, which will decide the scripted or feature projects to receive a Filmmaker Fund Grant. The jury will convene before the Tribeca Film Festival in April of 2017. Past recipients include Peter Livolsi’s HOUSE OF TOMORROW and Giulia Corda’s VENUS TRANSIT. An episodic series has never been submitted for consideration before.

The TFI episodic workshop was organized by Molly O’Keefe and Amy Hobby. Stay tuned to Science & Film for more as the Tribeca Film Festival approaches.