Universal Pictures has announced that the studio has selected five writers to participate in the first-ever Universal Pictures Emerging Writers Fellowship, a program created to identify and cultivate emerging voices with a passion for storytelling and screenwriting.
After an extensive application process that included multiple writing submissions and interviews with the program’s official selection committee, the 2014-2015 fellows are: Chandus T. Jackson, Margaret Rose Lester, Steve Martinez, Ivy Pruss and Saila Reyes.
The announcement was made by Universal Pictures Co-Presidents of Production Peter Cramer and Jeffrey Kirschenbaum, who will oversee the fellows.
“We had an incredible group of people who applied for this fellowship, and the choice was extremely tough,” said Cramer. “The five people our committee selected are tremendously talented, and we are looking forward to working with them as they embark on the next phase of their careers.”
“The Emerging Writers Fellowship is designed to provide the fellows with the greatest possible exposure to our industry, but it’s also a great opportunity for Universal,” said Kirschenbaum. “The five fellows have very different backgrounds, giving our team the chance to benefit from their fresh perspectives on some of the projects we currently have in development.”
More than 700 people applied for Universal’s fellowship, and the selection committee read the first 500 eligible scripts to narrow it down to 13 finalists. The finalists met in Los Angeles for interviews and meetings, and the selection committee chose the five fellows. The other eight finalists also presented highly competitive submissions, and that group included: Delaney Britt Brewer, Todd Crittenden, Rafael Del Toro, Rachael Holder, Satomi Mack-Martin, Stella Meghie, Luis R. Quintero and Julie Anne Wight.
The new fellows will begin their paid fellowship at the studio this week, and the program will run throughout the course of a year. In addition to being part of the daily production engine and working on specific writing assignments, Program Manager Heather Morris Washington has organized a number of activities designed to immerse the fellows in the film business, including “Lunch & Learn” speaker panels and networking events. Multiple film industry heavyweights have signed on to participate as mentors and guest speakers, including those who have long-standing relationships with the studio such as producer Will Packer (Ride Along), writer-producer Chris Morgan (the Fast & Furious franchise), writer-producer Jeremy Garelick (The Break-Up), writer-producer Cheo Hodari Coker (Notorious) and writer-producer Suzanne de Passe of de Passe Jones Entertainment.
Universal’s Emerging Writer’s Fellowship was an idea supported by the film group’s Diversity Council led by Chairman Donna Langley. Executive Vice President of Production Scott Bernstein championed the project and developed it in collaboration with Arturo Barquet, Universal’s Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Film Production. With the support of the NBCUniversal Corporate Diversity team and the endorsement of Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW), the Emerging Writers Fellowship is one of the studio’s key initiatives designed to bolster the diverse talent within the Universal Pictures workforce, both in front of and behind the camera.
“The Emerging Writers Fellowship is a testament to the commitment of the senior leadership at Universal Pictures to identify, develop and nurture new voices in film,” said Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for NBCUniversal Craig Robinson. “We’re all very excited about this group of talented young people, and the new perspectives they’ll bring to the company. And we extend our thanks to the WGAW for their partnership in helping make the program a reality.”