CONGRATUATIONS TO OUR 2024 TV CONTEST SCHOLARSHIP WINNERS!

CineStory is pleased to award seven scholarships for the 2024 TV Retreat & Fellowship Contest. These scholarships are made possible by generous donations from CineStory Board members, Bellem Entertainment, and other members of the CineStory community.

Many thanks to our donors, and congratulations to our scholarship winners!

(Pictured above, from left to right: Laura Mannino, Connor Smith, Will McGhee, Debra Kirschner, Stephanie Bast, Chae Ko, Lori Crawford)

Laura Mannino – CineStory Original Comedy TV Scholarship

The CineStory Original Comedy TV Scholarship is awarded to an outstanding writer whose TV pilot reached the semifinalist level or higher in the Original Comedy Division of the TV Retreat & Fellowship Contest. The winner is awarded a $500 tuition reduction for this year’s TV Retreat.

The winner of this year’s CineStory Original Comedy TV Scholarship is Laura Mannino for her original comedy pilot BODICE RIPPERS. In it, a control freak romance fanfiction writer befriends a closeted princess on the run from her wedding and collides with the celebrity of her fantasies in the Scottish Highlands. She no longer only writes about her desires but starts to live them out, finding her power along the way.

Laura Mannino grew up in White Plains, New York, a suburban city of malls and car dealerships that makes Glendale look like Paris in the 20’s. During a school production of TWELFTH NIGHT, Laura desperately wanted to play the Head Bitch In Charge Duchess, who everyone was in love with. She was cast as the funny maid who hangs out with drunks instead. This sparked Laura’s enthusiasm for writing modern-day fairytale TV comedies about fed-up women on the lowest rung of life’s ladder.

A graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and UCB, Laura performed stand-up, improv, and sketch at bars, former strip clubs, current yoga studios, and actual dungeons throughout New York City and Los Angeles. She’s written for Awestruck, Disney Television Animation, MTV, Ora TV, Quibi, and A&E Networks Digital.

Laura also founded the grassroots gun reform group, DRAIN THE NRA, and worked for Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. She lives in Highland Park with her rescued terrier, Ruffles, son, and husband, whom she met at NYU while hunting for bars that don’t card.

Connor Smith – CineStory Original Drama TV Scholarship Winner

The CineStory Original Drama TV Scholarship is awarded to an outstanding writer whose TV pilot reached the semifinalist level or higher in the Original Drama Division of the TV Retreat & Fellowship Contest. The winner is awarded a $500 tuition reduction for this year’s TV Retreat.

The winner of this year’s CineStory Original Drama TV Scholarship is Connor Smith for his original drama pilot TRICIA HARGRAVE IS DEAD. In it, four Hollywood assistants must figure out what to do after they kill their abusive boss.

Connor Smith grew up in Frederick, Maryland, where he spent most of his childhood performing in terrible community theatre and bickering with his three siblings. After graduating from Penn State in 2016, Connor moved to Washington DC, where he spent three years working for National Geographic on their unscripted development team. Connor moved to LA at the beginning of 2019 to pursue writing. Since then, he has worked as an assistant for production companies and in writer’s rooms. He spent a year working as the Executive Assistant to the President of Development at Norman Lear’s company Act III Productions. He also worked as a Writer’s PA on the Disney Plus series “The Right Stuff” and the Starz series “Hightown.”

Connor’s scripts have been recognized by the Nicholl Fellowship, Austin Film Festival, Script Pipeline, and the A-List, which recognizes the best scripts written by industry assistants.

Connor’s stories focus on queer underdogs, unconventional families, and the performing arts. When he’s not writing, he enjoys running half-marathons, starting (and not finishing) large puzzles, and cooking with his boyfriend.

Will McGhee – CineStory Original Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Scholarship Winner

The CineStory Original Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Scholarship is awarded to an outstanding writer whose TV pilot reached the semifinalist level or higher in the Original Sci-Fi/Fantasy Division of the TV Retreat & Fellowship Contest. The winner is awarded a $500 tuition reduction for this year’s TV Retreat.

The winner of this year’s CineStory Original Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV Scholarship is Will McGhee for his original sci-fi/fantasy pilot PAST TIME. In it, four estranged friends must confront childhood traumas when the enigmatic witch Morgan Le Fay reveals that their fifth friend is literally trapped in the past.

While growing up as a gay, multiracial kid in a conservative pocket of suburban Chicago, Will McGhee quickly developed a love of telling stories about outsiders. He enjoys writing that combines paradoxical ideas, and he gravitates toward character-driven genre storytelling that turns tropes on their head. He studied film at Wesleyan University in Connecticut before moving to Los Angeles, where he initially worked as a development assistant in features and animation, and more recently as a showrunner’s assistant for Netflix and AMC.

Debra Kirschner – Bellem Entertainment TV Scholarship Winner

The Bellem Entertainment TV Scholarship is awarded to an outstanding woman writer with an engaging story to tell who is 40 years of age or older and whose TV Pilot reached the quarterfinalist level or higher in the Original Drama or Original Comedy Division of the TV Retreat & Fellowship Contest. The winner is awarded a $500 tuition reduction for this year’s TV retreat.

Bellem Entertainment seeks to empower women and support their stories.

The winner of this year’s Bellem Entertainment TV Scholarship is Debra Kirschner for her original drama pilot SKETCH. In it, a 20-year-old art student, with an uncanny ability to draw other people’s private thoughts, becomes a sketch artist at an agency that investigates untested rape kits. Together this artist, and the ex-detective who discovered her, reexamine old cases, using creativity, empathy and humor to help survivors identify their attackers. The work inspires Jenna to look inward, face her own suppressed memories, and discover that she’s been painting clues to her childhood trauma for years.

Debra Kirschner creates painfully honest stories about goofy, flawed women like herself. Humor is her favorite defense mechanism, in writing and in life. She is best known for writing, directing and producing the indie feature THE TOLLBOOTH, which starred Marla Sokoloff, Idina Menzel, Tovah Feldshuh and Rob McElhenney, and obtained theatrical, DVD and VOD distribution. Her latest feature script, MALLWALKERS, won the NYWIFT/Ravenal Grant for a second-time feature director, and invitations to Cine Qua Non Lab, Stowe Story Lab, MOME Financing Lab, and a spot on the “Wscripted List of Excellent Scripts” at Cannes. Her pilot SKETCH was developed at the 2021 Athena Film Festival Television Writers Lab, scored an 8 on the Blacklist and is a Bellem Scholarship winner for this year’s CineStory Lab.  Her pilot MIDDLE AGED MAGICIAN is currently a finalist for the Film Fatales scholarship for Stowe Story Lab, and was a Roadmap Jumpstart semi-finalist as well as a NYWIFT writers’ lab quarter-finalist. Previous writing and directing work includes the pilot FROG KISSERS, the web series THE HAPPY MOMMY HUSTLE, and the short film, CHANGING CLOTHES. She has also written and directed promotional videos and EPKs as well as activist videos for Rise and Resist.

Debra started and led a creative writing program for homeless adults at the Hoboken Shelter and led a creative writing workshop for “Prime Time” Women over sixty in Brooklyn, who helped inspire MALLWALKERS. Currently, Debra teaches Screenwriting at Brooklyn College and Digital Video Production at Fordham University.

Stephanie Bast – King Bob TV Scholarship Winner

The King Bob TV Scholarship is awarded to an outstanding writer who reaches the semifinalist level or higher in the TV Retreat & Fellowship Contest. The winner receives free tuition (valued at $2,400) for this year’s CineStory TV Retreat.

The winner of this year’s King Bob TV Scholarship is Stephanie Bast for her original comedy pilot AS I AM. In it, when a Korean adoptee discovers she’s Asiaphobic, she moves home to her big Italian family in her small white town to figure out why.

Stephanie Bast was abandoned in Korea, adopted by Italians and raised in a town so small and white, someone asked: “How are you gonna understand her when she starts speaking?” Fiercely loved and protected, she was taught to fear “the other” while knowing “the other” was herself. She writes comedy about messy women proving they’re worthy of being saved, creating worlds for those of us who aren’t “enough” to belong.

Stephanie lives in Los Angeles and is currently the Roadmap Diversity Fellow. She trained at UCLA extension and placed as Finalist for Austin Film Festival, Final Draft’s Big Break and CineStory. A Broadway and TV/Film actress in the time when presenting as Asian was a detriment, she has turned the pain of her race into a super power. Stephanie writes for everyone who’s adopted. She writes for everyone who hates looking in the mirror. She writes for her children, so they may always love their eyes.

In a pinch, Stephanie can perform a reverse vasectomy.

(Photo by Courtney Lindberg)

Chae Ko – Sartor Underrepresented Voices TV Scholarship Winner

The Sartor Underrepresented Voices TV Scholarship is awarded to an outstanding writer who belongs to a community that has been historically underrepresented in Hollywood – particularly BIPOC writers, AAPI writers, LGBTQIA+ writers, women writers who are 45 or older, and writers with disabilities – and whose TV pilot reaches the quarterfinalist level or higher in the TV Retreat & Fellowship Contest. The winner receives a $1,500 tuition reduction to attend this year’s TV retreat.

The winner of this year’s Sartor Underrepresented Voices TV Scholarship is Chae Ko for his original comedy pilot THE SUPREME DOPPLEGANGER. In it, when the Supreme Leader of a hermit kingdom meets an unexpected demise, his bumbling secret Doppelganger must assume his role. Amidst a whirlwind of power-hungry schemers, looney mishaps, and outrageous absurdity, the Doppelganger plots a riotous escape, all while trying to keep his true identity under wraps.

Chae Ko writes comedies that explore shame and guilt, particularly the Asian-American kind. His stories are inspired by embarrassing anecdotes, mental health, and a smothering Korean mother who scrutinizes all his life’s choices.

Chae has been a screenwriter for Voyage Media, a board member for APAFT, (an organization that advocates for Asian American artists in theatre productions), and continues his work at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program to help others achieve their goals of becoming screenwriters. In his spare time, he gossips about himself to his two therapists and one psychiatrist to manage his chronic OCD, panic attacks, anxiety, and dissociative disorders.

Lori Crawford – Women Storytellers Scholarship Winner

The Women Storytellers Scholarship is awarded to an outstanding woman writer who is 40 years of age or older and whose TV pilot reaches the quarterfinalist level or higher in the TV Retreat & Fellowship Contest. The winner receives a $2,000 tuition reduction for this year’s CineStory TV Retreat.

The winner of this year’s Women Storytellers Scholarship is Lori Crawford for her TV pilot AN ASSASSIN’S TALE. In it, after an aging writer struggling to break into Hollywood receives advice to try a backup profession, she discovers that it’s just as hard to build a career as an assassin as it is to staff as a TV writer.

Lori Crawford is a synchronized swimming, Christian erotica publishing, preacher’s kid from a small Ohio town. After graduating from Washington University in St. Louis, she moved to L.A. to write television. She took a tiny detour and published five romance novels with Kensington among other publishers.

Since returning to screenwriting, she’s had several scripts advance with the Austin Film Festival, NBC’s WoTV, and the Page Awards. She’s eager to advance her career to new levels and expects her latest obsession with writing Karma Porn to take her there.

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