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Alumni Spotlight

Spotlight Alums in 2023

FTVM alum and screenwriting sub-major Justin Chung ('21) put his 410 and 427 scripts to good use recently: he used them to land a job working as a narrative designer for the Call of Duty video game franchise. After having spent over a year working on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III (2023 video game), the game is now available for purchase. Chung comments, "I didn't expect my screenplays to somehow get me into the video game industry, but I guess good scenes are good scenes, regardless of medium!" 

Lauren Megan McCarthy (FTVM '15) is playing the role of Jenna in a new, independent film, With Her Own Hands, that began its first day of production on October 25, 2023. The film's intent is to highlight the need for proper, comprehensive sex education that teaches the importance of enthusiastic consent and frees young women from carrying the burden of appeasement and placation.

The Black List has named the six projects and seven screenwriters invited to their 2023 Annual Lab: two of the writers are FTVM screenwriting sub-major alums Brandon Verdi ('12) and Jake Burnstein ('13) (pictured at far right). The program, now in its eleventh year, provides creative mentorship and career support to promising feature writers as they further develop their scripts during a weeklong workshop in Ojai, CA. The Black List selected these writers from over 1,300 feature script submissions on During the Lab, each writer workshops their screenplay through peer workshops and one-on-one sessions with working professional screenwriting mentors.

photo credit, The Black List

FTVM Alum Vesal Stoakley was recently awarded a generous graduate scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation for an established track record of academic excellence and professional leadership. Vesal was previously the recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation's competitive Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship in 2015 to attend the University of Michigan. He plans to attend graduate school this upcoming fall term.

Last year, FTVM Alum EJ Lewis ('15) was accepted into the Class of 2022 Directors Guild Producers Training Program through the Directors Guild of America. This program is designed to help give trainees the tools and experience needed to become Assistant Directors by attending seminars and working on various television shows and films. After working 400 days on various sets, trainees graduate from the program and are eligible to join the DGA as an Assistant Director.

Recently, EJ finished her first longer-term assignment, working at Basecamp for Abbott Elementary, Season 2 -- one of her favorite shows! 

FTVM Alum Nina Kim ('19) was the on-set writer for Joy Ride, directed by Adele Lim and starring Stephanie Hsu, Sherry Cola, Ashley Park, and Sabrina Wu. The film follows four unlikely friends who embark on a once-in-a-lifetime international adventure. Joy Ride is scheduled to be released on June 23, 2023.

Photo, Collider, Feb 6, 2023

Autopsy of a Night at a Bar, written and directed by FTVM alum Meghan Chou ('21), premiered at The Tank in NYC on March 4, 2023. Autopsy follows Val, a dreamer stuck in the Midwest. On her 18th birthday, she finds out she's pregnant. While Val considers an abortion (stage left), her mother, Nora, also faces a difficult decision (stage right). Yes, we're watching the past unfold at the same time. Side by side, mother and daughter navigate the burdens of womanhood and the lasting repercussions of our parents' choices. See, Nora's pregnant too. But she has her own dilemma: Val's sister is dying. In order to save one child, Nora must sentence her other daughter to the life of a savior sibling. She doesn't want to, but Val is the only cure.

Spotlight Alums in 2022

Congratulations to FTVM Alum Anna Garcia ('17) who just landed a breakout role alongside Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum in Greg Berlanit's new film for Apple, Project Artemis, a film set against the space race of the 1960s.

 Deadline's Matt Grobar says of Garcia, "While details as to her role are under wraps, her audition was reportedly impressive enough that it helped her secure one of the most coveted jobs in town, even in competition with a number of offer-only actresses." 

Photo courtesy of Charlie Jake Sanchez

FTVM Alum Eddie Zajdel ('22) was recently highlighted by writer Sam Dodge in his MLive article "'The Dude in My Room’ is a college sitcom on Tubi created by a University of Michigan grad." Dodge details Zajdel's recent success with his multi-camera sitcom “The Dude in My Room, which can be seen on Tubi (the national streaming service that’s available to 51 million active users). 

The show tells the tale of Freshman Rex Armstrong who can't wait to go experience the crazy college lifestyle seen on TV, only to discover that his roommate, a wannabe journalist transfer student, is secretly using Rex to write an expose on the toxicity of Greek life (IMDB). 

For more about Zajdel's journey, please click here


Congratulations to FTVM Alum David Siev ('15 ) whose documentary Bad Axe is making news! Recently mentioned in Rolling Stone and the New York Times as a "fall movie you need to watch," Bad Axe is coming to theaters on November 18th!

The deeply personal film is directed by David Siev and follows the director as he returns home to rural Michigan. There, he captures his Asian-American family’s quest to keep their local restaurant alive, amidst the backdrop of pandemic and Trump-era political and racial tensions.

FTVM Alum (2022, Mitchell Scholar) Brendan Dewley recently began work as a production intern with NBC Universal at Late Night With Seth Meyers in NYC.
Brendan and fellow FTVM alums Oscar Landry ('21), Addie Rodenberger ('22), and Matthew Huston ('21), all now relocated to New York City, adapted their FTVM sketch comedy show "Craig” to the stage, performed in June 2022 at the Brooklyn Comedy Collective. Oscar and Addie are currently co-writing a comedy pilot set in the Midwest. 

Brendan’s It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia spec script, "The Gang Takes Down The Elite," recently advanced to the Second Round in the Comedy Teleplay Spec category at the Austin Film Festival

Photos courtesy of Brendan Dewley


FTVM Alums Jordan Frank and Matt Schwarz ('97)'s indie rock band Quasar Wut-Wut performed their original score for the silent film The First Degree (Dir. Edward Sedgwick) LIVE at the Michigan Theater on Saturday, Sept. 17, at 7:30 PM. The film -- formerly presumed lost and recently discovered in 2020 -- was introduced by FTVM faculty Veerendra Prasad. 

A BIG thank you to Writer/Director Anna Baumgarten (FTVM '15), Producer Danny Mooney (FTVM '10), and the whole Disfluency Crew for sharing their talents with FTVM! 

On Tuesday, March 8, 2022, at the Michigan Theater, FTVM hosted a hometown screening of the award-winning film Disfluency.  After the screening, Anna and Danny joined members of their crew and Professor Burnstein for a Q & A to discuss how their time at UM prepared them -- along with their  "All-Star" team of FTVM alums (see list below) -- to make the film.

On Friday, March 11, Anna and Danny also graciously met with the current group of FTVM Mitchell Scholars to discuss indie filmmaking and networking. 

Disfluency received FIVE nominations from the 2021 Indiana Film Journalists Association Awards in December of 2021: 

Best Film
Best Director: Anna Baumgarten
Best Actress: Libe Barer
Best Supporting Actress: Chelsea Alden
Breakout of the Year

AND won Best Narrative Feature at the Austin Film Festival (October 2021). 

CONGRATULATIONS to Anna and to the entire production crew!

To learn more about the film, click here.  

Other FTVM alums who worked on the film are as follows: 

Anthony Kalil (FTVM 2015) -- Co-Producer
John Fisher (FTVM 2014) -- DP
Kevin Birou (FTVM 2013) -- Editor
Walter Lin (FTVM 2012) -- Gaffer
Layne Simescu (FTVM 2015) -- Art Director
Monica Geraffo (FTVM 2015) -- Costume Designer
George Gardner (FTVM 2017) --Script Consultant
Benji Trosch (FTVM 2018) -- DIT/AE
Lauren Guido (FTVM 2021) -- Set Intern
Laura Caruso (FTVM 2016) -- 2nd AC

FTVM Alum Liann Kaye (Honors 2011) is a Chinese American filmmaker who just released her mini-series The Blessing. Liann started out directing music videos on U of M's campus for alumni such as Carlos Valdes (The Flash), Darren Criss (Glee), Theo Katzman (Vulfpeck), Charlene Kaye (San Fermin), and more. Her award-winning short film "The Blessing" premiered at festivals across the country last year, winning "Best Comedy" at the New York Short Film Festival and also won a grant of 20K from the NYC Women's Fund last February to serialize the project. Since then, she completed the series, signed with Issa Rae’s Management Company, ColorCreative, and released the project on Youtube in Februrary 2022. She is now pitching her feature screenplay, Electable, which was a finalist in the Athena Lab, where she got to be a mentee of Sofia Alvarez (To All the Boys I've Loved Before, 2018 & 2020) and the Blacklist x WIF feature film residency.


Congratulations to FTVM Alum Alex Ebel ('08) who won a Writer's Guild of America Award in the Children's Episodic, Long Form, and Specials category for her episode "The Tale of the Midnight Magic" (Are you Afraid of theDark?) on Nickelodeon. The epsiode was co-written by JT Billings and premiered on Nickelodeon on March 12, 2021. (#205)


"Getting to work on the reboot of a show I loved as a kid was a thrill, in and of itself...but winning a WGA Award for it?  Truly a mind-melting moment!" -Alex Ebel 

Gretchen Andrews. producing “La Otra Manera” on set in Tankarparta, Peru in 2017. Image credit: Meredith Dolan

FTVM Alum Gretchen Andrews ('19) is using her Fulbright award to depart to Mendoza, Argentina, to create a short documentary film exploring the need for positive conversations about sex and relationships worldwide. Andrews will collaborate with Ana María Vega, developer of “Educación Sexual Integral,” the leading NGO that strives toward consistent, government-funded access to sex education in public schools in Mendoza.

FTVM Alum David Siev (FTVM '15) won the Special Jury Recognition for Exceptional Intimacy in Storytelling Award for his film Bad Axe at the SXSW Film Awards. Siev's film centers on an Asian-American family in the rural U.S. fighting to keep their restaurant alive despite the COVID-19 pandemic, neo-Nazis, and generational scars from the Cambodian killing fields.In a river in the south of Chile, fish are dying due to pollution from the nearby cellulose factory. Amid their floating bodies, long-deceased Magdalena bubbles up to the surface gasping for air, bringing with her old wounds and a wave of family secrets. 

FTVM Alum Shrihari Sathe ('05) co-produced the feature film The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future (dir. Francisca Alegría) which premiered ath teh 2022 Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, January 23, 2022.

In a river in the south of Chile, fish are dying due to pollution from the nearby cellulose factory. Amid their floating bodies, long-deceased Magdalena bubbles up to the surface gasping for air, bringing with her old wounds and a wave of family secrets. 

FTVM Alum Olivia Aguilar ('11) co-produced the short film Training Wheels (Dir. Alison Rich) which premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival on Thursday, January 20, 2022, as part of the U.S. Action Short Films category. Training Wheels follows a socially inept woman who rents one man to prepare for another. 

Congratulations to Clare Higgins (Honors, FTVM '17) on the Netflix premiere of her first TV episode of The Witcher (season 2, episode 3, co-written with Lauren Schmidt Hissrich).

Clare reflects, "I'm so proud to be a part of this show, and to confidently call myself a TV writer. This industry isn't always an easy one, and victories like this are worth celebrating with the people you love. Thank you to those who I've worked with, leaned on, celebrated, shared, and grown with these past few years."

FTVM '17 Andre Ray’s production company Paris Films (co-founded with Paris Jones) just wrapped the feature film Among The Ashes starring Denise Richards, Richard Gunn, and Ilean Almaguer. 
As an associated production company on the project, Paris Films contributed to script development and casting, production, post-production, and the upcoming distribution deal. While uncredited personally on the film, Ray specifically assisted with script development and other early aspects on the project as part of his role as Head of Content.

FTVM interns contributed to various areas of development on this project: Sydney Bentley ('21) and current undergrads Amira Salloum and Jonah Sobczak.

Photos taken from the Paris Films Website 

Spotlight Alums in 2021



Rebecca Ewing's (FTVM 2000) Love Hard, now streaming on Netflix, made its Michigan premiere at the Maple Theater in Birmingham on November 5, 2021. The film tells the tale of an LA girl, unlucky in love, who falls for an East Coast guy on a dating app and decides to surprise him for the holidays -- only to discover that she's been catfished. This lighthearted romantic comedy chronicles her attempt to reel in love.


Congratulations to Executive Director of Comedy Originals at Hulu Kelci Parker (FTVM '11) who was named one of Shadow and Act's Rising Executives this year. 

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television, and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

FTVM Alums Jordan Frank and Matt Schwarz ('96) of the band Quasar Wut-Wut  Score
Long-Lost Silent Film Soon to Play on TCM

In September of 2021, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, before a near-capacity crowd, director Edward Sedgwick’s five-reel silent film The First Degree said hello again in first public appearance in 97 years. Chicago Tribute author Michael Phillips talked to co-composer and performer Matt Schwarz after the show who told him,"(The music) strove to capture 'the unceasing devilishness' of the villain, and the psychological torment of the beleaguered hero." The Quasar Wut-Wut score has already been recorded and will accompany the forthcoming TCM premiere, which likely will air in late 2021 or early 2022 as part of the “Silent Sundays” programming hosted by Jacqueline Stewart.

Above text extracted from "A long-lost silent movie turned up in a storage closet in Peoria and got its first screening this week in Chicago in almost a century. Next stop: Turner Classic Movies" by Micheal Phillips, Chicago Tribune.To access the full Tribune article about the film, please click here

On September 14, 2021, Tian Jun Gu (FTVM '11) was elected as a Freelance member on the Council of the Writers Guild of America East (WGAE). Freelance members are primarily the writers of feature film, television, and digital/new media projects.

The Writers Guild of America, East, AFL-CIO (WGAE) is a labor union representing thousands of members who write content for motion pictures, television, news and digital media. The Guild negotiates and administers contracts that protect the creative and economic rights of its members; conducts programs, seminars and events on issues of interest to writers; and presents writers’ views to various bodies of government.

FTVM Alum David Roston (2011), Producer, NoiseFilter, graduated with a Master’s in Public Health from Tulane University and is now producing a series of educational animations about COVID vaccines. NoiseFilter recently released the first episode: "Valiant Vaccine Versus the Vicious Virus."

Razzaaq Boykin (FTVM '05), currently a directing Fellow at the American Film Institute, is featured in the Voyage LA article "Conversations with Razzaaq Boykin," (March 25, 2021). In the interview, Boykin discusses his professional journey, his challenges, and his work at AFI.

"[My] experiences taught me that any obstacle has a solution. Challenges make us strong; they build our character. Which explains why every time there is a challenge on set, I say to myself, ‘God, I love this game’; I take every moment to appreciate that it is where I want to be, and it’s all I ever wanted."

-- Razzaaq Boykin

Photo credit, VoyageLA

Director Davy Rothbart's (UM '98) feature documentary 17 Blocks celebrated its national virtual release starting March 5, 2021,  and is streaming in over 100 theaters nationwide.  In 1999, nine-year old Emmanual Sanford-Durant and his Washington, D. C., family began to film their daily lives in America's most dangerous neighborhood - just 17 blocks behind the U. S. Capitol building.  They've been filming ever since.  Made in a unique collaboration with filmmaker and journalist Davy Rothbart, the film focuses on four generations of the Sanford family, including Emmanuel, a promising student, his brother Smurf, a local drug dealer, his sister Denice, an aspiring cop, and his mother Cheryl, who must conquer her own demons for her family to prosper. Spanning two decades, 17 Blocks illuminates a nation's ongoing crisis through one family's raw, stirring, and deeply personal saga.

Rachel Dengiz (FTVM '99) produced this film. 


FTVM alumna Gretchen Andrews ('19) was recently awarded a Fulbright grant to make a documentary in Argentina highlighting young-adult activists and their courageous strives to implement comprehensive sex education into public schools. She will be supplementing the project with graduate classes in documentary and journalism. Gretchen noted about her experience in FTVM: "All of the different skills we were pushed to try to follow through with in FTVM 403 Sketch Comedy certainly gave me more confidence not just in film, but in any creative project."

The February 23, 2021 issue of Deadline reveals Film-makers Justin Powell (FTVM '09, pictured at far left) and David Charbonier, who recently sold their supernatural thriller The Djinn to IFC Midnight, have inked with ICM Partners for representation.The film follows a mute young boy who unleashes a sinister monster after he makes a wish to fulfill his greatest desire: to have a voice. Now trapped in a small apartment with nowhere to hide, he must find a way to survive until the stroke of midnight or pay the ultimate price. Justin Powell is a writer and producer at Fifth Circle Pictures, a motion picture development and production company, specializing in thrillers and old school, suspense driven horror. He co-founded the company in 2015 with his long time friend and director, David Charbonier. 

Photo and portions of text extracted from Deadline's "ICM Signs 'The Djinn' Filmmakers Justin Powell and David Charbonier," by Anthony D'Alessandro

The film Ticket to Paradise, starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts, will be going into production later this year. Co-written by Ol Parker and Daniel Pipski (FTVM '98), the film traces a divorced couple that teams up and travels to Bali to stop their daughter from making the same mistake they think they made 25 years ago. Read the full article in Deadline here   

Photo courtesy of Daniel Pipski

Spotlight Alums in 2020

Paige Wood (FTVM '15) Awarded 2020 Kresge Artist Fellowship

Paige Wood was recently awarded a 2020 Kresge Artist Fellowship (Film & Music). Administered by the College for Creative Studies, Kresge Arts in Detroit represents one aspect of The Kresge Foundation’s investment in the artistic communities of metropolitan Detroit, providing support to artists living and working in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties. 

Paige Wood is an award-winning screenwriter, producer, and creative consultant. Born in Detroit and working worldwide, Paige has produced and/or co-written a number of critically-acclaimed documentary and narrative films since the start of her freelance career in 2018. Currently, she serves as the supervising producer of five narrative-shifting multimedia projects supported by The Ford Foundation, and teaches as an adjunct instructor in the film program at  Wayne State University. Paige is an alumna of Firelight Media’s 2018-2019 Impact Producer Fellowship cohort as well as a recipient of the Sundance Institute’s 2019 Knight Fellowship.Text and photo extracted from

Connie Huang (FTVM '11) Speaks on Panel at Duderstadt Symposium and Conducts Open Session for FTVM Majors


photos courtesy of Connie Huang & Mary Lou Chlipala

(clockwise from top) Connie's diverse experiences on set;
Connie and Terri Sarris; and  FTVM majors Kristi Lindenmuth and Sivert Glarum recording the symposium.



Connie Huang (FTVM '11) spoke on the panel "Women in Media Technology" and conducted a session entitled "Filmmaker Working in New York City" at the 2020 Media and Studio Arts Symposium at Duderstadt on Thursday, February 20, 2020. Huang has worked as the professional camera assistant for such films as The Goldfinch, The Greatest Showman, Bridge of Spies, The Post, and West Side Story. Additionally, Connie conducted an open session with FTVM majors on Friday, February 21, 2020, in North Quad's Green Room. 

FTVM Alum Justin Powell ('09) Featured in DEADLINE

The February 4, 2020 issue of Deadline reveals This Is Us star Lonnie Chavis is to topline the indie thriller The Boy Behind The Door, co-written and co-directed by FTVM Alum Justin Powell ('09) and David Charbonier. The film follows Bobby (Chavis), a young boy who is kidnapped alongside his best friend on their way to Little League practice. With no means of calling for help and miles of dark country in every direction, Bobby must rescue his friend and find a way out before they become the latest victims in a collection of lost children. Read the full article in Deadline.


Justin Powell is the co-founder of Fifth Circle Pictures, specializing in thrillers and suspense-driven horror. Photo credit, IMDb

Kevin Tocco ('18) Selected for CBS Page Program

Kevin Tocco (FTVM ‘18) was recently selected for the CBS Page Program in NYC. His current role is an audience management Page at the Ed Sullivan Theatre for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. After this “rotation,” he will have the opportunity to assist CBS news shows as News Page as well as other entertainment shows produced in the CBS Broadcast center. (Kevin wants you to know that no unpaid internships were required!)

photos courtesy of Kevin Tocco

Andrew Ericksen's (FTVM '11) TOXICITY Now Streaming on Amazon



Writer & Director Andrew Ericksen (FTVM '11) directs this suspense drama about a young widower who moves home with his mother; their strained relationship grows even more complicated as he becomes the primary suspect in his wife's suspicious death.