This year, Mitchell Scholar Ashley Morrow wrote a screenplay for a feature-length film called Révérence, with this gripping logline: “When a prestigious dance school is burned to the ground with the headmaster found dead inside, a detective must unravel a series of events to determine if there’s a murderer within the school’s conservatory.”
“One of our guest speakers described it as Knives Out meets Juilliard,” says Morrow, who recently graduated with degrees in psychology and film, television, and media (FTVM). “Growing up,” Morrow says, “my favorite characters never looked like me. To be able to write characters who not only look like me, but also look like other young girls and young people who don’t see themselves represented that well on screen, has been really rewarding.” Morrow’s script features a Black woman as the main character, and four of the six characters are people of color.
Taking a movie from screenplay to screen is an arduous journey, but Morrow has several points in her favor thanks to LSA’s new John H. and Patricia W. Mitchell Scholarship. The scholarship honors the legacy of Columbia Pictures Television Founder John H. Mitchell and his wife Patricia W. Mitchell, and it is designed to support and prepare current and future generations of undergraduate students to become ethical and responsible media professionals and leaders. The scholarship annually supports six exceptionally promising full-time students who are pursuing a major in FTVM.
The Mitchell Scholarship’s monetary award is paired with special events and programs throughout the year. Bill Collage, a writer and producer known for Assassin’s Creed and Allegiant, was one of the visitors who met with the Mitchell Scholars during the 2021-2022 academic year. He talked with Morrow about her screenplay, gave her advice, and suggested that she read the screenplays for Black Swan and All that Jazz. “They care about what we’re doing,” Morrow says. “For people who have all of this industry experience to take an interest in us is really important.”
The first Mitchell cohort began during the 2020-2021 academic year, followed by the second cohort this past academic year. They are led by the faculty and staff of FTVM, which added a new John H. Mitchell Visiting Professor in Media Entertainment this year. Janet Leahy, who was a writer and producer of Mad Men and numerous other television shows, is the first person to hold that position.
One of the Mitchell Scholars has already made her way to Hollywood. Dierra Barlow (A.B. ’21) is a writer’s assistant and writer at the creative agency Passerine in Los Angeles. A member of the first Mitchell cohort, Barlow is invested in representing Black and queer narratives in complex and nuanced ways. She remains in touch with writer and producer LaToya Morgan, whom she met during her time as a scholar in a one-on-one industry talk organized by Professor Jim Burnstein. Morgan has written for Shameless and The Walking Dead and is now the showrunner for a television show called Duster, which is in production. “It was great to connect with someone who is where I want to be,” Barlow says.
Barlow herself wrote two scripts while she was a Mitchell Scholar, including a television pilot for a show called Weaksiders about former athletes who are in group therapy. That pilot won Best Drama and Best Original Theme at the 2021 Lightworks Film Festival, and this past fall was produced by FTVM students. “It was rough, and it was hard to make during COVID. But I’m very proud of what they pulled together.”
One of the highlights of the Mitchell Scholarship for Johannes Pardi (A.B. ’22) was receiving mentorship from the program’s distinguished guests, which has given him the confidence to submit his animations to film festivals all over the world. He’s taken home the top prize from film festivals in Singapore, Nawada in India, and Halicarnassus in Turkey.
With support from FTVM professors Burnstein and Oliver Thornton, Pardi decided to pitch his short film Delusia to Collage. “Collage gave me a clearer vision about what it’s like to work on television versus working on a feature film and encouraged me to start with the project as a feature to get my foot in the door.”
When Delusia is finished, Pardi hopes to share it with his fellow Mitchell Scholars Morrow and Brendan Dewley. “Mitchell Scholars is this big network that’s only going to grow as we stay connected in our careers and projects,” Pardi says. “More collaboration is coming.”
Many Mitchell Scholars plan to move to Hollywood now that they have graduated. They are grateful for the connections they have made and the guidance they’ve been given through the program, and they know that doors will open for them because of the experience. Which doors, exactly? Perhaps all of them.
“I’d love to write, direct, even act,” Morrow says. “There’s so much I want to do in film—where to start?”
Led by FTVM Department Chair Yeidy M. Rivero, program liaison Lisa Rohde, and Director of Screenwriting Professor Jim Burnstein, the Mitchell Scholars, who worked closely with Hollywood professionals, are vanguards of a new golden age in FTVM. Look out for these names—they may be coming to a screen near you.
Dierra Barlow (A.B. ’21) is guiding current FTVM students through the production of her television pilot from her new home in Los Angeles.
Jelani Embree (A.B. ’22) is a producer, guitarist, meditator, and wrestler who believes that comedy makes sense of trauma and that “humans are the greatest asset that we have.”
Macy Goller (A.B. ’22) majored in FTVM, theater arts, French, and history, and is determined to create raw, soulful films that spark international conversations.
Lara Graney (A.B. ’22) is pursuing film production who just directed a lyrical film about movement, goofiness, and dance with M-agination Films.
Julia Gray (A.B. ’22) recently adapted and is directing an Icelandic saga for the screen.
Brendan Dewley (A.B. ’22) studied comedy and television and has co-created a sketch comedy pilot, Craig.
Nick Ferraina (A.B. ’22) hopes to become a director of photography. “The best part of being a Michigan student is other students,” he says.
Ashley Morrow (A.B. ’22) double majored in psychology and FTVM with a submajor in screenwriting. She is a self-taught film editor and content creator.
Johannes Pardi (A.B. ’22) is pursuing photography, cinematography, and animation who has owned and operated a video production company since 2017.
Sawyer Rewa is a rising senior whose short animated film Twisted Wire aired at the Lightworks Film Festival in 2021, winning a director’s choice award.
Jacob Shin (A.B. ’22) focuses on film production. His work ranges from making K-drama parodies to experimental shorts.
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In LSA, we’re preparing students to create bold and purposeful change, wherever their individual paths lead. After graduation, Emmanuel plans to put his multicultural perspective and international studies degree to work in refugee and immigration advocacy. An LSA internship scholarship enabled him to gain precious experience with a nonprofit organization for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers — so he can start making a positive difference now.