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Our Mentors

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Lorien McKenna


Most recently, Lorien was the showrunner for TAB TIME, a 1/2 hour YouTube series produced by Kids at Play. She wrote the feature HOW TO SET A FIRE AND WHY based on the book of the same name by Jesse Ball. Maia Glikman is attached to produce and Drew Kirsch is attached to direct.

She is a former Story Manager for Pixar Animation Studios where she worked on animated classics like UP, BRAVE, INSIDE OUT, and THE GOOD DINOSAUR. She served as the Co-Executive Producer on Hulu's CURIOUS GEORGE series, and was Associate Producer on Paramount Animation’s WONDER PARK.

She’s a mentor for the Cinestory Foundation retreats and has worked as a script editor for Screen Australia and Screen Ireland, among others. 

After receiving her MFA in Playwriting from St. Mary’s College of California, Lorien taught playwriting and theater as an adjunct professor and founded Guilty Theater.  

Lorien hosts the podcast THE SCREENWRITING LIFE. The show, co-hosted with writer Meg LeFauve, is dedicated to unpacking both the craft and artistic journey of pursuing a career in screenwriting.

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Tina Gharavi


Born in Tehran, Tina Gharavi is a BAFTA-nominated, award-winning TV and film showrunner and director initially trained as a painter in the United States later studying cinema in France. Her debut feature, I Am Nasrine, a coming of age story of two teenage Iranian refugees, was nominated for a BAFTA in 2013. The film received 4 stars from Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian calling it, "A valuable debut, shot with a fluent kind of poetry" while Deborah Ross in the Spectator described it as “affectionate, humane, tender and, ultimately, optimistic.”

Gharavi has made films from unique perspectives on subjects as diverse as Muhammad Ali, teenage sexuality, Yemeni-British sailors, The Lackawanna 6, death row exonerees, refugees and lighthouses. Her first short, Closer, a 35mm film was an official selection at Sundance where programmer, Shari Frilot, noted that ‘it takes documentary to the next level.’ Gharavi’s next major production chronicled her return to her mother’s house in Iran, 23 years after the Islamic Revolution. The resulting film, Mother/Country, was broadcast at prime time on Channel 4 in the UK where the national press gave it top billing. Further works such as The King of South Shields and People Like Us deal with “the outsider” and her work often explores the issues of strategies of power and “who speaks for whom.”

Since leaving Iran in 1979 she has been a true nomad; carrying no less than 4 passports she currently resides in Northern England and Los Angeles where she is working on her follow-up feature, The Good Iranian, with the BFI and Film 4; a gangster tale set in Europe and Iran, a further feature documentary about tribalism and othering, Tribalism is Killing Us (voice over from Idris Elba). She recently worked as Second Unit Director on the high-end drama, The Tunnel, the UK version of The Bridge and is now engaged on several TV directing projects. Currently she is showrunning a returning episodic TV series, Refurinn (The Fox), an Icelandic Noir and shooting her second feature film in Beirut and Bulgaria.

Gharavi was elected into the BAFTA Academy in 2017 and is represented by Roxana Adle at Independent Talent in the UK and Noah Jones at Gersh in Los Angeles.


Rudy Thauberger


Rudy Thauberger wrote the screenplays for the feature films The Rhino Brothers and Chicago Heights (with Daniel Nearing), as well as the short film Goalie (based on his short story). He has also written teleplays for the SyFy network movies-of-the week Snowmaggedon and The 12 Disasters of Christmas. He is a past winner of the BC Literary Rites short story competition, a finalist in the Canadian National Playwriting Contest, a two-time winner of the Monday Magazine short story contest and has been shortlisted four times in the annual 3-Day Novel Contest. He is the co-creater and writer of the web series Coma State (currently in development) and has worked as a story editor on several films and comic books, most recently the feature film Hogtown. His short story Goalie has been anthologized over twenty times. Currently, he’s working on several film, television and comic book projects, including the upcoming webs series 60 Second Screams. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and works as an instructor at the Vancouver Film School.


Marya Cohn


Marya Cohn is a writer, director and film professor. Her feature script, Hurricane Season, currently in development, was a Nicholls quarterfinalist and received a Tangerine Fellowship to Stowe Story Labs. She wrote and directed the feature film, The Girl in the Book, starring Emily Van Camp and Michael Nyqvist, which premiered at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival, was released by Myriad Pictures and Freestyle Releasing in December 2015, and is currently available on multiple streaming platforms. Her short film, Developing, starring Natalie Portman and Frances Conroy, screened at Sundance, won grand prizes at the Belgian Festival Mondial du Cinéma de Court Métrage and the St. Petersburg Message to Man Film Festival, and aired on The Sundance Channel and Channel 13’s Reel NY. She has also directed plays at The Here Theater, Rattlestick Theater, Dixon Place, Vital Theater, HB Playwrights’ Foundation and Theater, The Women’s Project, New Georges, NADA 45, and the playwrights’ unit at EST. Marya teaches screenwriting at The New School and is a filmmaking advisor for Vermont College of Fine Arts’ non-residential MFA program in film. She received her MFA from NYU’s Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television and her BA from Harvard University.


Laura Colella


Filmmaker Laura Colella has written and directed three features: the Independent Spirit Award-winner Breakfast with Curtis, Stay Until Tomorrow, and Tax Day. She is currently casting her fourth feature, Clingstone, with producer Michael A. Jackman. Her numerous shorts include Statuary, The Flying Electric, and Chryskylodon Blues, filmed behind-the-scenes on the set of Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice.

Her films have screened at well over 100 festivals internationally, winning over 25 awards. Breakfast with Curtis was named one of the top ten films of the last decade by Barbara Scharres on Laura's three features have been on Netflix, Fandor, and other platforms, and Breakfast with Curtis was released theatrically in several cities. She has been a Sundance Directing and Screenwriting Fellow, a Film Independent Fellow, a Bogliasco Fellow, and one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces in Independent Film.

Laura studied filmmaking as an undergraduate at Harvard with Raúl Ruiz, Miklós Jancsó and Robb Moss. She has an MFA in Writing for Performance from Brown, where she studied with Erik Ehn. She has taught all screenwriting courses at Brown for several years, and taught filmmaking and directing at RISD for many years before that. She was the Founding Faculty Chair of VCFA’s MFA in Film Program and is on their faculty.


Helena Medina


HELENA MEDINA (PhD Columbia University, 2001) started her career as a TV screenwriter at NBC in New York before moving back to Europe, where she creates and writes movies, miniseries and series for Mediaset (Italy and Spain), TVE, Canal Plus France, Netflix, etc. She continues writing in the USA, where her most recent work, now in production, is as an Executive Producer. Helena lives in London where she is now starting her own production company.

Important milestones in her screenwriting career have been the miniseries “Operation Checkmate” (Paraiso Pictures, TVE), nominated for an EMMY and awarded, among others, with the Bronze Medal at the New York Festivals and the FIPA d’Argent at Biarritz, France**.** Her multi-awarded miniseries “23F: The King” won her the ALMA Award for Best Screenplay; a nomination for World’s Best Screenplay at the International Television Festival of Shanghai; the New York Festivals World Silver Medal, the National Television Award and the ONDAS, among others.

Most of her other works have also received important awards and nominations (Festivals of Monte Carlo, San Sebastian, etc).

Helena is also a specialist at the Media Programme of the European Union, and a lecturer at the New School University in New York. She has been a member of juries such as that of the San Sebastian Film Festival or the Emmy Awards.


Alireza Khatami


Alireza Khatami is an award-winning writer and director whose trademark is folding fantasy elements into otherwise realistic narratives. His works that focus on precarious lives, addressing memory, trauma, and identity politics, have been showcased in numerous festivals, including Cannes, Venice, and Rotterdam. Alireza is an alumnus of the Cinéfondation residency of the Cannes Film Festival, Berlinale Talent Campus, TIFF Talent Lab, and Turino Film Lab. His first feature film, Oblivion Verses, a French-German-Dutch-Chilean co-production, premiered at the 74th Venice International Film festival. It received three awards, including Orizzonti Award for Best Screenplay. Currently, Alireza teaches writing and directing at Ryerson University in Toronto. Before that, he taught at DePaul University in Chicago and Lebanese American University in Beirut.


Jason B. Kohl


Jason B. Kohl is an award winning Austrian/American filmmaker whose work has screened at the Berlinale, SXSW, Locarno, BFI London and Tallinn Black Nights. He’s currently developing original television series with Gaumont, Odeon, Lieblingsfilm and Vienna-based Rund Film. He’s a former Fulbright and DAAD scholar with an MFA in Directing from UCLA Film School in Los Angeles. Jason is represented by the Gersh Agency in Los Angeles and the FBE agency in Berlin.


Paul Kowalski


Paul Kowalski is an award-winning writer-director whose films center around identity, exile and obsession, often featuring dark psychologies and the supernatural. His 2021 feature "Paper Tiger" premiered at Austin Film Festival in 2020, winning the Audience Award and a Jury mention, and was subsequently sold by The Gersh Agency and distributed by Gravitas Ventures to Amazon in 2021.

Born in the UK to nomadic Polish immigrants, Paul grew up in England, the Middle East, Poland, Africa, Southeast Asia and across the US – sparking a natural impulse to reconcile contrasting views of the world. While studying literature and writing at Brown University, he published a collection of short stories and made his earliest films. Kowalski later received his MFA in film directing at the AFI Conservatory. His other films have won recognition from the American Society of Cinematographers, Beijing Film Academy and CINE, as well as the Aesthetica, Raindance, Austin and Beverly Hills film festivals, among others.

Paul is also a two-time BAFTA Newcomer, lecturer at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts – and in 2021 was named by AFF as one of “25 Screenwriters To Watch”. He is a Polish and British citizen, and lives in LA with his wife, actress Sorel Carradine.


Flaminio Zandra


Flaminio is an Italian Producer with a quite peculiar journey.

In fact, he has always preferred to work on an international scale rather than just focusing on what his homeland, Italy, had to offer. After a short career as a journalist, in 2001 he moved from Rome to Hamburg where he started to work with director Fatih Akin.

In 2004, back in Rome, together with Alberto Fanni and Paolo Colombo, Flaminio founded Dorje Film through which he co-produced several feature films, among which Akin’s The Edge Of Heaven (Best Screenplay at Cannes Film Festival, 2007), Soul Kitchen (Special Jury prize in Venice Film Festival, 2009), The Cut (2014), In the fade (Golden Globe, 2017) and Julie Bertucelli’s The Tree (2010). 

Flaminio extended his collaboration to a wide number of filmmakers such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Jia Zhangke and Jafar Panahi. In 2018 he came back to Italy to join Moliwood Films, a young Italian film and television production company founded by Pilar Saavedra Perrotta.

Together they produced The Story of My Wife, starring Léa Seydoux and directed by Ildikó Enyedi (Golden Bear 2017 for On body and Soul). Flaminio is also a mentor and script Doctor at Biennale College Cinema and Nostos Screenwriting Retreat.


Giovanni Pompili


Giovanni has a background in filmmaking and media studies. After his degree in visual
communication, he started working on developing and producing documentaries in Italy and UK.
He took over as head of Kino Produzioni in 2012, since then Kino is working to develop a new
generation of emerging talents and is often coproducing with international companies. His latest
productions by were presented at A-List film festivals. Among those Carla Simòn’s ALCARRÀS, winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlinale 2022, Michele
Vannucci’s DELTA premiered in Locarno Piazza Grande and SOLE by Carlo Sironi, awarded as
Best First Feature at the European Film Awards 2020. He is regularly teaching film production and holding lectures on international co-production and
project development for different Film Commissions, Funds and Festivals. He is currently tutor
producer at the TFL initiative Alps Film Lab a workshop to improve the coproduction from France
and Italy since the development stage. He has also been consulting projects at First Cut Lab, Full
Circle Lab, Margenes and other regional development initiatives and teaches production at the
Anica Academy funded by Rai, Netflix, Paramount and Vision among others.
Since this year he is Head of Studies of the brand new Green Film Lab about sustainability in film
production. Giovanni is member of Ace, Producer on the Move, Eave, Berlinale Talents, Eurodoc and TFL
Alumni. He has been involved in Fair Trade and NGO’s and after playing rugby for fifteen years he’s still
convinced that the strength of the team is each individual member, but the strength of each
member is the team.

Our Mentors: Team Members

Guest Speakers

Our Mentors: Meet the Team

Todd Strauss Schulson

Director, screenwriter, producer, editor, and cinematographer

Ever since his grandfather gave him a video camera for his Bar Mitzvah (after years of relentless pestering), Todd Strauss-Schulson has been a one-man movie-making machine – directing, writing, shooting and editing all of his own work.

Born and raised in Queens, he attended Emerson College; where he won numerous awards, including Panavision’s prestigious New Filmmakers prize. Upon graduating, Todd moved to Los Angeles. It wasn’t long before he was helming high-concept music videos for major label artists. His music video work led to a 6-month stint in China and Thailand, where he wrote and directed MTV Whatever Things, a more stylish version of Jackass with an all-western cast. It became the most popular show on MTV Asia with an international audience of over 250 Million.

Back in the States, Todd has directed short films and TV shows with comic greats like Stephen Colbert, Amy Schumer, Seth Macfarlane, Jeffery Tambor, Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen DeGeneres, The Onion, Lewis Black, Patton Oswalt, Thomas Middleditch, Adam Devine, Eric Andre, Laura Silverman, Natasha Leggero and Damon Wayans. Todd’s personal project Mano-A-Mano was a selection of the 2008 SXSW Film Festival. In 2009, SXSW invited Todd back to premiere his new short film Big Pussy, which was subsequently selected to screen at the world famous Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal.

At 29 years old, Todd teamed with New Line Cinema and Mandate Pictures to spearhead his first feature film, A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas. The film – which was released by Warner Brothers in 2011 in stereoscopic 3D (the first stoner movie ever shot in 3D and the first Christmas movie ever shot in 3D and arguably the first comedy ever shot in 3D and this is the longest sentence to ever use the term 3D this many times) – boasts an all-star comedic cast including Kal Penn, John Cho and Neil Patrick Harris.

His sophomore effort, The Final Girls for Sony Pictures and Groundswell Productions, had its world premiere on Friday the 13th at SXSW’s opening night. It won the Audience Award at the Stanley Film Festival, was a Gala Premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and was the closing night film at the 2015 Midnight Madness series at the Toronto Film Festival. In the years since, it has amassed cult status—counting Stephen King, Sam Raimi, and Quentin Tarantino as vocal fans.

Todd’s new feature film Isn’t It Romantic starring Rebel Wilson, Liam Hemsworth, Adam Devine, and Priyanka Chopra was released Valentines Day 2019 breaking hearts nationwide.

Todd will write and direct his next feature titled, “Silent Retreat” for Miramax.

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