Faculty + Mentors
All writing instructors are members of the Writers Guild of America.
From the start, the Stephens College low-residency Master of Fine Arts in TV and Screenwriting has focused on providing access to the absolute best faculty. These are real working writers and highly successful industry professionals who have broken new ground and built esteemed careers in the TV and screenwriting industry. In addition, notable writers and showrunners speak regularly at workshops for a comprehensive, thorough and dynamic learning environment.
We urge you to take the time to read about our faculty below and to follow what they are up to on the MFA Facebook.
Dr. Rosanne Welch, Executive Director
Rosanne Welch, Ph.D., serves as executive director of Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting, where she created a set of History of Screenwriting courses and teaches courses in One-Hour Drama. Her television writing credits include Beverly Hills 90210, Picket Fences, ABC News: Nightline and Touched by an Angel. Welch edited When Women Wrote Hollywood (2018), which was named runner up for the Susan Koppelman Award honoring the best anthology, multi-authored, or edited book in feminist studies by the Popular Culture Association. She co-edited Women in American History: A Social, Political, and Cultural Encyclopedia (named to both the 2018 Outstanding References Sources List and the list of Best Historical Materials by the American Library Association), and wrote Why the Monkees Matter: Teenagers, Television and American Popular Culture. Welch serves as book reviews editor for Journal of Screenwriting and on the editorial board for Written By magazine. In 2019 she was elected to the executive committee of the International Screenwriting Research Network for a two-year term. Listen to her talk, “The Importance of Having a Female Voice in the Room,” from the TEDxCPP and other recorded lectures on her YouTube channel.
Ken LaZebnik, Writer-in-Residence
Ken LaZebnik is best known for his work as a screenwriter, television writer and playwright. With Garrison Keillor, he co-wrote Robert Altman’s last film, A Prairie Home Companion. He also wrote the popular holiday film The Christmas Cottage, starring Peter O’Toole and Marcia Gay Harden. Over the past 25 years, he has written primarily for one-hour television, including writing more than twenty episodes of Touched by An Angel. He has also written for Star Trek: Enterprise, Army Wives, Providence and When Calls the Heart. LaZebnik’s plays have been performed across America. He has written three plays on the subject of autism. On the Spectrum earned him a Steinberg Award from the American Theatre Critics Association. His newest play, Autonomy, premiered at The Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis in spring 2019. He wrote for Garrison Keillor’s radio show A Prairie Home Companion for eight seasons, and currently is a writer/producer for Paula Poundstone’s podcast, Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone.
LaZebnik founded the Stephens College Low-Residency M.F.A. in Television and Screenwriting. He also has taught television writing and screenwriting at the Long Island University TV Writers Studio in New York, University of Southern California’s Stark MFA program, Pepperdine University, University of California-Riverside, and the Writers Guild of America Veterans Writing Program.
Khanisha Foster, Associate Director
Khanisha Foster is a mixed-race writer, performer and director, the associate artistic director of 2nd Story, ensemble member of Teatro Vista, a TCG Young Leader of Color, a resident teaching artist at Center Theatre Group, and has collaborated with the Citizens Theatre in Scotland. She directed Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the adaption of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and will be directing Intimate Apparel in the spring. Her writing can be found in the anthologies Briefly Knocked Unconscious by a Low Flying Duck and A Mixtape of Words; in the latter, she chronicles an attempt to learn all of Beyoncé's dances. She also was a featured storyteller on NPR’s The Dinner Party Download. She currently is working on a show called Code Switching and hosts the podcast How I Wrote That, which focuses on women who write for TV and film. In addition to Stephens College, Foster is an adjunct lecturer at the University of Southern California School of Dramatic Arts.
As a 30-year veteran of the Hollywood film and television business, Brian Bird's mission as a writer, producer and media professional is to create high-caliber, life-affirming redemptive true stories and uplifting entertainment projects. Bird is co-founder and partner with Michael Landon Jr. of Believe Pictures, specializing in life-and-faith-affirming films and television. His most recent writing and producing credits include the 2017 feature The Case for Christ and Captive (2015) for Paramount Pictures, The Ultimate Life (2013) for 20th Century Fox, along with the TV film, Beverly Lewis' The Reckoning for the Hallmark Channel (2015). Additionally, he serves as executive producer and co-creator of the Hallmark original series When Calls the Heart (2013-17). Prior to that, he wrote and produced Beverly Lewis' The Confession (2013) and The Shunning (2011), both for Hallmark; Gametime for NBC (2011); Not Easily Broken (2009), adapted from the novel by T.D. Jakes, for Sony/Screen Gems; Saving Sarah Cain (2008) and Francine Rivers' The Last Sin Eater (2007) for 20th Century Fox.From 1998-2003, Bird served as co-executive producer and writer on the final five seasons on the series Touched by an Angel. His TV series writing and producing credits include more than 250 episodes of When Calls the Heart, Touched by an Angel, Evening Shade, Step by Step and The Family Man, as well as pilots for ABC, NBC and Showtime. Bird's other film credits include the Morgan Freeman-directed Bopha! (1993) for Paramount Pictures, the Hallmark Hall of Fame drama Captive Heart (1996), and Call Me Claus, the highest rated cable film of 2003 for TNT. He also has written screen adaptations of In Silence for Paramount Pictures, Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation for TNT, Before Time Runs Out for Fox, The Deaths of Sybil Bolton for CBS and A Dirty Business for HBO.
Laura Brennan’s eclectic writing career includes television, film, theater, web series, fiction and news. Behind the scenes, she has helped production companies develop movies, TV pilots and limited series. She has taught pitching workshops to executives at Netflix and Film Victoria, as well as MFA programs and undergraduate classes at universities including Stephens College, University of California, Los Angeles, University of Southern California, Boston University and National University.A graduate of Yale University, Brennan has won awards for journalism, television writing and fiction. Her children’s book, Nana Speaks Nanese, tackles the confusing changes brought on by dementia in a reassuring and straightforward way. She hopes it will help families facing a diagnosis of dementia open up a conversation with their young children. Her web series Faux Baby is also for parents, but it is definitely not for children—or even safe for work.
Bri Castellini is an award-winning independent filmmaker based in Brooklyn. She has an MFA in Writing and Producing for Television and a B.A. in creative writing, studying in New York and Oregon, respectively. By day, she's a crowdfunding specialist for Seed&Spark, the community director for Stareable, and an adjunct professor for Long Island University-Brooklyn and Stephens College. She is known for the short films Ace and Anxious (2017, writer/director) and Buy In (2019, director/co-writer) and the web series Brains and Sam and Pat Are Depressed (2015-2016, 2017-present respectively, creator/writer/star) as well as the upcoming web series Better With You (2019, director). She has been described by collaborators as a “human bulldozer” and is honestly kind of flattered.
Maria Escobedo is a film and television writer with credits including Grey’s Anatomy, Hulu’s East Los High and the indie film Rum and Coke, which she wrote and directed. She’s developed movies and pilots for Lifetime, Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon. She also has written for animated kids’ TV, including Dora the Explorer, Go Diego Go, Elena of Avalor, Special Agent Oso and Nina’s World, which earned her a Humanitas Award nomination. Escobedo is currently writing for Amazon’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Netflix’s What-To-Doodles and Nickelodeon’s Santiago of the Seas. She also has developed original pilots for Amazon Kids. Escobedo served as chair of the Latino Writers Committee at the Writers Guild of America West for five years, and teaches writing at University of Southern California and California State University, Los Angeles.
Dawn Comer Jefferson
Dawn Comer Jefferson is an Emmy-nominated, award-winning writer. On television, Comer Jefferson wrote on the CBS family drama Judging Amy, served as writer/consulting producer on MTV's teen drama, South of Nowhere, freelanced on the CBS hit NCIS, and developed a drama pilot at NBC Universal Studios. She was nominated for an Emmy for writing the Fox-animated family film, Our Friend, Martin, and for the last nine years has written Emmy-winning arts programming for PBS, performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.As a non-fiction writer, Comer Jefferson has written about children, families and public policy issues for national print and online media including Garnet News, Working Mother, Fit Pregnancy Magazine and MomsRising, and her essays have been featured in the anthologies A Woman Alone (Seal Press) and Go Girl (Eighth Mountain Press). She adapted, produced and directed the eight-part NPR radio series adaptation of the biography Maggie's American Dream, co-wrote the nonfiction book Three Ring Circus: How Real Couples Balance Marriage, Work, and Family, and the African American historical children’s fiction, The Promise. Visit her website.
Gus Krieger is a writer-director-producer of stage and screen. His first-produced feature screenplay “The Killing Room” starred Academy Award winner Timothy Hutton, Academy Award nominee Chloe Sevigny, and premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. In 2012, Krieger served as associate producer on the horror feature Would You Rather starring Brittany Snow and Jeffrey Combs, and produced Fender Bender for Mark Pavia and the Chiller Network in 2016. Krieger’s feature films include the philosophical thriller The Binding and the 2018 Slamdance Audience Award-winning hip-hop drama My Name Is Myeisha. Additionally, Krieger is the associate artistic director of The Porters of Hellsgate, which will become the first Los Angeles theatre company to produce the complete works of William Shakespeare. Follow him on Twitter @MrGusK.
Philip Lazebnik has written numerous television episodes and motion picture screenplays in Los Angeles and Europe. His screenwriting credits include Disney’s Pocahontas and Mulan, and DreamWorks’ Prince of Egypt and The Legend of El Dorado. For the past several years, LaZebnik has lived in Denmark, where he has written movies and television shows throughout Europe and the U.S. His produced movies include the three Treasure of the Templar Knights movies in Denmark and The Three Investigators: The Secret of Skeleton Island and The Three Investigators: The Mystery of Terror Castle for Studio Hamburg; the Danish film Emma and Santa Claus; the English screenplay for Asterix and the Vikings and Asterix and the Domain of the Gods. He also wrote the TV mini-series Hindenburg in Germany, the Christmas TV series Ludvig and Santa Claus for TV2 in Denmark, and the book for Fairytale, a theatrical musical about H.C. Andersen with songs by Stephen Schwartz. Most recently he wrote the book for the musical theatrical version of Prince of Egypt with Stephen Schwartz, which opens in London’s West End on February 25, 2020.
Jennifer Maisel most recently developed an original pilot called “The 626” with Super Deluxe and adapted two Jane Green novels—Tempting Fate and To Have and to Hold, which aired in June. She currently is working on a two-hour about campus rape and institutional betrayal with Just Singer Entertainment. Her screenplay “Lost Boy” was filmed starring Virginia Madsen. She wrote The Assault and The March Sisters for Mar Vista Entertainment and Double Wedding for Jaffe Braunstein. She has written movies for NBC, ABC, MTV and Lifetime, was a staff writer on the television series Related, wrote a pilot for ABC Family and an animated feature for Disney. Maisel has developed original pilots with Bunim-Murray, Ineffable, Stun Media and MomentumTV and co-created the critically acclaimed web series Faux Baby with Laura Brennan and Rachel Leventhal. The screenplay adaptation of her play The Last Seder won Showtime’s Tony Cox Screenwriting Award, meriting her a month’s stay in a haunted farmhouse at the Nantucket Screenwriter’s Colony. A graduate of Cornell University and NYU’s Dramatic Writing program, Maisel is also an award-winning playwright whose Eight Nights will premiere at Antaeus Theatre in October 2019; the play is currently part of a nationwide event called 8 Nights of Eight Nights, raising funds and awareness for HIAS. She has taught playwriting at University of Southern California and guest-lectured around the country.
Mendelsohn has been a professional writer for more than 20 years. Best known for co-creating Disney’s Air Bud family film franchise, he has worked in all aspects of film, television and digital, and recently served two terms as secretary-treasurer of the Writers Guild of America West.Currently Mendelsohn is writing the horror feature Haunted for JML Productions and action feature Bad Altitude for Halon Entertainment. He recently wrote the family feature Princes for Warner Bros and romantic comedy Like Cats & Dogs for Hallmark. Mendelsohn also has written feature projects for Fox, New Line, Lifetime, ABC Family, New Regency, Lightstorm, and Arnold Kopelson. For television, Mendelsohn recently wrote drama pilots The Associate for Sony Television and Bad Medicine for ITV America. He is currently freelancing for the HBO show Esme & Roy. Previously he was a staff writer on the Fox TV drama Kindred: The Embraced and wrote pilots for Fox, Showtime, Cartoon Network and Paramount TV.
In addition to his writing, Mendelsohn is a professor of screenwriting at Loyola-Marymount University, California State University-Northridge, and Stephens College. He has taught screenwriting workshops around the world and recently wrote a book, The 11 Fundamental Questions: A Guide to a Better Screenplay, about his successful story-breaking technique. Mendelsohn served five terms on the Writers Guild of America West board of directors. He also served on the WGA National Council and the WGA-AMPTP and WGA-ATA Negotiating Committees. Visit Mendelsohn’s website.
William Rabkin is a television writer, producer and renowned author and teacher of television writing. He has been executive producer and showrunner on series such as Martial Law, Missing and Diagnosis Murder and has written for The Glades, Psych, Monk, Baywatch, Murphy’s Law and Spenser: For Hire. He is the author of Writing the Pilot and co-authored with Lee Goldberg Successful Television Writing and Beginning Television Writing. With Lee Goldberg, he also has written the popular mystery series of novels, The Dead Man. He has taught television around the world, including week-long seminars in Brazil and China. Rabkin is on the faculty of the University of California-Riverside, Palm Desert Low-Residency M.F.A. in Creative Writing.
Deborah Starr Seibel
Deborah Starr Seibel is a multiple award-winning journalist and screenwriter. For the past eight years, she has been an instructor at University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts in the John Wells Division of Writing for Film & Television. In addition, she serves as a mentor for Stephens College’s MFA in Screenwriting program.In prime-time television, Starr Seibel recently sold two pilots to CBS and is credited with four years on staff. During those years, she wrote six episodes for the final season of NBC's Sisters and spent three additional years on the staff of Promised Land, the spin-off to CBS's Touched by An Angel. She has also written episodes for Mysterious Ways and 21 Jump Street.
As a television reporter, Starr Seibel won a George Foster Peabody award for investigative journalism, two Emmy Awards, and first place from the Associated Press for one of her documentaries. As a print journalist, she has written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Parade and USA Today. In addition, she is a long-time national correspondent for TV Guide.
In 2010 she was awarded a University of Southern California Annenberg Fellowship to receive her master’s degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts).
Lisanne Sartor holds an MFA in Screenwriting from University of California, Los Angeles. Her original screenplay Clearville was made into a Lifetime Movie of the Week. She’s worked on projects with various production companies, including Roth/Arnold and the DeAngelis Group, and, since 2006, has helped run CineStory, a screenwriting non-profit dedicated to developing emerging screenwriters through mentorship and writers' retreats. She’s also an award-winning director, having gotten her start at the prestigious American Film Institute Directing Workshop for Women. Her short films have screened all over the world at festivals like Telluride and Cannes. In addition to teaching screenwriting at Stephens College, she also teaches at UCLA and AFI.
Amy Toomin Straus
Amy Toomin Straus holds a B.F.A. from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She is a veteran TV writer, having written on the staff of 10 shows, including Friends and Grounded for Life. She also has co-written pilots for ABC and CBS and a screenplay of Malcolm in the Middle. Most recently she has created branded content for Zillow and is in production on a documentary.
Valerie C. Woods is a writer/producer in television and film, and also is a publisher, editor and author. Woods currently is co-executive producer/writer on the critically acclaimed television drama series Queen Sugar, created by Ava DuVernay and airing on Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). She also has been adjunct faculty for Stephens’ Master of Fine Arts in TV and Screenwriting program since 2015.
Recently, Woods served as creative director for Syd Field – The Art of Visual Storytelling. She is one of four Syd Field Screenwriting Method Instructors trained by Mr. Field. She also wrote the screen adaptation of the novel Tempest Rising by Diane McKinney-Whetstone, with the production company of actor/director Phylicia Rashad.
In 2013, Woods founded the independent press BooksEndependent, which has published five titles, including Woods’ novel Katrin’s Chronicles: The Canon of Jacqueléne Dyanne. She also is the author of Something for Everyone (50 Original Monologues), which is published by Samuel French, Inc. In 2016, Woods produced a series of staged readings of scripts adapted from literary work via Staged/Lit.
During Woods' 20+ years as a member of Writers Guild of America West, she has written on one-hour drama series for CBS, Lifetime, and Showtime. Credits include consulting producer/writer for the drama series Soul Food on Showtime Network and co-executive producer/writer on the drama series Any Day Now on Lifetime Network. Her episode “Family is Family” was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award. Her television career began after winning a fellowship with Walt Disney Studios. Visit her website.
Jon Vandergriff received his MFA in screenwriting at the University of Southern California and immediately segued into professional sitcom writing with his debut freelance script for the ABC hit show, Coach. That was followed by a six-year stint on the even bigger ABC hit, Home Improvement, where he rose from staff writer to supervising producer. He attained the title of co-executive producer on the popular WB show Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Along the way, Vandergriff wrote sitcom pilots for NBC and The WB and also has had two screenplays optioned by Hollywood-based production companies. A lifelong lover of board games, Vandergriff also is a board game inventor who has had three games published, including Anger Management and A Way with Words, which also is an app and was recently picked up by Electronic Arts to publish on their website, pogo.com. He currently teaches screenwriting and television writing at Stephens College, Chapman University, California State University, Fullerton, and California State University, Northridge.
Carol Barbee is a television writer and producer who has been executive producer and showrunner on series such as Touch, Three Rivers and Jericho. She was a writer/producer on Falling Skies for TNT. She began her career as an actress, appearing on L.A. Law, as well as movies such as Die Hard 2. In 2001, Barbee wrote her first credited script for NBC’s Providence and has since written for Judging Amy (where she also served as executive producer), Close to Home and Swingtown.
Cari Beauchamp is the award-winning author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and The Powerful Women of Early Hollywood. She also edited and annotated Anita Loos Rediscovered: Film Treatments and Fiction and co-wrote Hollywood on the Riviera: The Inside Story of the Cannes Film Festival. Her book Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary: Her Private Letters from Inside the Studios of the 1920s was published in 2006 and has been optioned for television. Joseph P. Kennedy Presents: His Hollywood Years was published by Knopf and Vintage. Her books have been selected for “Best of the Year” lists by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Amazon. Beauchamp wrote the Emmy-nominated documentary film The Day My God Died, which played on PBS, and she was nominated for a Writers Guild Award for Without Lying Down: The Power of Women in Early Hollywood, which she wrote and co-produced for Turner Classic Movies.
Allan Heinberg is the screenwriter of the film Wonder Woman. His television writing and producing credits include The Naked Truth, Party Of Five, Sex And The City, Gilmore Girls, The O.C., Grey's Anatomy, Looking and Scandal. Most recently, Heinberg developed, wrote and ran ABC’s The Catch, starring Mireille Enos and Peter Krause. For Marvel Comics, Heinberg created and wrote Young Avengers and its sequel, Avengers: The Children’s Crusade with co-creator/artist Jim Cheung. For DC Comics, Heinberg co-wrote JLA: Crisis Of Conscience with Geoff Johns (art by Chris Batista), and re-launched Wonder Woman with artists Terry and Rachel Dodson.
After receiving her MFA in NYU’s Dramatic Writing program, Junge wrote for Friends from 1994 to 1999. Her episode, The One Where Everybody Finds Out, earned her an Emmy nomination for Best Writing for a Comedy Series. Other television work includes: Grace and Frankie, The Party, Best Friends Forever, The United States of Tara, The West Wing and Sex and the City. As a screenwriter, her film work includes: Rapunzel Unbraided, Lilo & Stitch 2 and Mulan II (with Jeanine Tesori). Junge’s plays have been produced at Goodspeed Opera House, Studio Arena Theater, Playwrights Horizons’ Lab and The Depot Theater. Her work has been developed at The Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival, The Public Theater Lab/Ars Nova, MacDowell Colony and Djerassi Resident Artists Program. She is a writer-contributor to NPR’s This American Life and was a performer on TAL’s What I Learned from Television tour. Alexa is co-creating a fictional podcast for This American Life and developing pilots for Anonymous Content and Starz. Her play Fingersmith was produced at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2016 and The American Repertory Theater in 2017, and is headed to New York next fall.
Niceole Levy is a television writer and producer who has written for Ironside (2013 reboot), Allegiance, The Mysteries of Laura, Shades of Blue, and a new project with a 2018 premiere date. She also is currently co-writing a feature with former Allegiance showrunner and director George Nolfi. An alum of the CBS Writers Mentoring Program and NBC’s Writers on the Verge program, Levy also teaches at the University of Southern California in the Cinema-Television program.
Glen Mazzara was the creator and show runner of the A&E series Damien. He was executive producer and showrunner for two seasons of The Walking Dead, and has written and produced for The Shield, Nash Bridges, Hawthorne and Crash. He has written The Overlook Hotel, a prequel to The Shining, which is currently in development. He is co-chair of the WGA Diversity Advisory Group.
Kathleen McGhee-Anderson is a writer of television, stage and screen. She was the executive producer of Soul Food on Showtime and for four seasons was the executive producer/showrunner of the critically-acclaimed series Lincoln Heights (ABC/Family), which garnered the NAACP Image Award for Best Drama. Her television writing credits include Touched by an Angel, 413 Hope Street, Little House on the Prairie and Any Day Now. McGhee-Anderson has written feature films for Columbia Pictures, Paramount Motion Pictures, Bruckheimer Films and Twentieth Century Fox Films. Jersey Films/Sony produced her film Sunset Park and the movie The Color of Courage, dealing with her grandparents' landmark Supreme Court Housing battle (in which racially restrictive housing covenants were abolished throughout America), was produced by Studios USA. Her TV drama The Story of Blind Tom (PBS) garnered the first of several NAACP Image Awards and the Ruby Slipper Award for Children’s Programming.
Barbara Nance is a television writer and producer who teaches television writing at the University of Southern California. She has written and produced for The Client List and House of Lies. She has been on staff and written for hour-long dramas such as In Plain Sight, Flash Forward, Crosstown, Army Wives, Blade, Threshold and Crossing Jordan. She has also taught and been a volunteer mentor for the WGA Veterans Writing Project.
Allison Schroeder is an American screenwriter. She co-wrote the film Hidden Figures with Theodore Melfi, earning a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, wrote Christopher Robin (2018), Pineapple Express (2008) and Frozen II (2019).
Jessica Sharzer holds a master's degree from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where her thesis film The Wormhole won the NYU Wasserman Award, the NY Magazine Award of Excellence and the Student Academy Award. She made her feature writing and directing debut with Speak, starring Kristen Stewart and Steve Zahn. It premiered at Sundance in 2004 and was nominated for a Writers Guild Award and a Directors Guild Award. She has since developed feature films for Universal, HBO, MTV, Fox and Lionsgate. In television, Sharzer spent four seasons as a writer-producer on the acclaimed FX series American Horror Story. She wrote the three-hour musical Dirty Dancing, which aired in May 2017 on ABC. She was a co-executive producer on the first season of Lee Daniels’ drama Star on Fox. Sharzer also has developed drama pilots for CBS, FOX, MTV and ABC networks.
Linda Woolverton is a screenwriter, playwright and novelist, whose most prominent works include the screenplays and books of several acclaimed Disney films. She was the first woman to write an animated feature for Disney by writing the screenplay of Beauty and the Beast, the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. She also wrote the screenplay of The Lion King and the 2014 hit Maleficent starring Angelina Jolie.