Starkle Dream Up. Stephens College

Faculty 

From the start, the Stephens College Master of Fine Arts in TV and Screenwriting has been focused on providing access to the absolute best of 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 show runners speak regularly at workshops for a comprehensive, thorough and dynamic learning environment. All writing instructors are members of the Writers Guild of America as well. 

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 page (@MFAScreenwriter).  

Program Director, Faculty 

Ken LaZebnik, Director of the Low-Residency MFA in TV and Screenwriting

Ken LaZebnik writes for television, film and the theater. His work includes collaborating with Garrison Keillor on Robert Altman’s last film, A Prairie Home Companion, and many years of writing and producing for hour-long television dramas, including seven years of writing and producing the drama Touched By An Angel. Two of his plays have won citations from The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA). His first book, Hollywood Digs: An Archaeology of Shadows, was published in 2014 by Kelly’s Cove Press.

LaZebnik wrote the film Thomas Kinkades Christmas Cottage, which featured Peter O’Toole and Marcia Gay Harden. For television, he has written on series as varied as Touched By An Angel, Army Wives, Providence and Star Trek: Enterprise. He has written pilots for ABC Family and CBS. In 2014, he wrote for a new Hallmark Channel series, When Calls The Heart. During his seven-year tenure on Touched By An Angel, he wrote more than 20 episodes. He wrote three PBS specials for their series “In Concert at the White House,” which were filmed in the East Room of the White House.

He has written three plays around the topic of autism. Two were commissioned by The Mixed Blood Theater Company of Minneapolis—Vestibular Sense and On The Spectrum. Both won citations from the ATCA. On The Spectrum was produced in 2013 at The Fountain Theater in Los Angeles. The third play dealing with autism, Theory of Mind, was commissioned by the Cincinnati Playhouse In The Park and has been produced there, as well as in Hawaii, Minnesota and Michigan.

He has taught screenwriting for the USC Peter Stark Producing M.F.A. Program, as well as at University of California, Riverside, and Pepperdine University’s M.F.A. in Screenwriting Program. For many years, he has been a volunteer teacher and mentor for the Writers Guild of America Veterans Writing Program. 

Faculty 

Dr. Rosanne Welch

Dr. Rosanne Welch is a veteran television writer and scholar of screenwriting history. She is on the faculty of Cal State Fullerton, where she teaches story structure, one-hour drama writing and Critical Studies in Television. Welch has written for some of television’s most watched one-hour dramas, including Touched By An Angel, PicketFences and Beverly Hills, 90210. She is the author of the forthcoming book "Women in American History: An Encyclopedia," and has written the essays "When White Boys Write Black: A Comparison of Race Representation on Doctor Who During the Tenure of Two Different Writer-Producers” and "Crisis of Authority/Authoring Crisis: Decision and Power in Torchwood: Children of Earth.” She is a contributing editor to "The Encyclopedia of African-American History" and co-editor of "Three Ring Circus: How Real Families Balance Marriage, Work, and Family." She has taught at Cal Poly Pomona, Mt. San Antonio College and Stephens College. She was the producer and writer of the ABC News Nightline presentation Boys To Men: President Clinton & The Boys Nation Class of 63 Reunion.

Elizabeth Keyishian

Elizabeth Keyishian is a television writer and producer who began her career writing for Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years. She is currently writing for Sesame Street and creating a show for the Children’s Television Workshop. She was a writer/producer for the series Queen of Swords and Mutant X and has also written for The Dead Zone and Dead Mans Gun. She has written many episodes of animated series for young audiences, including Babar and the Adventures of Badou, Sofia the First and Paw Patrol. She was executive producer of the web series Swallow. She holds an M.F.A. in Screenwriting from California State University at Northridge (CSUN).

Philip LaZebnik

Philip LaZebnik is a screenwriter, television writer and producer. He has written screenplay for films like Pocahontas, Mulan, The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, The Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar, Asterix and the Vikings, The Three Investigators and the Secret of Skeleton Island, The Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar II, The Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar III: The Mystery of the Snake Crown, The Three Investigators and the Secret of Terror Castle, Noah's Ark and The Wild Bunch. LaZebnik also wrote episodes for Wings, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The Torkelsons and Almost Home. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America, West (2001–02) and the Writers Branch Executive Committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (2001–03). The screenplay for Mulan won the 1998 Annie Award for Best Animation Screenplay.

Jessica Sharzer

Jessica Sharzer holds a Masters Degree from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where her thesis film THE WORMHOLE won the NYU Wasserman Award, the NY Magazine Award of Excellent 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, Ms. 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. Ms. Sharzer has also developed drama pilots for CBS, FOX, MTV and ABC networks.

Jennifer Maisel

A graduate of Cornell University, Jennifer Maisel received her MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. In the world of film and television, her screenplay, Lost Boy, was filmed in 2015 and starred Virginia Madsen. She has written movies for NBC, ABC, MTV and LIFETIME, and was a staff writer on the television series, RELATED and wrote a pilot for ABC Family. 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. 

Jennifer has been a guest lecturer and speaker at Fordham University, University of the Arts, Cal State Long Beach, the UCLA Extension Writers Program, AFI, the David Hwang Playwriting Institute, Cornell University, Footlights in Washington DC and Claremont College. She is currently teaching playwriting at USC and Screenwriting at Stephens College. 

William Rabkin

William Rabkin is a television writer, producer, as well as 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, Murphys 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 has also 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 Seibel

Deborah Starr Seibel is a multiple award-winning journalist, screenwriter and college professor.  As a television reporter, she won a George Foster Peabody award for investigative journalism, two Emmy Awards (for spot and live news coverage), 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 Magazine and USA Today.

In prime time, Deborah is credited with four years on a writing staff. She wrote five 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 freelance episodes for "Mysterious Ways" and "21 Jump Street."

In 2010, Deborah was awarded a full-ride USC Annenberg Fellowship to receive her Master's Degree in Specialized Journalism/The Arts.

Brian Bird

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," "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.

Between 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 has also 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.

Lisanne Sartor

Lisanne Sartor holds an MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA. 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 AFI Directing Workshop for Women. Her short films have screened all over the world at wonderful festivals like Telluride and Cannes.

In addition to teaching screenwriting Stephens College she also teaches at UCLA and AFI.

Valerie Woods

Valerie C. Woods is a writer/producer in television and film, and is also a publisher, editor and author. Valerie is currently Adjunct Faculty for the Stephens College Low Residency MFA Television & Screenwriting program and was appointed Creative Director for Syd Field – The Art of Visual Storytelling. Valerie is one of four Syd Field Screenwriting Method Instructors trained by Mr. Field. Valerie wrote the screen adaptation of the novel Tempest Rising by Diane McKinney-Whetstone, with the production company of actor/director Phylicia Rashad. Valerie is also a Co-Executive Producer/writer for the in-development mini-series Tulsa for OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network).

In 2013, Valerie founded of the independent press, BooksEndependent which has published five titles including Valerie’s novel Katrin’s Chronicles: The Canon of Jacqueléne Dyanne. She is also the author of Something for Everyone (50 Original Monologues), which is published by Samuel French, Inc. In 2016, Valerie produced a series of staged readings of scripts adapted from literary work via Staged/Lit.

During Valerie’s 20+ years as a member of WGAw, she has written on one-hour drama series for CBS, Lifetime, and Showtime. Credits include 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, and Consulting Producer/Writer for the drama series, Soul Food on Showtime Network.

Cari Beauchamp

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. Cari 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.​

Khanisha Foster

Khanisha Foster is a mixed race writer, performer, director, the Associate Artistic Director of 2nd Story, ensemble member of Teatro Vista, a TCGYoung Leader of Color, a Resident Teaching Artist at Center Theatre Group, and has collaborated with the Citizens Theatre in Scotland. She has directed Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the adaption of Guess Whos 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 was also a featured storyteller on NPR’s The Dinner Party Download. She is currently 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, www.howiwrotethat.com. In addition to Stephens College, Foster also an Adjunct Lecturer as USC School of Dramatic Arts.

Jon Vandergriff

After obtaining a B.S. in Statistics from the University of Tennessee, Vandergriff continued his education, studying screenwriting at the University of Southern California, where he received his M.F.A.  Soon after, he completed his first professional assignment, a freelance script for the hit television show, “Coach.”  That success led to a job with the even bigger hit show, “Home Improvement.”  Jon wrote for the show for six years rising from the level of staff writer to supervising producer.  He later wrote on “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” for two years, rising to the level of co-executive producer.  Along the way, Jon wrote pilots for NBC and the WB and several unproduced screenplays, including two that were optioned by Hollywood development companies.

More recently, Jon has dabbled in board game invention and publishing one of his games, “A Way with Words,” is available digitally on Apple and Android platforms.  

Niceole Levy

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 is also 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, Niceole also teaches at the University of Southern California in the Cinema-Television program.

 

Guest Lecturers 

Alexa Junge

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). Ms. 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, 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.

Linda Woolverton

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.

Glen Mazzara

Glen Mazzara was the creator and show runner of the A&E series Damien. He was Executive Producer and show runner 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

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 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

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.

Carol Barbee 

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.

 

 

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