Rachel McKay Steele is a writer and comedian from Charleston, SC, who recently left bagels and Brooklyn for sunny Los Angeles. She has studied comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and has performed improv and stand-up around the country. Her solo show, Shiva for Anne Frank, premiered at the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival to rave reviews and won a Producer’s Encore Award. She has worked on numerous award-winning independent films, from Gayby to creative development for the Oscar-nominated What Happened Miss Simone? She is thrilled and humbled to be a part of the inaugural Jewish Writers' Initiative, even though she never spells Initiative correctly on the first try. Rachel loves breakfast sandwiches, yoga, and her two rescue cats, Roxy and Esther.
Rachel McKay Steele
ADULT BAT MITZVAH (feature)
**2022 Athena List Finalist
When Rose, a struggling comedian/personal assistant is heckled and called “not a real Jew” during her comedy routine, she lies and says she is having an adult Bat Mitzvah! After footage of the encounter ends up online, she realizes she may actually have to go through with it. Due to an exhaustive work schedule, the only Bat Mitzvah class Rose can attend is filled with a raucous group of 7th graders. As she forms a bond with one of the pre-teens, Rose realizes her classmates aren’t the only ones with some growing up to do. ADULT BAT MITZVAH is a romantic comedy about Judaism, and spoiler alert, Judaism gets the girl!
Jacob Fiskus is a New York-based filmmaker who has produced several independent documentary shorts. He has also edited short-form promotional videos for social justice organizations, and was a contributing writer for SLAM Magazine. Jacob is currently a co-producer on a documentary about antisemitism in America. His main passion is screenwriting. Jacob has written several screenplays and a pilot with his writing partner, Tal Robbins. His passion for screenwriting is matched only by his passion for Torah and Judaism. Jacob is dedicated to telling stories that encapsulate Jewish life and express Torah ideas and concepts.
In a world where blood vengeance is legalized, an advocate for this law must run for his life after accidentally killing another man's son.
Leah Gottfried is an award-winning director, writer, producer and actor, and founder of the production company Dignity En- tertainment - a full-service production company dedicated to creating meaningful visual content. Leah is the creator of the hit web series Soon By You, which follows six twenty-something New Yorkers as they navigate the modern Orthodox Jewish dat- ing scene, one “set up” at a time. Leah writes, directs and acts in the show. In 2017 Leah was named by The Jewish Week as one of the “36 under 36” Jews who are effecting change in the world.
WHERE YOU LEAD (feature)
WHERE YOU LEAD is a touching story of mother/daughter friendship and growth; and the process of reconciling what it means to forge one’s path within a religious community.
Amelia Phillips was born in Brooklyn, raised in the suburbs of Chicago, and came of age in LA. She is a writer, actor, and reluctant producer. She previously ran a small theater company for emerging writers where she produced five full length plays, including her own, and currently runs a storytelling event in Los Angeles called Mothers Unleashed with the mission of enabling and empowering mothers to give voice to their experiences. Most recently, Amelia was commissioned to write a WWII historical drama about an Armenian Genocide Survivor, and she wrote for the podcast Solve, set to be released in 2020. BS from Northwestern in Theater and pre-med. MFA from Stephens College in Television and Screenwriting. Amelia is represented by Epicenter.
THE M.S. SAINT LOUIS (limited series)
THE M.S. SAINT LOUIS is a dramatic miniseries about the harrowing true story of the fateful 1939 ship carrying 937 Jewish refugees out of Germany only to be rejected by Cuba, the United States, and Canada, and the sacrifices one brave captain made in order to save them.
A graduate of Tufts University and the National Theater Institute, Noam Ash is a writer, actor and producer originally from Haifa, Israel. His hit web series My Gay Roommate has amassed over 7 million views on YouTube, receiving critical acclaim from Vanity Fair, The New York Times and Huffington Post. A full half-hour comedy based on the show produced by Ish Entertainment and Keshet Studios is due to premiere in 2020. Other works include Absentia on Amazon Prime, the New England premiere of Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters, the upcoming comedy series The Influencers, and assistant director credits at the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.).
OVER THE HILL (feature)
Kyra Brown is a comedy writer and performer from just north of the middle of nowhere Massachusetts. She recently graduated from USC's School of Cinematic Arts where she studied -- you guessed it -- cinematic arts. Kyra prides herself on writing every genre (within comedy of course) from rom-coms, to angsty YA dramedys, to musical parodies. She has worked in various writer's room support staff roles at The Late Late Show with James Corden, NCIS: New Orleans, and currently on Them: Covenant, an upcoming Amazon Prime show. In addition to that, she has written for several web series and created and produced an all female sketch comedy website called www.yesbitches.com. Kyra is also a producer and host of a popular West Hollywood monthly stand up comedy show called Spilled Milk @spilledmilkcomedy. She has produced several other shows in the past and has performed stand up all over the country, including at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles. In her spare time, Kyra can be found painting, skiing, sleeping, eating chocolate, or cuddling a stranger's dog on the sidewalk.
LET THERE BE BAGELS (feature)
When Nate, an excitable gay millennial, moves in with his elderly Holocaust-era grandparents after a bad breakup, the two generations’ life experiences, values, and philosophies collide in exasperating, funny, and heartbreaking ways. Set in a retirement community, OVER THE HILL is an inter-generational comedy that is simultaneously a coming-of-age story and an exploration of end-of-life issues. It’s about how people on opposite ends of life’s journey can help, affect, irritate, love, and ultimately learn from each other – if they don’t kill each other first.
When Shayna Levinson wakes up one Christmas morning in a world where Judaism has ceased to exist, she must embark on a journey to discover the meaning of her religion and her place in the community.
Charlotte Lan Steiner is a filmmaker born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area. Following her graduation from Middlebury College with a degree in Film and Chinese, she spent several years working, writing and studying in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Bejing, before returning to the U.S. to attend a TV Writing Intensive program at Columbia University. She is currently back in D.C., where she recently produced and directed episodes of "GROWN the web series." When not making films or writing, Charlotte enjoys rock climbing and trying to convince other folks to rock climb with her.
Charlotte Lan Steiner
FRUIT OF MAGNIFICENT TREES (comedy series)
A non-confrontational Chinese-Jewish teen’s secret trip to China to get her life on track without her parents knowing is complicated when her curmudgeonly grandfather decides to open a Jewish bakery in Shanghai.
Samuel Franco graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in Writing and Producing for Film. Shortly afterwards, he secured an apprenticeship as a researcher under investigative journalist Mike Wallace at CBS News' 60 Minutes, and six months later he joined The Charlie Rose Show as a research writer. A year later Samuel was recruited to work for The Howard Stern Show, where he focused on marketing, strategic sales and branding, creating Howard's first-ever ad campaign: Stern Warning.
Samuel then went on to work for Infinity Broadcasting (CBS Radio), Paramount Pictures, and CBS Daytime Television, before moving to Los Angeles to focus on writing and producing. His credits include writing the feature scripts: Keeper of the Diary (Fox Searchlight) and Mayday 109 (Thunder Road Productions), and TV shows: The Fall of the House of FIFA (FX Networks), and Camelot (NBCUni's Peacock), alongside writing partner Evan Kilgore. On the producing end, Samuel is executive producing a documentary about the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum art heist titled Ghosts of the Isabella (Ample Entertainment), and producing a feature film, which he is also co-writing, about heavyweight boxer Rocky Marciano titled Unbeaten (Impossible Dream Entertainment). Samuel lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.
JERICHO (limited series)
The story of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho
After graduating from the University of Michigan's Screen Arts and Cultures program with a screenwriting concentration, Sam Barnett grew tired of his home state of Michigan and relocated to the ancient homeland of his parent: New York. In addition to his writing, he has served as a longtime story analyst for Lionsgate, and has worked on feature films and documentaries at production companies such as Big Beach, Ideal Partners and Keshet Studios. His work has been featured on websites such as The A.V. Club.
IN THE WILDERNESS (feature)
During the biblical Hebrews' forty-year exile through the desert, a young couple questions their faith as they come up against a demonic force of real Jewish folklore.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Jacob S. Stark is a graduate of UCLA Law School and the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting. As a writer, he has had various film and TV projects optioned in Germany, Mexico, and the United States. He is a former 1st-place winner in the half-hour TV category of the Final Draft Big Break Competition, and his debut short film, Q&A, took home the Audience Award at the 2016 SoCal CIFF. Most recently, he sold a film pitch to Nickelodeon Original Movies and was hired to develop and write the project, now waiting to be green-lit. In addition, Jacob has worked as a script consultant for corporate commercials, as well as for the pilot of the NBC comedy, Trial & Error. He also served as the Writers’ Assistant/Script Coordinator for the TBS sitcom, Ground Floor. Most importantly, he is thrilled to be named an inaugural Jewish Writers’ Initiative Fellow and is looking forward to an incredible journey with a fantastic group of people!
CATCHING HELM (feature)
When the rabbi of Helm suddenly goes missing, his wayward son, Detective Lew, returns to his childhood home to investigate. Now, confronted with a troubled past, a town in turmoil, and the most puzzling case in his career, Lew only knows one thing for sure - He’s surrounded by idiots.
Daniel Housman is a screenwriter, and a former journalist, who works in communications, and is active in cultural programming for the Israeli American Council in Los Angeles. After getting his MFA in Filmmaking from Columbia University, he was an adjunct professor of film studies at Adelphi and Fordham Universities in New York, and wrote the screenplay for the 2007 indie film The Treatment. With the IAC, he co-founded the BINA-LA program in 2010, leading its intellectual salons for six years, presenting a myriad of TED-like events with a range of speakers on topics of science and technology, Israeli concerns, social impact ventures and the arts.
He completed the professional fellowship for NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change in 2014, and directed their annual “Spotlight” event, a night of live storytelling. Daniel was on the steering commit- tee for the UCLA Nazarian Center for Israel Studies’ “Israel in 3D” seminar in May 2015 and designed the concept in 2017, which attracted 300 attendees for a “one-day university.” He was hon- ored to visit Kenya with an Israeli Consulate Mission in 2016, to observe the benefits of Israeli-sponsored development projects with an L.A. delegation. He lives in Los Angeles, where he leads a bi-weekly screenwriting group of 15 professionals.
STRANGERS TO THE BLOOD (limited series)
Jewish professors in Germany are purged from their livelihoods in 1935 by the Nazis but find refuge teaching in all-Black colleges in the American Deep South, seeking redemption among determined HBCU deans and a population striving for crucial advancement of their own.
Sarah Wildman is the host and producer of the Foreign Policy podcast First Person. Wildman is the author of Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind. She was formerly the global identities and borders writer at Vox, a position she originated. She was the recipient of the German Marshall Fund’s 2010 Peter R. Weitz Prize, awarded for excellence and originality in European coverage. Long a regular contributor to The New York Times, Slate, The Forward, Washingtonian (where she is a contributing editor), and The New Yorker online, among other publications, Wildman has won a number of competitive grants and fellowships: from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting (Jerusalem in 2013 and Paris in 2017); Arthur F. Burns and American Council on Germany fellowships in Berlin; a Mile- na Jesenska Fellowship in Vienna; and a Pew Fellowship in International Journalism in Paris. A former New Republic staffer, Wildman has also worked for The Advocate magazine, American Prospect, and Politics Daily. Wildman was the Barach non-fiction fellow at Wesleyan University’s writing workshop in 2014 and a Dart Center Ochberg fellow (a project of the Columbia School of Journalism) in 2015.
PAPER LOVE (feature)
A cache of 75 year old love letters sent before the Second World War sends a floundering young journalist on a journey in search of her grandfather’s carefully hidden past - and in pursuit of her own future.
*Adapted from Wildman's book Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind.