SeriesFest Season 9 unveiled its list of winners in the independent pilot competition at a ceremony in Denver on Wed, May 10. Jurors screened 55 pilots from creative voices around the globe at this year’s iteration of the television festival.
“The independent pilot competitions are at the heart of our mission. It is why we founded SeriesFest,” said Randi Kleiner, CEO and Co-Founder of SeriesFest. “It was to be a discovery platform for independent artists and give them the opportunity to get their voices heard, their projects seen by an audience and executives, and make new connections. Anyone who has made a pilot deserves to be honored.”
At the awards ceremony, SeriesFest also announced the winners for two initiatives including the Level Forward Impact Award (which went to Sarah Klein and Tom Mason) and Caz Matthews Fund. The Level Forward Impact Award, given to the episodic pilot and team who demonstrate, on top of their commitment to creative excellence, a thoughtful, thorough and deliberate approach to using storytelling as a means of leveling the playing field for underrepresented people including women, people of color, the LGBTQIA community and alternatively abled voices, was awarded to “The Big Idea” by Sarah Klein. Supported by the Royal Bank of Canada, Sarah Klein will receive a $5,000 cash prize and development deal with Level Forward. “The Big Idea” is the story when a cryogenics expert discovers that half of the world’s vaccines spoil during the last mile, she dedicates herself to creating a solution.
Caz Matthews, a Colorado-based supporter of SeriesFest and of the independent creators of television content, awarded two official selections from the Independent Pilot, Digital Short Series, and Late Night competitions including Puncher’s Chance and All At Once with a one-time financial donation from the Caz Matthews Fund subject to affording a producer credit to SeriesFest for that particular work. Per SeriesFest, these recipients “represent the independent filmmakers who have important stories to tell and have the desire to both create work as well as find distribution opportunities that further promote tolerance, acceptance and understanding of all cultures and persons in the general population.”
See the full list of SeriesFest Season 9 independent pilot competition winners below.
WINNERS – INDEPENDENT PILOT – DRAMA
Sponsored by Company 3 (with a $25,000 prize)
Jury: Ashley Holland (SVP Scripted Programming & Development, Onyx Collective), Anastasia Puglisi (SVP/ Supervising Producer, Wolf Entertainment), Mark Linsey (President, Scripted, BBC Studios), and Angie Han (TV Critic, The Hollywood Reporter);
Best Pilot: “Humanized“
Director: Colin Sevely-Ortiz
Executive Producers: Gabriel Guimaraes, Radley Docekal
Writer: Gabriel Guimaraes
Producers: Delmo & Marilene Guimaraes, Shawn & Maureen Higdon, Greg & Cindy Lai,
Jonathan Matheu, Alicia Farnam, Lisa Mykleby, Randy Cole, Cafo Boga
Cast: Malcolm Quinn Silver-Van Meter, Jessica Krueger, Key Taw, Will McMahan, Marshall
Bonny, Kyle Minshew
Posing as a typical teenager, a humanoid robot must navigate the uncertainty of adolescence in order to conceal a haunting secret.
Jury Statement: Humanized grabbed our attention right away with its bloody opening tableau and topical artificial-intelligence premise. But it kept us hooked by grounding its thoughtful exploration of themes like technology, self-identity, parenthood in a vivid cast of characters — and in doing so, delivering an intriguing mix of excitement, dread and tenderness.
Best Pilot, Honorable Mention: The Empty Chair
Best Director: Elias Plagianos, “Hit Man”
Jury Statement: Hit Man: Secrets of Lies was a beautifully directed pilot. Elias Plagianos crafted a complicated piece with layered and sophisticated performances from the entire cast, well composed shots that increased the feeling of the walls caving in on our characters, and he presented a world that explored the very gray areas of morality. Very rich ground for a series – we look forward to seeing more!
Best Writer: John Semander, “The Empty Chair”
Jury Statement: The Empty Chair captured our attention with its compelling first act and overall narrative structure. We were struck by the creators ability to weave the high stakes plot line of the serial killers tactics and motivations with the emotional rawness of one family’s suffering and one mother’s determination.
Best Performance: Garland Scott, “Puncher’s Chance”
Jury Statement: The jury felt that Garland Scott’s performance in Puncher’s Chance just beat a number of great portrayals in a very competitive category. He was completely convincing as the ex boxer and single parent struggling to make ends meet and provide for his son. A power and compelling performance delivered with strength and sensitivity which is not only authentic to the role, but incredibly engaging and leaving us all wanting to know what next for the character.
Best Supporting Performance: Key Taw, “Humanized”
Jury Statement: Key Taw’s natural, charismatic performance as the prickly but empathetic Max brings disarming warmth to a series otherwise characterized by (purposefully) chilly, sometimes literally robotic performances.
WINNERS – INDEPENDENT PILOT – COMEDY
Sponsored by Company 3 (with a $25,000 prize)
Jury: Nigel Smith (Senior Movies News Editor, PEOPLE), Yasmine Pearl (Talent Agent, United Talent Agency), Adam Ray (comedian)
Best Pilot: “Chanshi“
Creator: Aleeza Chanowitz
Director: Mickey Triest, Aharon Geva
Executive Producers: Guy Levy, Mirit Toovi, Meny Aviram, Ayelet Imberman
Writer: Aleeza Chanowitz
Producer: Ayelet Imberman
Cast: Aleeza Chanowitz, Marnina Schon, Tomer Machloof, Henry Winkler, Caroline Aaron
Chanshi (24) flees Brooklyn for Israel in order to fulfill her forbidden fantasies with IDF soldiers, but past traumas threaten to ruin her big plans.
Jury Statement: Strong story, acting is top notch. Started with a laugh – important in a comedy. Visually appealing to look at. Deeply flawed protagonist told with vulnerability. The vision was executed flawlessly.
Best Pilot, Honorable Mention: “Imposters“
Jury Statement: Honest from the start with great distinctive character building. A timely and unapologetic story. Laugh out loud funny.
Best Director: Sophia Peer, “Who’s Annie?”
Jury Statement: Distinctive storytelling with an eye for visuals – Who’s Annie is something we haven’t seen before. Sophia Peer made us fall in love with Annie and we all want to see more.
Best Writer: Jocko Sims, “Grown”
Jury Statement: Thoughtful character development for a coming of age story. The characters are layered in a very natural and vulnerable way and the actors did the dialogue justice. An interesting exploration of masculinity.
Best Performance: Aleeza Chanowitz, “Chanshi”
Jury Statement: Experienced the most character wise from start to finish. Fearless. We were invested in Aleeza’s performance from the start. The role was written for her.
Best Performance, Honorable Mention: Annie Pisapa, “Who’s Annie?“
Jury Statement: Distinctive, brave, and raw- Annie owns her spotlight. She’s a character you want to watch on screen. We are all impressed at how well she was able to play herself.
Best International Comedy: “Our Big Punjabi Family”
Jury Statement: Free-wheeling storytelling with great chemistry among the whole cast. We really believed them as a family. This is the kind of diversity we want to see more of in a sitcom landscape.
WINNER – INDEPENDENT PILOT – UNSCRIPTED
Sponsored by Company 3 (with a $25,000 prize)
Jury: Tony Tackaberry (CEO, Station 6 Productions), FredAnthony Smith (VP, Non-Scripted, SMAC Productions), Anne Chaisson (Executive Director, Hamptons International Film Festival).
Best Pilot: “The Big Idea“
Directors: Sarah Klein, Tom Mason
Cast: Kitty Liao
When a cryogenics expert discovers that half of the world’s vaccines spoil during the last mile, she dedicates herself to creating a solution.
Jury Statement: The jury wants to congratulate the big idea for its dynamic filmmaking, premium execution, and deep meaningful storytelling. This project opens the door for viewers into the world of science that is not often seen yet incredibly important.
Best Pilot, Honorable Mention: “Resisting“
Jury Statement: The jury wants to recognize, Resisting for shining a light on the horrific abuse by law enforcement against black and brown people in this community. Resisting showcases the change Colorado has made that can be an example for the rest of the country.
Best Director: Sarah Klein, Tom Mason “The Big Idea“
WINNERS – DIGITAL SHORTS
Jury: Jason Hiro Kim (VP, Good Karma Productions), Bruce Robertson (Chief Storyteller, 11:11 Media), Matt Bolish (Managing Director, New York Film Festival, Film at Lincoln Center), and Julie DeJoie (President, Shoe Money Productions)
Best Drama Digital Short: “Frederick Douglass Boulevard aka Food & Drink Boulevard aka F.D.B.”
Director: Washington Kirk
Executive Producers: Miles Hodges, Washington Kirk
Writer: Washington Kirk
Producer: Walker Hare
Cast: Washington Kirk, Megan Robinson, Charles Everett, Jamie Lincoln Smith, Ron Canada
Malcolm Jamal Turner, a struggling writer living in Harlem fed up with the neighborhood’s changing demographics, concocts a ludicrous scheme to de-gentrify it.
Jury Statement: A clever take on gentrification and the challenges it has in communities, F.D.B. provides an interesting commentary on today’s New York with one of the clearest points of view.
Best Comedy Digital Short: “Pear“
Director: Betsy Kenney
Executive Producers: Madeline Mahoney, Peter Molesworth
Writer: Madeline Mahoney, Peter Molesworth
Producers: Julie Balefsky, Christine Spang
Cast: Madeline Mahoney, Peter Molesworth
Two sociopathic wellness experts create a social media addiction rehab program which causes some participants to physically vanish.
Jury Statement: Madeline and Peter created a fully realized world that invited you in and you wanted to stay. Insightful and satirical with good banter- we all want to see more.
Best Director: Washington Kirk, “Frederick Douglass Boulevard aka Food & Drink Boulevard aka F.D.B.“
Jury Statement: An honest love story to New York, Washington Kirk develops Harlem as a character that is fully embraced. The jury was blown away by Kirk’s strong and honest point of view.
Best Writer: Madeline Mahoney & Peter Molesworth, “Pear“
Jury Statement: Sharp, witty dialogue- both spoken and physically. Where’s the second episode?
Best Writer, Honorable Mention: Kevin Yee, “A Guide To Not Dying Alone“
Jury Statement: Strong comedic voice with a clear beginning, middle, and end. A nice balance of comedy and drama, A Guide To Not Dying Completely Alone kept us surprised and engaged. The time flew by.
Best Performance in a Comedy: Meg Kelly, “Jennifer and Chicken“
Jury Statement: The first 30 seconds were some of the best clowning. We knew everything we needed to know in those first 30 seconds. Meg Kelly performs with physicality, likeability, and vulnerability.
Best Performance in a Drama: Washington Kirk, “Frederick Douglass Boulevard aka Food & Drink Boulevard aka F.D.B.“
Jury Statement: Self-assured with flourishes of comedy, Washington Kirk is able to walk the razor’s edge between drama and comedy. There’s a subtly that is so strong.
Best International Digital Short: “Krystal Klairvoyant“
Jury Statement: An innovative use of a new platform with outstanding production design,
Krystal Klairvoyant has admirable ambition. It’s not afraid to take risks, and more often than not, those risks are rewarded.
Best Cinematography: Bryan Redding, “Black Creek“
Jury Statement: The cinematography of Black Creek accelerates our understanding of what this beautifully constructed world is.
WINNER – LATE NIGHT
Jury: Erich Smith (Sr. Talent Agent, TCA MGMT), Arthur Meyer (Writer/Comedian), Valerie Steinberg (Producer, Valerie Steinberg Productions), and Saloni Gajjar (TV writer, The A.V. Club).
Best Pilot: “One Million Girls“
Director: Valeria Avina
Executive Producers: Emily Dayton Evans and GARA
Writers: Emily Dayton Evans and GARA
Producer: Eileen Hanley
Cast: GARA, Emily Dayton Evans, Eileen Hanley, Ryan Leach, Nadia Pinder, Sheria Mattis, Natalie Rotter-Laitman, Charlie Bardey, Dylan Adler, Vincent Ward
One Million Girls is a wacky, absurd, and revolutionary all-LGBTQ+ sketch comedy series.
Jury Statement: “This series won us over with its nuanced, fearless portrayal of the queer experience, led by the magnetic relationship between two undeniably fresh voices. With an impressive range of comedic material, One Million Girls invites us into its world which feels both deeply rooted and just taking off. We can’t wait to see what this team does next.”
Best Pilot, Honorable Mention: Manimorphs
Jury Statement: With a delightfully deranged premise and first-rate animation, Manimorphs took us on an unpredictable ride that kept us at the edge of our seats. The three wildly different episodes prove the versatility and longevity of this concept, which shows us that ultimately, we are all animals.
WINNER – PITCH-A-THON
Sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada, Dilettante Productions, and Working Artists Group
Panel of Experts: Luisa Law: Executive Producer, Dilettante Productions; Sarah Minnie: Head of Artist Development + Production, OPEN TELEVISION, Zola Glassman: Vice President of Development and Production, Mighty Engine
Presented in partnership with Dilettante Productions and Working Artist Group
Pitch-A-Thon Winner: “The Death Doula“
Creator: Brittany Ballard
When Shay, a seasoned Labor and Delivery Nurse, fails to prevent the traumatic loss of a Black birthmother, she strikes out on her own to forge a new path as a Death Doula.
Jury Statement: We were drawn to Brittany’s project through an emotional access point that allows the audience to connect in addition to a distinct POV. The Death Doula is not only an original, personal, and contemporary idea with a clear reason as to why it’s being told, but it’s deeply human and its themes are universal in a way that has the potential to resonate with a global audience.
AUDIENCE AWARD WINNERS – INDEPENDENT PILOT (COMEDY, LATE NIGHT, DRAMA, DIGITAL SHORTS, INTERNATIONAL)
Independent Pilot Competition Drama: “I Didn’t Mean To Go Mental“
Independent Pilot Competition Comedy: “Grown”
Digital Short Series: “All At Once”
Late Night: “Easily Solved Mysteries”
Best International: “Bones of Crows”