Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

Native American TV Writer Experience 

February 22 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Outside the Box [Office], Our Voices, USC Visions & Voices,
and LA SKINS FEST Present

Native American TV Writer Experience 

Featuring Shelley Dennis, Tom Hanada,
William Jehu Garroutte, and Karissa Valencia


The Native American TV Writers Experience was an incredible panel thanks to our partners, panelists and awesome moderator! Panelists discussed their background, writing experience and current projects in television. They also discussed their experience as a Native American writer and how they make change in the industry. Finally, panelists shared their preferred genres and their most valued inspirations that keep them moving forward.

Video Available Here:

Special thanks to our moderator, Kapena Baptista, for overseeing the panel and doing a great job! Great thanks to the University of Southern California Visions & Voices Program and the School of Cinematic Arts!

About the Panel Discussion

In 2021, the LA SKINS FEST is launching a panel discussion and screening series that will feature new ideas, points of interest and current issues within the Native American media landscape. These discussions will showcase a diverse group of experienced Native Americans in entertainment. These events will also offer new and innovative views on the Native American experience. The first event is a panel that will focus on the Native American literary experience. We will draw from the many alumni that have gone through our writer labs and become writers currently staffed on television series.

About the Guests


From the farm to the catwalk, Shelley’s wide-range of experiences have helped her create multifaceted characters with unique points of view. Shelley was born into a family of Choctaw storytellers in small-town Oklahoma (population 700). She started bringing compelling characters to life as early as elementary school – writing and directing her own plays. When her third-grade class was “good,” the teacher allowed Shelley to grace the class with her creations. She took a brief timeout when she was scouted by a modeling agency and flown to Milan, where she made a living being tall and hungry. Today, she lives to tell about it over a plate of carbs. Her runway days provided her with a plethora of questionable experiences, many of which inspire her projects.

Shelley has written for Disney’s Tangled TV show and toured alongside Wayne Brady, doing both standup and improv. She co-created and starred in an 8-episode VRcomedy, Sestra! Sestra! with AmazeVR and was a staff writer on the new Netflix animation series, Spirit Rangers. In 2020 she was one of four selected for the Native American Showrunner Program and is currently a Disney General Entertainment Writing Program Fellow for 2021!


Tom is a screenwriter and novelist who specializes in the thriller and horror genres. His 2019 novel, Intercepts, was named one of the “Best Horror Novels of All Time” by Cosmopolitan and is now being adapted to feature film by Skybound Entertainment.

In addition to novels, Tom has written on assignment for Westbrook; adapted Stephen King’s short story Morality for director Isaac Ezban; sold a serial killer pilot to Astronauts Wanted; and written short horror films for Crypt TV. Tom was a fellow at the Universal Studios Emerging Writers Fellowship and participated in the LA Skins fest TV Writers Lab.

Born and raised in Portland, OR, Tom graduated from Stanford University before moving to LA where he now lives with his high-school-sweetheart-turned-wife, Virginia, a professor at CSU Northridge.


William Jehu Garroutte is a drama writer, and an enrolled Citizen of Cherokee Nation. He had an Army brat childhood and a midwestern adolescence in a town best known for its cattle slaughterhouses. William didn’t go to college, and learned how to write in the WGA library. He has worked a long string of unconventional, unglamorous jobs, from historical village tour guide, to graveyard shift valet, to computer repair tech.

William has written on shows for Lionsgate/Showtime, Sony International, and most recently served as a Story Editor on STUMPTOWN for ABC. He currently has two shows in development with ABC, and one show in development with UCP.


Karissa is a California Native — literally! She grew up between sunny San Diego and the Santa Ynez Chumash Reservation. Karissa studied English and Communication at the University of San Diego and then pursued a graduate degree in Television and Film at Syracuse University. Karissa is passionate about animation and has written for preschool favorites such as Disney Junior’s VampirinaDoc McStuffinsT.O.T.S and The Chicken Squad. She is currently the Showrunner and Executive Producer of Netflix Animation’s upcoming preschool series, Spirit Rangers, which follows the fantastical adventures of a modern day Native American family.

About the Moderator

KAPENA BAPTISTA (Moderator, SCA MFA Candidate, Norman Topping Graduate Fellow)

Kapena Baptista is a composer, ethnomusicologist, and indigenous advocate from Los Angeles. He graduated cum laude in Music and Anthropology from Harvard University where he served as Assistant Principal Bassoon in the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, and was an undergraduate composer in both the Harvard College Composers Association and the Harvard University Studio for Electroacoustic Composition. Kapena’s academic focus was on his own musical lineage from his Native Hawaiian background. His senior thesis “Lovely Hula Hands: Native Hawaiian Identity in Hapa Haole Music and Hula Performance” contextualized Hawaiian music and Hula dancers within the development of the Hawaiian tourist industry and was awarded a Thomas T. Hoopes Prize for outstanding scholarly research. After graduating from Harvard in 2016, Kapena was named an inaugural Generation-Indigenous Fellow through the Center for Native American Youth, and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study and teach in Lisbon, Portugal. Kapena is now an MFA candidate in the Peter Stark Producing Program where he is both a Norman Topping Graduate Fellow and a Shriram Family Graduate Fellow. He hopes to increase Native American and Indigenous representation in the media by highlighting narratives that seek to modernize, empower, and uplift the peoples whose ancestral lands we call home.


The Festival is an initiative of the Native American non-profit the Barcid Foundation and aims to showcase the rising talent in Native American filmmaking. This year the LA SKINS FEST is expanding the screening series to accommodate the growing talent in Indian Country.

The prestigious LA SKINS FEST ranks among the country’s best film festivals and is an annual gathering for film industry insiders, cinema enthusiasts, filmmakers, and critics. The LA Skins Fest is considered a major launching ground for Indian Country’s most talked about films. Founded in 2007, the Los Angeles Skins Fest, presented in the historic TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, is a 6-day multicultural event celebrating the art of film, TV and new media. The Los Angeles Skins Fest’s long-standing commitment is to join filmmakers and film connoisseurs together to experience great cinema. The exciting schedule consists of dozens of filmmakers presenting their newest works, special artist development programs, tributes to community leaders, special events, and remarkable films. Festival headquarters are in Los Angeles, CA.

Visit the Official LA SKINS FEST Website: https://laskinsfest.com/
Visit the LA SKINS FEST Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/skinsfest
Visit the LA SKINS FEST Twitter Page: https://twitter.com/LASKINSFEST
Visit the LA SKINS FEST YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/SKINSFEST

About the SCA Council on Diversity & Inclusion

Diversity, inclusion and respect of differences, including race and ethnicity, gender and gender identities, sexual orientation, and disability, are foundational tenets of the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA). SCA is an internationally recognized institution and a leader in the fields of cinematic arts, games, emergent media forms and media scholarship. While entertainment industries including film, television and interactive media have deep histories in progressive social politics, current cultural discussions about the state of mainstream media industries indicate that much work needs to be done to challenge and change existing paradigms around power, privilege and inclusion. Recognized as a pipeline to the media industries and graduate media programs, SCA is uniquely positioned to play a leadership role in preparing the next generation of media producers and scholars to critically engage with issues of diversity and build inclusive creative and scholarly communities within media industries and academia. SCA embraces this opportunity to influence the wider community of media creators and scholars. In 2016 SCA formed the Council for Diversity & Inclusion to address how our community can foster a more inclusive environment.

USC is located in one of our nation’s most vibrant and diverse cities, and we recognize the need for our institution to reflect the complex and multifaceted richness of our surrounding communities in terms of students, staff, faculty and community partners. SCA is committed to cultivating a diverse and inclusive learning environment at all institutional levels. We promote diversity and inclusion in the recruitment and training of all faculty members and believe that celebrating diversity within our student population will open critical and constructive dialogues about difference that enhance our creative and scholarly work. We also understand that support staff play a vital role in the SCA community and, therefore, the same attention needs to be paid to diversity among staff members. We define diversity to include age, race, ethnicity, physical ability, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, country of origin, veteran status, religious practice, and political ideology. SCA seeks to weave a philosophy of inclusion and respect for difference into the fabric of our community; take a leadership role in areas of diversity and inclusion across the university; and establish a model for media industries to empower different voices and perspectives.

Learn more at: http://cinema.usc.edu/Diversity
This program is generously sponsored by

For more information about upcoming programming and events offered by USC Visions and Voices: The Arts and Humanities Initiative, please visit their website.


February 22
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm