Special Guests

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Conference Speakers

Reed Agnew


Reed Agnew grew up in Pittsburgh. He was the co-creator, writer, and executive producer of FOX's Son of Zorn. He was also a writer, executive producer, and showrunner on FX's Wilfred. He has written for a handful of other comedies including Crank Yankers, The Andy Milonakis Show, and Drawn Together. He was recently commissioned to write the pilot episode for The Cable Guy (television series) for Sony Television and Brillstein Entertainment. In addition, he has written many, many things that nobody loved (no matter how much he loved them). Catch Reed in the Kick-off Keynote discussion: Lunchmeat Distribution Strategies and the Comedy of Banality on Friday, November 18.

Julie Benson


Julie grew up in the cornfields of Illinois, finding her escape in the TV, movies, and comics she loved. That love inspired her to move to LA to carve out a career as a Development Executive before turning to writing. She is best known for her strong voice in sci-fi, fantasy, and action and her biting sense of humor. Her first credit was on ABC’s Zero Hour. She also wrote 3 seasons of CW’s critically acclaimed series The 100, co-produced Netflix’s Wu Assassins, produced Season 3 of Amazon’s Lore, produced and ran the writers’ room for the Emmy-nominated Paramount+ animated series Star Trek: Prodigy and wrote episodes of He-Man and The Masters of The Universe for Netflix. Most recently, Julie was an Executive Producer on Disney+’s documentary StuntmanJoin Julie in the Evolution of Genre Film/TV Panel on Friday, November 18.

Nick Childers


Nick Childers is an Emmy award-winning visual journalist and documentary filmmaker from Pittsburgh. He’s the son of a Chilean immigrant and blue-collar Appalachian. Nick has covered issues and stories like the war in Ukraine, the Tree of Life shooting, labor in the Rust Belt and Appalachia, homebirth during COVID, Black Lives Matter protests in Pittsburgh, abuse within the Catholic Church, and Caribbean pirate FM radio in Brooklyn. He’s the director of Video Consortium Pittsburgh and is currently working on a feature documentary about the nightclub community in Ukraine during war. Join Nick in the Documentary Storytelling: Non-fiction Narrative Practices session on Saturday, November 19.

Jerry Gergely

Special FX Artist

Jerry Gergely is an Emmy-nominated special effects artist whose credits include Babylon 5, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and many feature films. He is currently the Technical Director and instructor at the Tom Savini School of Special Makeup Effects in Monessen, PA. Catch Jerry in the Evolution of Genre Film/TV Panel and the Magic of Special FX Workshop on Friday, November 18.

Tori Hartshorn


Tori Hartshorn is a screenwriter, comedian, and improviser in New York City. She currently works for Peacock at NBCUniversal. Tori has more than 10 years of experience in film, television, and theater, including working on project such as The Vampire Diaries and Family Feud. She is trained in sketch writing and comedic improvisation through the Upright Citizens Brigade and screenwriting through Sundance Collab. Her screenplays and pilots have earned her placement in a variety of competitions, including the 2020 Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest and 2021 Austin Film Festival. Join Tori in the Pitch Session on Saturday, November 19. 

Makia Harper


Makia Harper is a Brooklyn based documentary filmmaker, media artist, and film/media professor. “God Speaks: Philadelphia Voices Against Violence” was her first feature length documentary and was screened in festivals across the country. Since then, she has created several short documentaries on topics surrounding the intersection between social justice, community development, and spirituality. Currently Ms. Harper is in Pittsburgh working on the second phase of her audio-visual installation “Better than Before” the story of a Vietnam vet whose faith and effortless optimism propel him through war, illness, discrimination and racism. Makia is an adjunct professor and is also a contributing writer to the media arts journal, After Image. Join Makia in the Documentary Storytelling: Non-fiction Narrative Practices session on Saturday, November 19.

Christopher Lockart

Story Editor/Filmmaker

Christopher Lockhart is a Hollywood story executive, filmmaker, and teacher with more than 30 years of industry experience. He is the Story Editor at WME where he curates projects for A-list talent such as Denzel Washington. As a producer, he has Solitary starring David Oyelowo in post-production, and a neo noir thriller called Crooked Creek in pre-production. He wrote and produced the award-winning documentary Most Valuable Players that was acquired by Oprah Winfrey for the OWN Network. He co-produced the cult horror movie The Collector and its sequel The Collection, which opened in the top ten American box-office. Chris lectures around the world about the craft and business of screenwriting and founded The Inside Pitch where he hosts over 13,000 creatives and offers daily advice on the Hollywood maze. He is a member of the WGA, the PGA, and the Television Academy. Join Christopher as he moderates the Evolution of Genre Film/TV Panel on Friday, Nov. 18 and leads the Creating Loglines that Work session on Saturday, November 19.

Joe Manganiello


Joe Manganiello is anactor, producer, director, author, and Emmy-winning narrator. Through his production company, 3:59, he has released films including the Slamdance documentary La Bare, the indie feature Shoplifters of The World, and an upcoming feature documentary about Dungeons & Dragons. Joe recently wrapped production on dark comedy thriller The Kill Room opposite Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson. He also re-teamed with Zack Snyder to star in the upcoming Netflix series, Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas after appearing in Zack’s Justice League: The Snyder Cut for HBO Max. Joe is probably best known for his roles as the werewolf Alcide Herveaux on five seasons of HBO’s smash hit True Blood and as Big Dick Richie in Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike and Magic Mike XXL. Joe can currently be seen as a lead of the AMC sci-fi series Moonhaven, as well as on the current season of Netflix’s Love Death and Robots. Join Joe in the Closing Keynote Discussion on Sunday, November 20.

Robin Robinson

Documentary Programmer

Robin Robinson is dedicated to independent film. In addition to her role at Film Pittsburgh, she is a programmer for the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Mountainfilm, EarthX, and the Philadelphia Film Festival. Previously, she served as a Programming Coordinator for the SCAD Savannah Film Festival and the Nashville Film Festival, where she managed the Screenwriting Competition and worked as a Senior Programmer. In addition to her programming experience, she has served as a screener, reader, and judge for numerous competitions and festivals. She received an M.F.A. in Film with a focus in screenwriting at the Watkins College of Film in 2018. Join Robin in the Documentary Storytelling: Non-fiction Narrative Practices session on Saturday, November 19.

Ramesh Santanam

Story Analyst

Ramesh Santanam is a freelance story analyst for a major Hollywood studio, an independent producer, and others. An award-winning screenwriter and journalist, he also reads for renowned screenwriting competitions, including the Austin Film Festival. He has co-written two short films, Show & Tell (2020) and Concrete Rose (2021), which played at film festivals in the United States and abroad. Show & Tell won Best Screenplay at Britain's Kingston Film Festival 2020. His scripts have placed in screenwriting competitions such as the Academy Nicholl Fellowships, Cinestory Feature Retreat and Fellowship, Austin Film Festival, Gotham, and Emerging Screenwriters. As a journalist, he has written for a weekly, dailies, and The Associated Press. He also produces and co-hosts a series of video interviews with screenwriters, filmmakers, literary managers, and authors on the Facebook group, The Inside Pitch. Join Ramesh in the Pitch Session on Saturday, November 19. 

Tom Savini

Special FX Artist

Tom Savini is primarily known for his groundbreaking work in the field of special make-up effects. He is also an actor, stunt performer, and film director. Tom has created makeup and special effects for many films directed by George A. Romero, including Martin, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Creepshow, and Monkey Shines, and for many other cult classics including Friday the 13th, Maniac, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Tom directed Night of the Living Dead, the 1990 remake of Romero's 1968 Night of the Living Dead, and the TV shows Tales from the Darkside and The Theatre Bizarre. As an actor and stuntman, he has appeared in films such as Martin, Dawn of the Dead, Knightriders, From Dusk till Dawn, Planet Terror, Machete, Django Unchained, and Machete Kills. Join Tom in the Evolution of Genre Film/TV Panel and the Magic of Special FX Workshop on Friday, November 18.


Maria Brendle

Juror for Best Narrative Short

Maria Brendle is an Academy Award® nominated director and scriptwriter based in Zurich, Switzerland. Her short films have been shown and awarded at several international film festivals.Her film Ala Kachuu – Take and Run played at Pittsburgh Shorts in 2020 where it won the Jury Prize for Best Narrative / Live Action Short. Maria received her bachelor’s degree in film from the Zurich University of the Arts and her master’s degree in Cognitive Neuroscience (aon) from the Academy of Neuroscience Cologne. Maria is the 2022 Pittsburgh Shorts Juror for Best Narrative / Live Action Short.

Brian Broome

Juror for Best Documentary Short

Brian Broome, poet and screenwriter, is the author of Punch Me Up to the Gods (Mariner Books, 2021), which won the 2021 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction and Publisher Triangle’s Randy Shifts Award for Nonfiction. Broome is a columnist at the Washington Post and has been a finalist in The Moth storytelling competition and won the grand prize in Carnegie Mellon University's Martin Luther King Writing Awards. Brian wrote the screenplay for the film Garbage which played at Pittsburgh Shorts in 2019. He also is currently an Assistant Professor at West Virginia University. Brian is the 2022 Pittsburgh Shorts Juror for Best Documentary.

Linda Simensky

Juror for Best Animated Short

Linda Simensky is Head of Animation and Scripted Content for Duolingo. Simensky is leading the company’s efforts to create scripted and character-driven stories featuring Duolingo’s original cast of characters, from original animation to the writing efforts for Duolingo’s hit Stories product and its childhood literacy app, Duolingo ABC. Before Duolingo, Simensky was Head of Content for PBS KIDS. She began her career at Nickelodeon, where she helped build the animation department and launch the popular series Rugrats, Doug, and Hey Arnold. She then headed up development at Cartoon Network. Simensky also teaches animation history courses at the University of Pennsylvania. Linda is the 2022 Pittsburgh Shorts Juror for Best Animated Short.