Winning Entries “Futures” by Erin Wood and “The Haints” by David Merritt II Selected From Over 1,400 Diversity Targeted Submissions

Universal Cable Productions (UCP)  announced on August 14th two winners of the award-winning studio’s second-annual “Pitch Fest.” In its second year, UCP targeted entries focused on diversity with the goal of discovering writers and stories that highlight a range of topics from ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, to socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, and religious beliefs. To expand its outreach efforts and connect with undiscovered talent, UCP partnered with NBCUniversal Talent Infusion Programs (NBCUNI TIPS) that are dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion within the television industry. The competition attracted more than 1,400 submissions, with 18 finalists given 10 minutes to pitch their idea to UCP’s Development Team. The winning pitches, “Futures,” submitted by Erin Wood, and “The Haints,” submitted by David Merritt II, have both been placed into active development at the studio.

“Erin and David are talented up-and-coming voices who pitched unique and imaginative world-building ideas that challenge our cultural consciousness in the current television landscape,” said Dawn Olmstead, Executive Vice President, Development, Universal Cable Productions, whose team was at the helm of the contest along with the NBCU TIPS team. “We are truly excited to work with these two bourgeoning writers as they begin their promising careers.”

Wood is a graduate of UC Berkeley and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Multicultural Literature. She participated in the Bay Area production workshop, Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP) where she wrote, directed, and edited her first short film “The Saint,” which went on to screen at several film festivals including “Frameline” and “Outfest Fusion.” Her winning “Pitch Fest” submission, “Futures,” is centered around five brilliant millennials, who discover they are each owned by private shareholders who are banking on their future. With the realization that their lives are not their own, they will be forced to focus their dazzling minds on how to break free… and survive.

Merritt earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History from East Carolina University and a Master’s Degree in Film from the University of North Carolina. He began his career in the entertainment industry as a writer and director for “WWE RAW” on USA Network and “Smack Down” on The CW. Later, his horror script, “Hangman,” placed in the finals of the Screamfest LA screenwriting competition and in the 2nd round of the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. His winning “Pitch Fest” submission, “The Haints,” is a gritty sci-fi thriller set in the early 90’s where six African-American teens are implicated after a white female classmate goes missing. Determined to bring her back alive, the teens delve into the mystical world of supernatural tormented spirits and demons that plague the forest surrounding their urban home.

In its inaugural year, UCP’s “Pitch Fest” attracted more than 500 submissions of which 22 finalists were selected to pitch their television series idea to UCP’s development team. Jeane Wong’s entry “The Thin Line,” a revisionist history series set in present-day America, was selected as the winner and is currently in active development. Wong was later selected to be part of the 2016-17 Writers on the Verge, an intensive writers program from NBCUNI TIPS that prepares aspiring writers for a potential staff position on a television series. And she also went on to become a finalist in the inaugural Women in Film/The Black List Episodic Lab which helps to equip participants with the knowledge on how to build and sustain their careers, through programs on script development, work-shopping sessions and master classes with established writers and industry executives.