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From bingo hall to Hollywood: An up and coming Native writer

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Just over a year ago, Steve Judd, Kiowa/Choctaw, was working at a Bingo Hall in Goldsby, Okla.; today, he is working as a writer in Hollywood. Judd is a staff writer and Disney/ABC Writing Fellow on the new Disney XD comedy series “Zeke and Luther.”

Born in Oklahoma, Judd attended Haskell Indian Nations University and the University of Oklahoma where he focused on communications and Native American studies. Judd was inspired to make movies to combat the stereotypical portrayals of American Indians in films he saw as a child.

“When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a writer. Growing up in Oklahoma, I never thought I could write for television, so I started to write film scripts.”

While in college, Judd began his own production company called Restless Natives, which has produced several projects including the independent film, “American Indian Graffiti: This Thing Life,” the short-film spoof “MAC v. PC with a Native Twist” and the PBS documentary “Silent Thunder.”

“American Indian Graffiti” was awarded Best Screen Play at Microcinema Fest, Best Feature at the International Cherokee Film Festival and Best Screenplay at Bare Bones International Film Festival. “MAC v. PC with a Native Twist” won a semifinalist position in NBC Universal’s Comedy Short Cuts Diversity Film Festival in 2007 and inclusion in an installment at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

In 2007, Judd was selected to participate in the Disney/ABC Television Writer’s Workshop at the Institute of American Indian Arts as part of the Summer Film and Television Workshop for Natives. While there, Judd wrote several television spec scripts. With those, Judd applied for the Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship.

“Participating in the IAIA Television Writer’s Workshop led to my biggest opportunity. While at IAIA, I wrote a spec script for the TV series ‘My Name is Earl’ and was selected for the Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship – which allowed me to come to Los Angeles and write for television.”

In 2008, Judd was one of 14 selected for the fellowship, which has become one of the industry’s best known and well-respected writing programs with more than 250 alumni among Hollywood’s elite, including screenwriters, directors and television show runners. This program was created in an effort to increase the diverse voices in the television writing industry. The intensive, hands-on program involves workshops, seminars and mentorships with creative executives from Disney and ABC.

“We continue to believe that the fellowship is an important nurturing ground that allows us to identify and support a diverse group of up and coming writers,” said Tim McNeal, vice president, Talent Development and Diversity, Disney-ABC Television Group.

Last year, Judd began his yearlong paid writing fellowship and became a member of the Writers Guild of America’s American Indian Writers Committee. As a member of the committee, he is helping to establish a WGA California Outreach Program, in which top screenwriters teach weekend workshops on reservations throughout California. Judd has also taught workshops on screenwriting and filmmaking for many tribes, including the Osage Nation, the Comanche and Chickasaw tribes.

“Teaching a film and television workshop for Native people is something close to my heart. I hope to give these young artists the tools to survive in this industry and teach them some of the rules and techniques to writing for film and television.”

As part of his fellowship, Judd was hired as a staff writer for “Zeke and Luther,” a comedy adventure from Matt Dearborn and Tom Burkhard, the creative team behind the Emmy-nominated and British Academy of Film and Television Arts-winning Disney Channel series “Even Stevens.”

“Zeke and Luther” is about best friends determined to become world-class skateboarders. The show premiered in June on Disney XD. Judd wrote an episode for the series tentatively titled “A Hairy Problem.”

“Being on the set during the filming of my episode for ‘Zeke and Luther’ was the most humbling and also the best professional experience of my life. When I saw the set builders creating a sign for a scene I had written, it was crazy. I felt like a kid in a candy store. It was very exciting.”

Judd is working on several projects including a cartoon about a Native American boy with an over-active imagination, tentatively titled “Link and Fixie.” His production company, Restless Natives, produces projects and a line of T-shirts available online and at local pow wows.

“My advice to anyone interested in the entertainment industry is – you must practice your craft every day. A writer has got to write and an actor has got to act. Never stop learning and don’t give up on your dreams.”