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Meet the Leadership Team of AFA HUB

Liz Fenning, B.A.: Program Supervisor
Liz Fenning attended University of Rome, the Groundlings School, AMAW, and is an honors graduate of Carnegie Mellon University. Her regional stage credits include: Virginia Stage Company, Bread & Puppet Theater Company, Echo Theater Company, Inner Circle Theater, Theatre Unleashed, & Theater Elysium.

 

Liz has appeared in Californication, The Seth and Avi Show, Deadly Alibi, Deadly Sins, LIONSGATE'S The Ghostmaker, To Whom it May Concern, Immune, Espionage for Dummies, Just for You, OMG,.. We're in a Horror Movie, Fuseli, and Nightmare. She's served as a live host for MSNBC, done clowning for Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza, serves as Program Supervisor for Actors for Autism, and most recently, starred in the teaser for The Sickness, with executive producer, Clive Barker.

As an instructor, she has served as associate clinical supervisor for Autism Response Team, faculty associate for Northwestern University's pre-college Cherub's Program, and taught  in a moderate to severe 2nd  and 3rd grade LAUSD  classroom. Currently, she serves as Creative Corp director for the Global Theater Project and is the program supervisor for Actors for Autism.

Gavin Grazer, B.A: Entertainment Job Developer
Gavin was born and raised in Los Angeles California. He graduated from USC with a major in film and a minor in political science. While attending USC, Gavin worked for The Exceptional Children’s Foundation for four years.

 

In the late 70’s, Gavin got his acting start after his brother producer Brian Grazer gave him a small role in the TV movie titled “Zuma Beach.” From there, Gavin went on to producing and starring in his own films. In the 90’s, Gavin was part of the Saturday Night Live Family and Second City, acting and making short films. 

Gavin has also directed several films such as “Enio” and “Scorched” starring John Cleese, Woody Harrelson, and Jeffrey Tambor. Gavin has acted alongside great actors like Denzel Washington, Anthony Hopkins, Mike Myers, John Turturro, Christian Slater, Jodie Foster, just to name a few.  Gavin is extremely excited to share his passion of acting and filmmaking with Actors for Autism.

Ryan Hetrick, B.A.: Program Supervisor
Ryan Hetrick has been working with the autism population for over 10 years. Ryan graduated with honors from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with degrees in psychology, and in theater.

After college Ryan moved to Philadelphia with a theater group for an extended summer of performing sketch comedy and original plays. Moving back to Pittsburgh he wrote/directed/edited his first short film and eventually went on to New York Film Academy for filmmaking. After learning on set in Los Angeles, Ryan went back home to Pittsburgh to write/direct/edit his first feature length film, which was later screened for Pittsburgh audiences.

Ryan continues in film with writing and a new focus on documentary storytelling. Through this time, Ryan has also worked in the behavioral health field as a neurocognitive therapist and certified brain injury specialist.

Gabriella Guzman, B.A.: Animation Director
Gabriella is a Cuban American artist who grew up in Miami and came to study Illustration on a full scholarship at Art Center College of Design. She graduated in December 2015 and has since then taught art at the Tierra del Sol Foundation as well as its sister school, First Street Gallery in Claremont, where she discovered her passion for helping people of all backgrounds and circumstances feel included, valued, and limitless!

 

Her work with children and adults with special needs has influenced her artwork and goal of aiding people grow their self worth and confidence as leaders, for she believes that no one should feel left behind simply because you haven't seen a leader like YOU before.Take it as a good thing, because now, you can be the first! 

Mike Polvani - Animation Director
Michael Polvani has been an animator, storyboard artist, character designer for over 28 years. Michael has worked at a number of studios., most notably Disney, Warner Brothers, The Famous Chuck Jones Studios , Sony Imageworks, Dreamquest Images, and Film Roman. Mike has worked at over 50 studios and has gleaned information from masters of short animation, commercials animation and feature animation. His wide breath of experience in 2d animation and 3d animation has given rise to techniques that contain the best of all the styles to give you a understanding of all traditions.Mike studied at the Brandes Institute.,and jumped in animation right after working for several commercial houses and continuing his stay at Disney, and a number of other feature animation houses. Teaching has been Mike Polvani’s love for over 15 years. He has taught at The Animation Union, The Art Institute, and The Animation Workshop, Viborg Denmark.  Mike is excited to be a part of AFA!

Sara Hall, B.A.: Animation Director
Sara Rose Hall is a recent Cum Laude graduate from California State University Channel Islands, where she received her B.F.A. in Studio Art and Digital Media Certification.

Born in Camarillo, California, her life goal is to instill newer generations with positive nostalgia using illustration, storytelling, and animation  ---the same driving force that lead her to fall in love with animation, production, and all the passion and intense work behind it.  That thirst for emotive creation has lead her to create several short animations, title sequences, storyboards, motion graphics, and explore 3D modeling.  While still in university, she pushed the pedal to the medal and worked for a year as Art Director and Lead Animator for the nonprofit animation troupe, Pastel Circus, which won 2nd Place Audience Choice and Most Spirited at the 2016 San Diego 48-Hour Film Festival.  Her traditional and digital animations have won first and second place awards at the CSUCI Film and Animation Showcase; in addition, she worked hard to receive “Most Artistically Skilled and Excellent” awards each year in a row at the CSUCI Art Spring Show in Multimedia Animation, Digital Media, and Digital Animation.

Her family has been involved in special education for several generations, and Sara Rose couldn’t be happier to follow in that tradition and share in her passion for animation production. 

Negeen Farida, M.A.: Director of Dance Program
As a graduate of the Human Development and Psychology Master of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Negeen’s studies focused on the intersection between psychology, neuroscience, and the arts for individuals with diverse disabilities. Her passion for dance and the human mind inspired her studies in World Arts and Cultures/Dance as well as Psychology at UCLA. She has over twenty years of experience studying and performing dance and is well versed in techniques including ballet, jazz, modern, hip hop, contemporary, and choreography. 

Negeen has over ten years of experience working with various disability populations in both inclusive and specialized classes. She has worked with a diverse range of individuals, from infants to adults, with a wide range of developmental disabilities including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Down Syndrome, and Cerebral Palsy. 

During her internship with Dr. Lori Baudino at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, she combined her passions when she observed psychological and dance movement therapy sessions for children with a variety of terminal illnesses. Furthermore, through her work with Boston Ballet’s Adaptive Dance Program and Free 2 Be Me Dance, she gained experience assisting inclusive dance classes for individuals with disabilities. 
            
Negeen strives to help individuals, particularly children and individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders achieve overall well-being. She looks forward to sharing her inclusive movement curriculum with the community at Actors for Autism.

Charlie Dominick - Film Director
Charlie Dominick was raised in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and has been writing and directing movies since 2009. Charlie graduated film school in 2014 with a BA concentrated in directing. He spent several years as a project manager in the non-profit field before starting work on his first feature film, a dark comedy shot in Buffalo, New York with an initial premiere in November of 2018. 

As a filmmaker and teacher, Charlie is passionate about engaging others in the work and collaboration of making movies and setting his students up to meet their full potential as artists.

Santosh Oomen, MFA : Entertainment Job Developer

Santosh Oommen has worked in animation since 1997, starting at Playhouse Pictures as an assistant animator and working as an animator for a number of studios including Jim Henson Interactive, Flat Earth Productions, Netter Digital, IXL, S4 Studios, Station X, The Collective, and Smashing Ideas. His clients include Smashing Ideas, NBC Studios, Disney Channel, MTV, and a number of other studios. 

 

He has worked on several TV projects including Starship Troopers, Max Steel and a number of different pilots at Cartoon Network and E! entertainment channel. His released games include Revenge of the Sith (the bestselling game on Xbox), Wraith Unleashed, Muppet Monster Race, and an unreleased Indiana Jones game.

Santosh continued to work in a animation supervisory position at Smashing Ideas for several History channel documentaries and has worked as a talent recruiter for Smashing Ideas Los Angeles.

 

In 2004 Santosh began teaching part time and taught at a several schools including, Platt College, Gnomon, Montecito Fine Arts, Lab Schools and Art Institute Inland Empire and finally at AMVA. In 2008, he went back to school to get his MFA in storyboarding at Academy of Art University in San Francisco which he completed in 2013. Now he currently freelances in storyboarding, illustration and animation, working with clients in the US, Singapore and China. His current personal projects include co-writing a feature film with an animation producer from DreamWorks and producing a personal graphic novel called Gas Mask to be published in 2020.

Vincent Moran: Visual Effects Director
Vincent Moran is a battle-born Reno, NV native with a lifelong passion for education, art, and science. With an education in visual effects and education, Vincent has established a wide understanding of multiple fields. He has experience as an editor, writer, director, DP, colorist, animator, VFX artist, and instructor.

For the past nine years, Vincent has worked in the commercial film industry as a freelancer and as a lead editor, overseeing the post-production of over 300 different web videos and national/internationally broadcasted spots, demonstrating mastery in Premiere Pro, After Effects, DaVinci Resolve, Final Cut, and multiple other software. His work includes client and brand names such as McLaren, Pokemon, Sacramento Kings, Pebble Beach, Hotels.com, IGT, Jakks Pacific Toys, CA Tourism, and many more. His experience has also included working as VFX supervisor on many sets, directly working with directors and producers to achieve their visions.

His personal work includes a variety of short and feature-length screenplays, short films, short stories, poetry, and animations that have been met with many accolades including publications, nominations, and awards. He has multiple projects underway at all times and is always excited to pay it forward by offering his knowledge to others.

Curtis Phillips: Video Game Director
Curtis Phillips is a video game programmer who grew up in Downey, California and has studied programming since he was 6 years old. Eventually his passion for programming led him to the Art Institute of California - Hollywood where he graduated in June 2018 with a Bachelor of Science focusing in game programming. Throughout his college education, Curtis found that he had a knack for helping his fellow classmates with their studies and their projects, which was what initially sparked his interest in teaching. After college, Curtis worked as a Junior Software/Technology Engineer where he developed 3D interactive training software. There he learned about software lifecycle and the importance of tasks that may be dismissed as unnecessary.

When his work was done he began developing mobile applications for the Google Play Store, where he discovered so much more about the video game production life-cycle that he never fully realized before. Curtis is thrilled to be a part of AFA where he gets the chance to share his knowledge with others.

Teresa Melendez: Video Game Director
Teresa Melendez graduated with a B.A. in Video Game Art and Design from the The Art Institute of Los Angeles. She is the first in her family to graduate college having done so with honors.  Growing up, Teresa was consistently enthralled with animation and video games which fueled her love of storytelling and visual arts. For her first year of college, she attended Northern Arizona University, briefly studying screenwriting before transferring to Los Angeles to pursue a degree in Video Game Design. While in LA, Teresa held several graphic design positions while also working with creative team, Game Wizards, to create mobile and VR games.

Since graduating, she currently teaches Video Game Design with Actors for Autism. She also works with USC's video game design team as well as providing artwork for side projects with fellow developer colleagues. She hopes to collaborate this passion of the art with others to create interactive stories that will provide different perspectives as she believes everyone has a story worth telling.

Jana Grazer: Administrative Manager
Jana Grazer is an accomplished entertainment professional. Jana attended Eastern Michigan University on a fine art scholarship where she discovered her love for acting and filmmaking. After college, Jana attended the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan and received a certification in film production. After her move to Los Angeles from Michigan, Jana got her first script supervisor job.  

 

Jana began her acting career in 2003 and starred alongside as such actors as Norman Reedus, Anthony Hopkins, John Turturro, and Christian Slater. Jana's first lead in a feature was in the 2011 Anchor Bay Entertainment horror thriller "Mimesis" which was released domestically and globally.

From 2008 to 2014, Jana began working with Imagine Entertainment as a Script Analyst. Jana is also known for her experience as an excellent Production Coordinator for studios Universal and Sony Pictures. 
Jana has many connections in the entertainment industry and in the world of business. Jana is currently finishing her Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and continues to consult other entertainment professionals on their own film and TV projects. Jana is proud to be an Administrative Manager for Actors for Autism. Jana also dedicates her time to animal rescue. 

Jacob D. Smith, B.A.: Film/360 VR Director

Jacob Smith studied TV/Film production at The University of Iowa and graduated from Cornell College with a degree in writing, Magna Cum Laude. Since moving to L.A. in 2004, he has been working in both post production and production in film, television, online content, web series, and reality television. 

Jacob's post-production resume includes Discovery Channel, Original Productions, the Emmy Award Winning Series The Deadliest Catch, Berring Sea Gold, Ax Men, Storage Wars, and Hell's Dungeon.

Jacob has been working with 360VR filming equipment since 2015, and has been pushing the narrative boundaries for what can be accomplished in this exciting new medium.

Jacob has recently been awarded with the Best Screenwriting Award for his Film, Almost Lost, from the 100 Hour Film Race,  Best Director of the TUNY awards in 2015, 2013, and 2012, and is nominated for the best Ensemble Stage Raw Award for 2019.

He was a Dirctors Lab West 2018 Scholarship Recipient, served as Artistic Director for Theatre Unleashed, and serves as resident director and in the development team for Hold for Plane Pictures.  Currently, Jacob D. Smith is a represented Screenwriter/ Director with Emmy Award Winner Darla Marasco of Marasco Management. 

Deborah Newman, Petite Taway: AFA HUB Web Designer

Deborah Newman has been working with the AFA team for over ten years as their web designer on multiple projects.

Petite Taway is a full service web design and online marketing company with clients across the United States and beyond. Deborah Newman loves working with creative small businesses and nonprofits and loves her job and her mission to make each of her clients successful on the world wide web. Visit her website here.

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