Film Panel: From Spark to Screen

From Spark to Screen: Bringing Your Idea to Life

There are great stories across the Pitt and Pittsburgh community.

What does it take for them to be realized onscreen? How does a magazine article become a major motion picture? If you have a compelling story, how can you start to develop it into a screenplay or documentary?

Join us for an all-star panel who will share their experiences making Pittsburgh-inspired movies:

  • Concussion, based on a GQ article written by Jeanne Marie Lasksas and discovered by development executive Dave Wolthoff, starring Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, who changed the way we look at sports injury. Concussion producer Dave Wolthoff will share how he found Jeanne Marie's article as they describe the journey which led to the film.
  • Pride, a Lionsgate film with a screenplay by Pitt alum and lecturer Kevin Michael Smith, starring Terrence Howard as Jim Ellis, Westinghouse grad and coach of a Black swim team in Philadelphia. Learn how Kevin optioned the life rights and turned it into a screenplay.
  • Dear Zoe, an upcoming coming-of-age film based on a book by Pitt writing alum Philip Beard and identified by Asher Garfinkel, whose Readers Unlimited serves major studios and network, starring Sadie Sink of Stranger Things. Asher and Philip will discuss how a book becomes an independent film and Asher will explain how projects are given "coverage" and evaluated.




Asher Garfinkel is the author of Screenplay Story Analysis: The Art and Business (Allworth Press: 2007).

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, his first job in entertainment was working as a locations assistant on the George Romero/Dario Argento collaboration,Two Evil Eyes, filmed in Pittsburgh. Since then, he has worked in production and development for studios such as New Line Cinema and Paramount, and for various independent producers and directors.

As a story analyst and consultant, Asher has evaluated thousands of scripts for a multitude of producers, directors, actors, agents, managers, and writers; and he served as a content analyst for Netflix in its first decade of business. He is the founder of Readers Unlimited, celebrating its 20th year as a Los Angeles-based screenplay coverage and consulting service. (Many Readers Unlimited clients and story analysts have Pittsburgh roots.)

Asher has created courses and served as an adjunct professor for the UCLA Extension Entertainment Studies program and for National University’s MFA Screenwriting program. He holds a B.S. in Television/Film Production from the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University and an MFA in Screenwriting from the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television.


Jeanne Marie Laskas is the author of eight books, including the New York Times bestseller Concussion, the basis for the 2015 Golden-Globe-nominated film starring Will Smith. She is a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine, a correspondent at GQ, and a two-time National Magazine Award finalist. Her stories have also appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Esquire. She serves as Distinguished Professor of English and founding director of the Center for Creativity at the University of Pittsburgh.


Kevin Michael Smith’s screenwriting style is best described as stories about common people demonstrating uncommon valor. His portrayal of ordinary people bringing about change by the accomplishment of extraordinary feats is the theme throughout much of his work.  

His feature Pride, produced by Lionsgate Films, starred Academy Award nominee Terrence Howard and the late Bernie Mac, and received an ESPY nomination for best “sports” movie of the year (2007), as well as a Movieguide “Top 10 Films for Mature Audiences” Award (2007). 

Two more of Kevin’s feature film productions, The Pittsburgh Powderkegs (directed by Kris Wilson) and One Heartbeat (directed by Reggie Hudlin), are scheduled to be released in 2021. His stage play Gardel is currently in development with producers Kurt Swanson (director of the Garry Marshall Theater) and Justin Ross (EVP of Bohemia Group Originals), and Rajendra Maharaj (winner of the Barrymore Award) is attached to direct.

Kevin is currently the Director of Undergraduate Studies (Broadcasting), Senior Lecturer and Screenwriting Instructor at the University of Pittsburgh.

His broadcasting career includes Executive Producer for the Pittsburgh Penguins Hockey Team, where he designed a two-time Telly Award-winning and Emmy-nominated magazine show called Pens Confidential. As a writer/producer/reporter/anchor at WTAE-TV, Kevin garnered 2 Telly Awards, 4 Regional Emmy nominations, 4 Golden Quill Awards, 4 Associated Press Awards, a National Headliners Award and the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award. 

His radio broadcast career began with New Your City radio station, WHTZ "Z-100" and the original “Z-100 Morning Zoo,” the station’s morning drive ensemble, variety show. Within 72 days, "the Z-100 Morning Zoo" had become the most listened-to radio station in America. Kevin's role as "Captain Kevin," placed him in the position as the youngest sports director in New York City media history.

Kevin is represented by Bohemia Group Management. He is an active member of the Writers Guild of America.


David Walthoff is a television and film producer with an interest in bringing true stories to the screen.  He was a producer of the Will Smith film, Concussion, based on Jeanne Marie Laskas’ GQ article, "Game Brain." On the television side, he has also set up scripted projects based upon magazine articles at various networks.   

In addition, Wolthoff was an Executive Producer of the Daytime Emmy-Nominated home makeover show, Welcome Home, as well as a producer of the Tribeca-premiering feature documentary, I Voted?, executive produced by Katie Couric.  

Wolthoff’s first development job was in Creative Affairs at the L.A. office of David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants production company. Subsequently, he spent more than a decade doing development for The Shuman Company, a preeminent literary management company in Hollywood.


Special Guests

Gary Barkin has been an entertainment lawyer in Hollywood for over 25 years, most recently as a founding partner of the Barkin Law Group where he represents clients in a range of motion picture, television and new media transactions. Previously, Gary held business and legal affairs positions at the William Morris Agency and Columbia Pictures, where he structured and negotiated all types of development, production and distribution deals, including actor, director and writer agreements, rights acquisitions, and merchandising and licensing deals. Gary negotiated the rights deals for Dr. Bennet Omalu and Jeanne Marie Laskas, whose work became the basis for the 2015 motion picture Concussion starring Will Smith.

Additionally, as a partner in Sidekick Entertainment, an independent film finance and production company, Gary produced several independent films including Sundance entry Things Behind the Sun, for which Gary won a Peabody Award. Gary began his career as a producer of television and radio commercials in Boston for clients such as New England Telephone and Snapple and has won awards for creative excellence. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School and has served as an adjunct professor at USC Gould Law School.


Philip Beard is the award-winning author of Swing, Lost in the Garden, and Dear Zoe, which was a Borders “Original Voices” Selection, a “Book Sense” Pick, and was named by the American Library Association as one of its Ten Best First Novels of the Year. 

Dear Zoe was recently produced as a feature film shot in Pittsburgh, starring Sadie Sink of Stranger Things

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Colgate University, Philip studied graduate fiction writing with Lewis (Buddy) Nordan while getting his J.D. at The University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He still practices law part-time at The Stonecipher Firm and lives in the Aspinwall section of Pittsburgh.



Carl Kurlander is the founding producer of C4C: The Pittsburgh Lens, director of the Pitt in LA Study Away program, and a Senior Lecturer in English and Film Studies at Pitt. 

Before coming to the University of Pittsburgh to teach screenwriting for what he thought would be a year-long Hollywood sabbatical, he spent several decades writing over one hundred screenplays and TV shows, including working on the semi-autobiographical St. Elmo's Fire; and mining his awkward high school experience for NBC's popular Saved By the Bell franchise. After returning to his hometown, Kurlander wrote and directed the documentary My Tale of Two Cities about Pittsburgh's rebirth as a city, and produced the award-winning documentaries The Shot Felt Round The World about the development of the Salk polio vaccine, which aired on the Smithsonian Channel and the BBC, and Burden of Genius about transplant pioneer Dr. Tom Starzl, which will air on PBS next year. 

Kurlander has also played a supporting role in various ways for more than a dozen Pittsburgh-inspired projects, including the recent movie adaptation of Philip Beard's novel Dear Zoe; Won't You Be My Neighbor? with Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers; the ten-part Starz TV docuseries The Chair, which follows two directors making two different movies in Pittsburgh from the same script; the University of Pittsburgh-produced independent community teaching film The Rehabilitation of the Hill, which engaged over 130 crew members from the Pitt and local communities; No No: A Dockumentary about Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis; and The Power of One Voice about Silent Spring author and environmental activist Rachel Carson.

Kurlander is also extremely proud of the dozens of his former students now working as successful producers, writers, directors, and editors for networks, film and TV studios, and production companies in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and New York. For more, go to