Staff & Teaching Artists
John C. Williams, Co-Founder & Executive Director, is an award-winning film and television writer, producer and director whose credits include independent shorts, features, documentaries, television programming and corporate communications. Prior to founding Reel Works, John created original television for WNET/Thirteen, Oxygen, WE: Women’s Television and Metro Channels. John has produced numerous major market television commercials and independent films. John holds an MFA in Film & Television from New York University and a BA in English from Boston University. Email John.
Stephanie Walter Williams, Co-Founder, Artistic Director, Executive Producer, is an award-winning writer, producer and director whose credits include television, radio and theater. Stephanie’s television credits include documentaries for Lifetime, MSNBC, CBS, and Viacom, as well as her own independent work. Stephanie has created original programming for a variety of broadcasters, and spent a chunk of her career documenting roots music around the U.S. After studying writing in New York and the U.K., Stephanie moved to Manhattan and opened her own theatre company, The Black Market. There she developed new voices from around the country and presented readings, and staged productions out of an old garage in the LES. She is proud to say she played at CBGB’s, and spent a decade bumming around Europe as a marginal writer. Stephanie holds an MFA in Dramaturgy from Stony Brook University, where she created a series of lectures that examined Race and Justice, working with students using Socratic methodologies. She also staged and produced, Race Riot, a series of pop up protests revolving around racial inequality in the United States. She is currently the Executive Producer and Director of Reel Works Productions, training students to enter the film and television Work Force. The production company recently produced their first feature film, 72 Hours a Brooklyn Love Story, a jury selection at The New York Film Festival, and their first feature documentary, National Park Diaries, which is making the 2017 documentary festival circuit. Email Stephanie.
Alissa Cherry, Director of Education, is a youth media educator, sound engineer/designer, and photographer. She has her B.A. in American Studies and Journalism with a focus on popular youth culture and war time media from Brandeis University and her M.A. in Media Studies from The New School. She is the author of An Exploratory Look at a First Year Youth Media Education Program with the Purpose of Developing Cultural Competencies, a culmination of three years of research on media education pedagogical approaches. She is a graduate of the Columbia University Executive Education program for Developing NonProfit Leaders and currently working towards a Professional Certification in Trauma Intervention and Crisis Management at Rutgers University. Prior to joining the Reel Works family, she was a lead educator for the Coney Island Generation Gap film production program, working with underserved youth on film and photo projects exploring ideas of race, sexuality, gender, and religion. She previously lived in Washington D.C., where she was the Director of Communications and Partnership Development for the Phelps Stokes Fund, as well as assisting in policy and advocacy work with the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. She is the author of educational policy in 13 states, protecting the privacy rights of minors and has been an active voice in American youth rights for over a decade. Alissa is also the creator of Sounds of the Outskirts, a transmedia project documenting the audible gentrification of Manhattan.
Abby Verbosky, Education Specialist, roots are in social documentary and street photography/videography. She specializes in media education while maintaining a professional practice. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Abby is fully immersed in the local photographic community. She recently / currently has teaching residencies in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. These include ICP, FIT, Reel Works Middle School and High School programs. Verbosky graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Photojournalism and Anthropology from Ohio University and is passionate about visual storytelling.
Jairo Martinez, Director of School Partnerships, was born and raised in the Bronx. At a young age he discovered his passion for music at a local church. He continued this passion all throughout his teens, working with different musician across New York City, he played piano, guitar and drums for different jazz, hip-hop and rock groups. In high school, he started an after-school music program with world renowned Steven Pouchie who also taught a Computer Lab class in the high school. It was a successful place for students to come in, learn about music theory and just jam out. Jairo followed his musical passion by attending The Juilliard School in which he received a B.A. in Music Education. He also attended Institute of Audio Research for a certification in Audio Engineering and Sound Design. He currently owns a Music Recording Studio in the heart of New York City, Washington Heights called SoundProof Studios with long time friend Geraldi Rodriguez. Jairo has worked with students from Elementary School all the way to High School. He taught music and english to middle school and high school students across the city. For the last 5 years Jairo has been in the after-school space working as a Program Director for several DYCD programs in the Bronx and Brooklyn as well as opening over 12 after-school programs across New York City.
James C. Gantt, After-School Coordinator, is a New York City scholar, Hip-Hop teaching artist, and producer. He currently serves as the After School Program Coordinator for Reel Works. He has a B.A. in Individualized Studies from Goddard College where he developed a multidisciplinary historical research project titled Nieuw Amsterdam which talks about the history of New York and the positive roles that African descents have had on the cities development. Prior to working at Reel Works, James was a Senior Activity Specialist and Teaching Artist at The Door a Center of Alternatives where he worked with underserved youth between the ages of 12 and 24. During his 3 years at The Door, James received the on the job and offsite professional development that ultimately enhanced his abilities as a youth worker. James is certified in trauma informed care, mandated reporting, LGBT youth sensitivity, advancing youth development, ending violence against women, designing and managing quality mentoring program, and creating safe and inclusive environments for youth.
Ryan Rivard, Producer, Reel Works Productions, is a filmmaker originally from the “Live Free or Die” state. His recent short film OkStupid was an official selection at 2015 Coney Island Film Festival. His credits include Fuse TV, The View, and MLB. He’s produced and directed award-winning short films, including the Audience Choice Award at the Sleepless in Lake Placid filmmaking competition. He holds a BA in Radio/TV/Film from Marist College where he also minored in Creative Writing. Email Ryan.
Liam Mejia Moran, Production Coordinator, Reel Works Productions, is a graduate of the 2005 Spring Lab. His short documentary, Journey to the Unknown screened at Tribeca Film Festival’s 2006 My City My Story. Liam has been featured in Latina Magazine as a young filmmaker to watch, and creates work about the latino community in Brooklyn. He is currently working on a personal Documentary called “Not So different“. He works with Stephanie and Ryan at Reel Works in their student run production department.
Joey Cheng, Development and Communications Associate, recently joined the Reel Works team in June 2017. Joey is eager to share the latest smashing news about our students and programs with the Reel Works’ community. Outside of communications, Joey works closely with the Executive Director to cultivate individual and institutional support for Reel Works’ programs. Prior to Reel Works, Joey supported the Development Department at two other nonprofits, Community-Word Project and The Resolution Project. She received a B.A. in Economics from Cornell University, where she also minored in Business and Psychology.
Keisha Katz, Industry Liaison, is a Queens native and a graduate of the Spring 2007 lab class at Reel Works – her film was recognized at the 42nd Brooklyn Arts Council International Film Festival in 2008. Upon graduation she attended Temple University where she received a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism with a minor in Spanish. She also served on the executive board of her college chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists and is a member of Sigma Lambda Upsilon/Señoritas Latinas Unidas Sorority, Inc. She did work periodically with Reel Works during some of her summers away from school, serving as Art Director for an internet safety video for the NYC Dept. of Education in 2010. She also was as a panelist in the Media That Matters Film Festival in 2011.
After college, Keisha’s relentless networking helped her land a position at Peacock Productions, a division of NBC News, where she would remain for four years producing breaking-news specials, crime series, biographies and clip shows. She later decided to expand her network and began freelancing, during which she worked on projects for ABC, Optomen Productions and Radical Media. During the course of her career, her work has aired on several networks including NBC, Lifetime Network, The Weather Channel, TLC, Investigation Discovery, Animal Planet, History Channel, National Geographic Channel, and Spike TV. In 2014, Keisha co-founded RealGoodSports.com, a website that highlighted professional athletes and their charities and ran for nearly two years comprised of volunteers and interns. She has also written for NBCNews.com and Sharpheels.com. On Sundays, she serves as the director of the Technical Arts team at Epiphany Church in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.Email Keisha.
Alex Faoro, West Prep Academy and Reel Works in Schools, is a Brooklyn-based educator and filmmaker. His work deals primarily with concepts of nostalgia, absurdism and mortality. Over the past years he’s developed curriculum and instructed classes in a manner that promotes critical thinking and experimentation.
Hugo Rojas, Student Teacher, West Prep Academy and Reel Works in Schools, is a Media and Art educator, and multimedia artist. He has a B.A. in International Relations from Mexican University and an M.A. in Media Studies from The New School. With over nine years of experience in education having taught from Spanish Language to Photography and video production in Mexico, Brazil, and NYC. Currently, he is teaching residencies in Manhattan and Brooklyn. He also explores public space through his art interventions, and in his spare time, he bikes around Brooklyn.
Kent Jackman, Activity Specialist, West Prep Academy, training and performing background (as a professional actor, director, and playwright) provide the foundation for his teaching-artist methods; which combine (Stanislavski & Spolin based) theater games and improvisational exercises designed to build confidence, concentration, vocal/physical flexibility, and collective sharing. He worked for many years with City Lights Youth Theatre and developed a number of original productions with student-writers within the summer Origins program. In addition, he is a veteran facilitator following years of experience with Hospital Audiences, Inc. (later known as Healing Arts Initiative) where he conducted prevention-education workshops in topics ranging from HIV/AIDS awareness, to domestic violence and leadership development. Over the years he has had the opportunity to share his theater residencies with students both nationally (Washington DC, Boston, Vegas) and abroad (Bermuda, Colombia, Japan). As a teaching-artist/director/playwright I present Stanislavski & Spolin based workshops designed to allow acting students of diverse backgrounds an opportunity to explore & build upon their innate creative role playing instincts within a supportive, focused, and fun environment. In addition to the collective sharing & self-esteem benefits of these services they can also enhance conflict resolution and decision making, along with nurturing improved leadership and communication skills.
Pablo Herrera, Activity Specialist, West Prep Academy, is a Filmmaker, Producer and Teaching Artist from Argentina. After his graduation from the Faculty of Architecture in 2000, Pablo moved to Barcelona, Spain, where he graduated with a Master’s Degree in Film Production from the University of Barcelona.
In 2004 he co-founded Colectivo Piloto, a non-profit organization with the aim of promoting culture and education through the use of audiovisual resources and media technologies. Since then, Pablo has created and participated as a programmer in multiple film festivals and generated more than 300 events which have involved over 5,000 participants. Pablo has also created and directed 2 web series, 2 films documentaries, and participated in several films projects as an executive producer in Spain, Argentina, and the U.S. As a teaching artist, Pablo has taught filmmaking to more than thousand students and he has inspired many of them to create their own film production companies. In the past 10 years he has been working for several NGOs, institutions and government agencies, including Save the Children, Red Cross, Oxfam and the Barcelona City Council.
In 2015, Pablo co-founded thecplab, a creative agency and a film production company based in New York City. Since then, he have been honored to work for the City of New York and institutions such as the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI), developing educational programs and video campaigns to promote free and equal education and social values. In 2017, he joined the talented Reel Works’ team as a Teaching Artist.
Paola Piers-Torres, Instructor, The Lab, is an award-winning Cuban filmmaker and educator born and raised in Chicago. She is the director of The Chicago Mixtape. She first ran her own after-school site in 2012 at a bilingual public school in North Philadelphia, which is where she began her teaching career. Previously, she served as the Operations Manager for The Chicago Media Project, helping to organize the inaugural Good Pitch Chicago. She has also worked on “America By The Numbers with Maria Hinojosa,” a PBS series whose episode, The New Mad Men, won the Imagen Award for Best National Informational Program.
Shonda Westbrook, Activity Specialist, West Prep Academy, is a Spoken Word Teaching Artist and Chess Teacher. I am currently a graduate student at The New School; Media and Public Engagement. I am passionate for the work of inspiring and building young people combining the Arts, Literacy and Critical Thinking. My goal is to guide young teens toward reaching their greatest potential- using their own natural talents and critical thinking skills.
Yael Horowitz, Group Leader, Student Teacher, West Prep Academy and Reel Works in Schools, is a filmmaker, she graduated from Wesleyan University in 2017 with a degree in Film Studies and African American Studies. She has worked as a cinematographer on short documentary productions and has directed multiple shorts, one of which was her 16-minute thesis film entitled “The Revolution, Televised.” Previously she was the assistant manager at Kidcity Children’s Museum and the camp director at Habonim Dror Camp Moshava. She grew up in South Africa, Venezuela and Tanzania
Alvis Rojas, Student Teacher, The Lab and Machinima, is a Filmmaker and graduate of the 2005 Spring lab. His short documentary 99 Hammers won awards for editing and best personal documentary from the Listenup awards. He’s worked as a freelance editor and videographer, however his passion is in writing and directing. Alvis has a background in fine arts and hopes to bring this experience into his filmmaking and the classroom. After rejoining the Reel Works community, He Helped develop the Machinima program that he currently teaches. He is also teaching in The lab, and is the screenwriting instructor for the Narrative Lab.