SCAD TVfest 2023 brought industry leaders for awards, panel discussions

Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty Images for SCAD

Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty Images for SCAD

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

After a three-year break from live events because of the pandemic, SCAD TVfest returned Feb. 9-11 with its usual assortment of television screenings, panel discussions and special guests.

The splashiest presence was that of Sarah Michelle Gellar, making her return to series TV with “Wolf Pack,” filmed in Atlanta. She received the 2023 Icon Award and attended the event and series screening with co-stars Chloe Rose Robertson, Armani Jackson, Bella Shepard and Rodrigo Santoro, as well as executive producer Jeff Davis. Based on the book series by Edo Van Belkom, Wolf Pack is a drama/horror/fantasy piece that follows the aftermath of a California wildfire that awakens a supernatural creature. The series premiered in January and has already aired three episodes. While some Atlanta locations are clearly visible in the first episode, fans longing for a healthy dose of Gellar may be disappointed. While she serves as an executive producer as well, she has very little screen time early on.

Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty Images for SCAD

Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty Images for SCAD

Sterlin Harjo, the creator, executive producer and showrunner of “Reservation Dogs,” was presented with the Variety Showrunner Award. He feels that the series has caught on because of its quality storytelling, but it’s also been important for the showrunners to portray indigenous characters accurately. “I think people enjoy the characters, the world and the way we tell the story,” he says. “There hasn’t been a TV show or anything really that has accurately portrayed native people’s lives, especially in a contemporary setting -- or any setting. It was a very simple idea -- let’s show the truth about our community and where we are from. The people in the show are descendants of people whose homelands were where we are standing now and moved to Oklahoma. No one knows anything about anything as far as native people go, so it was an easy and great opportunity to tell the truth about our community.”

Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty Images for SCAD

Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty Images for SCAD

Elsewhere, Wes Bentley of “Yellowstone” accepted the Virtuoso Award and Craig Robinson of the comedy “Killing It” received the Spotlight Award.

Among other appearances, the casts of the locally shot “Gotham Knights” (which premieres in March) and the Georgia-filmed “Fear the Walking Dead” (in its final season) appeared at screenings, as did the ensemble of “All American: Homecoming,” which takes place in Atlanta but ironically is filmed in California.

“Tours & Attractions” was a SCAD TVfest world premiere screening, a sitcom from the student Emmy Award-winning team behind SCAD’s “The Buzz,” “Nailed It!,” and “G.R.I.T.S.” Made by an all-Savannah cast and crew, “Tours” centers around a group of college students, in the final summer before graduation, putting some creative spins on the tours they give as part of Sweet T Tours, Savannah’s number one tour company. Producer Alyse Landry also worked on “G.R.I.T.S.” and fell in love with the TV world when she stepped on the Savannah set as a student. “I wanted to shoot on location and show the world we can make a multi-cam stage show,” she admits. “The previous sitcoms never went outside of the studio.”

Her goal was to make sure she had a collaborative team and that everyone was telling their own story. “Diversity was very important, as well as having an ensemble who was their authentic self.” Landry is hopeful of finding a distributor for the series.

Now in its 11th year, the event is all about television -- celebrating new series, returning ones and those who create and appear in them.

Since its last in-person festival in 2020, SCADshow -- formerly the 14th Street Playhouse -- has been sold, and this year’s screening venues were SCAD Atlanta, the FORTY event space and Midtown’s Bishop Station.

The Meet the Executives: Georgia panel proved to be one of the event’s most lively and fascinating discussions. Its panelists were Pola Changnon, general manager of Atlanta-based Turner Classic Movies; Shayla Cowan, producer and chief of staff of Will Packer Productions and Media; Elon Johnson, senior creative executive and head of development at Atlanta’s Tyler Perry Studios; and LaRonda Sutton, owner and principal of and co-president of Georgia Production Partnership. It was especially significant and notable that the panel was an all-female one.

Changnon spoke of navigating the waters of Turner Classic Movies over the last quickly-changing years as Turner became WarnerMedia and then Warner Bros. Discovery. “Turner Classic Movies is incredibly fortunate -- we are a small network and we managed to survive these difficult waters,” she says. “We are in Atlanta and can just dig into what we are doing.”

Cowan started as an assistant with Will Packer and last year the two became the first Black producing team of the Academy Awards. She is also an Emmy nominee. She called Atlanta her home for a while and was asked by Packer to move to Los Angeles -- and he gave her 24 hours to think about it. She was hesitant at first and called a mentor, who said she was “nuts” and hung up on her when she heard her non-dilemma. Cowan made the decision to move the next day and called it the right decision. “We released four movies in one year,” she says.

On the other hand, Johnson, a native New Yorker, always thought she’d stay in the Big Apple or go international. Yet, she wound up moving around a lot because she lived a freelance life. She was committed to be a creative and at one time moved to Los Angeles. When she was asked to come here, at first her reaction was . . . Atlanta? “Then I came to the studio and went -- oh, Atlanta! I didn’t even get fully on the lot and said ‘I guess I’m moving to Atlanta.’”

Given that the state has become such a home for the TV and film industry, Sutton is very pro-Atlanta and Georgia. “We are a $4.4 billion industry with over 100 sound stages and over 1100 infrastructure businesses and the largest land division since Hollywood,” she says. Yet, the state’s tax incentives are frequently under attack -- and she advises those who have been affected by these incentives to write to their senators and advocate to keep them.

Her advice for those locals looking for a place to work is to stay put. “There is a place for you here. You don’t have to leave. You can tell your Georgia stories here and can find your tribe here.”


Jim Farmer covers theater and film for ArtsATL. A graduate of the University of Georgia, he has written about the arts for 30-plus years. Jim is the festival director of Out on Film, Atlanta’s LGBTQ film festival. He lives in Avondale Estates with his husband, Craig, and dog, Douglas.

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL


ArtsATL (, is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

If you have any questions about this partnership or others, please contact Senior Manager of Partnerships Nicole Williams at