Selected Screenplay Readings: ‘The Leftover Ladies’ and ‘Back Seat’

On Wednesday night, February 15, in New York City, HamptonsFilm presented screenplay readings of selected scenes from two of our recent Melissa Mathison Fund recipients, Lana Wilson’s Back Seat and Farida Zahran’s The Leftover Ladies

Lana Wilson (in 2021) and Farida Zahran (in 2022) were selected to receive support from the Melissa Mathison Fund, established in 2016 and named for the late Hollywood screenwriter of iconic films such as E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL. The Fund ​supports HIFF’s annual Screenwriters Lab, and in particular, is instrumental in ensuring that female voices are showcased.​ ​This reading is a direct result of receiving this fund, and will take these two screenwriters one step further in their film’s production. Support women in film with a donation.

Read more about the selected screenplays and the cast below.


A 60-something woman tries to leave her polygamous husband after he expresses a renewed commitment to their stale relationship.

Screenwriter: Farida Zahran

Farida Zahran is an Egyptian writer/director based in Brooklyn, working across film and TV. Most recently, she wrote on the acclaimed TV series Ramy (A24 & Hulu). Her short film, YOUTH, premiered at SXSW in 2019 and screened at festivals worldwide. It received an Oscar-qualifying award at Palm Springs ShortFest, and is a Vimeo Staff Pick.

Farida has been supported by programs such as the NYFF Artist Academy, Pillars Artist Fellowship, Hamptons Film, Sundance Screenwriters Lab and Cairo Film Connection. She is a graduate of NYU Tisch’s Graduate Film Program. Farida is currently in development on her debut feature as well as a half-hour series.


When a single split-second decision leads to a woman’s life turning upside down, she fights to prove that she’s a worthy mother—to the courts, her children, and herself.

Screenwriter: Lana Wilson

Lana Wilson is an Emmy-winning and two-time Spirit Award-nominated writer and director. Her new two-part documentary Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields had its world premiere at Sundance 2023 and will be released on Hulu in the spring. Previously, her Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana was the opening night film of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and a Netflix Original. Miss Americana was a New York Times and IndieWire Critic’s Pick, is “Certified Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, and was named one of the five best documentaries of the year by the National Board of Review.

Wilson’s previous film, The Departure, about a punk-turned-priest in Japan, was called “a work of art” by the San Francisco Chronicle and a “genuinely spiritual experience” by the Washington Post. The Departure premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2017, played at festivals around the world, and was nominated for the 2018 Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary. Wilson’s first film, After Tiller (2013), goes inside the lives of the four most-targeted abortion providers in the country, taking a powerful and complex look at one of the most incendiary issues of our time. After Tiller premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and went on to win an Emmy Award for Best Documentary. It was also nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary, four Cinema Eye Honors, a Satellite Award, and the Ridenhour Prize.

Wilson also works in episodic series. She created and directed A Cure for Fear, a four-episode series for Topic, which played SXSW and was nominated for the 2019 International Documentary Association Award for Best Short-Form Series. Wilson is currently in pre-production on her first fiction feature, Back Seat, for which she received the SFFILM Westridge Screenwriting Grant and the Melissa Mathison Fund Award at the Hamptons Film Screenwriters Lab.

Wilson has been awarded artist fellowships from the Sundance Institute, MacDowell, Yaddo, and Film Independent, and has lectured at Pratt Institute. She was named to DOC NYC’s inaugural “40 Under 40” list and is a recipient of the 2019 Chicken & Egg Award. Wilson is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


Hend Ayoub is an actor and writer, most recently seen in the world premiere production of First Down at NYC’s 59E59 Theater. Additional theatre credits include Broadway’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo with Robin Williams, as well as its previous run at Los Angeles’s Mark Taper Forum; A Thousand Splendid Suns (Arena Stage); Kiss (Yale Repertory Theatre); and Veils (world premiere, Portland Stage; Barrington Stage). Television credits include Homeland, Orange Is The New Black, The Looming Tower, Madam Secretary, Royal Pains, Feed the Beast, The Accidental Wolf, Comedy Central’s The Watch List, and recurring roles on Transparent and Damages. In film, she co-starred in the Emmy Award-winning film DEATH OF A PRESIDENT and the multiple award-winning film PRIVATE, and has just finished shooting a new film called IF YOU SEE SOMETHING.

Inji El Gammal was born in Cairo, Egypt and grew up in Paris, France, where she studied literature and philosophy. She returned to Egypt to graduate from the American University in Cairo with a minor in theatre. El Gammal then moved to New York City advocating for autism, while pursuing her acting career. Undistracted by the shiny elements in her medium, she is able to fully invest herself in any character. El Gammal studied drama therapy at the New School in New York. She also had classic and contemporary theatre trainings at Stella Adler; film and theatre training at the Simon Studio (actor resident until current day). Credits include the stage play Under the Tree, performed at the Howard Theatre and at the Egyptian Opera. She starred in the stage play Bismillah, performed in New York, for which she won the All Arts Award for Best Feature Performance in 2019. El Gammal was seen this fall in season three of Ramy (Hulu). Her most recent work includes Banned, stage play at The Row Theatre in New York, and Superman and Serena at the Hudson Guild Theatre in New York. Other credits include the independent films 3 DEEDS, HIS. MAN, HELLO AU REVOIR, POSTCARDS OF THE ORIENT, SEKHMET, and ABDO AND SANEYA (coming in 2023).

Nasser Faris is an Egyptian-American film, TV, and stage actor. He has trained with a number of notable acting teachers and at a number of studios, including the Herbert-Berghoff Studios in NYC and the Beverly Hills Playhouse in L.A. His film credits include ROSEWATER and THE WEEK OF, he was the voice of Jamal Khashoggi in KINGDOM OF SILENCE, and he was a recurring guest-star on For Life, The Looming Tower, and The Last O.G.

Now living just outside of NYC, Salem Hadeed is a proud Syrian-American born and raised on the island of Trinidad. She found the dramatic arts after moving to the U.S., which helped her find a place where she fit, able to draw from her diverse upbringing to create rich characters. She has appeared in some amazing shows such as Stranger Things, Marvel’s Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Abe, and the upcoming Netflix show The Three Body Problem, playing both native and non-native English speakers. Her short film UZMA THE GREATEST has been seen in various prestigious festivals, including Cannes.

As an actor, Najla has performed Off-Broadway, regionally and internationally, as well as in film and television. Favorite theatre credits include Heather Raffo’s Nine Parts of Desire (Seattle Rep), Karen Malpede’s Prophecy (NYC and London), and Naomi Wallace’s The Fever Chart: Three Visions of the Middle East (Central Square Theater). In April 2010, Najla completed an eight-week Off-Broadway run of her solo show, Palestine. That same year, she was named one of “Forty Feminists Under Forty” by The Feminist Press. Since her Off-Broadway run ended, Najla has performed Palestine in over 50 high schools, colleges, universities, and events around the country and the world. Najla is one of New York Theatre Workshop’s “Usual Suspects.” In 2012, she collaborated with Vanessa Redgrave on A World I Loved, based on her grandmother’s memoir, which premiered at The Brighton Festival in the UK, and The Miller Theatre in collaboration with The Public Theatre in New York. Recent TV/Film: NCIS:New Orleans, New Amsterdam, and the upcoming season of FX’s Feud. She is also the author of a memoir: Looking For Palestine: Growing Up Confused In An Arab-American Family (Riverhead, 2013).

NYC-born and bred. Zoe Zien’s credits include City on A Hill (Showtime) and WeCrashed (Apple TV). She recently finished filming an indie short film, SHADOW, where she was the lead. In another life, Zoe was a professional ballet dancer and danced with the Miami City Ballet. She was also the Associate Choreographer for the 2018 Broadway production of Carousel.

Cast for Back Seat

Theater credits include As You Like It, Marisol, The Misanthrope, Blood Wedding, and The Possibilities at Purchase Repertory Theatre. Training includes an Acting B.F.A. from Purchase College, State University of New York. Carson would like to thank her farm animals back in Georgia. Instagram: @car.vroom.son.

Abby Burris is an NYC-based actor and recent graduate of the BFA acting program at SUNY Purchase. Past credits include the US Premiere of Sexual Misconduct of The Middle Classes at Bridge Street Theatre; and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Sweat, Life is a Dream, Henry IV, and Marisol at Purchase Repertory Theatre.

Arash DeMaxi will begin production as a series regular in The Irrational for NBC, and has a recurring role in the recently released Netflix drama, Partner Track. His other television credits include guest-starring roles in Chicago Med and New Amsterdam for NBC, The Equalizer on CBS, and Modern Love on Amazon Prime. DeMaxi was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area to Iranian immigrants, and is a fluent Farsi speaker. Also a musician, DeMaxi has been playing guitar since early childhood. His first EP, Arash DeMaxi, can be found on all streaming platforms. DeMaxi is a graduate of the Acting Program at Pace University.

A recent graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in Film and TV Production, Stirling duBell has been enjoying working in different roles—as an actor in independent films, as a casting assistant on independent features and shorts, and as a production assistant on features, shorts and commercials. At NYU, she had a concentration in writing, and has completed her first feature script and first pilot script.

Most recently, Emily Meade stars in the upcoming Dead Ringers series opposite Rachel Weisz for Amazon. She was a series regular on HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Deuce, as well as a series regular on HBO’s The Leftovers. She recently starred in Ed Zwick’s TRIAL BY FIRE, opposite Jack O’Connell and Laura Dern.

Fina Strazza most recently played the series lead KJ Brandman in Amazon’s Paper Girls. She made her Broadway debut at eight years old in the title role of Matilda the Musical. She starred in Mariah Carey’s directorial debut, Hallmark Channel’s A Christmas Melody, and recorded with Carey a revision of the legendary singer’s number one single, “Oh, Santa!” Fina has recurred on Law and Order: SVU, has been seen in episodes of Madam Secretary and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and has appeared in the television specials Mariah Carey’s Merriest Christmas and CBS’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (as Matilda). Her film credits include ABOVE THE SHADOW, A LITTLE GAME, EARLY LEARNINGS, FRACTURED, TRIBE, and the upcoming WHO FRAMED TOMMY CALLAHAN? Off-Broadway and theater credits include Animal (Atlantic Theater Company); A Loss of Roses (St Clements Theater); Snow Child (Arena Stage); Diana (Powerhouse Theater); Anastasia (Hartford Stage pre-Broadway workshop); Summer and Smoke (Classic Stage); Alice Bliss (Playwrights Horizon); Wonder (Broadway workshop).

John Zdrojeski most recently appeared on the New York stage at Playwright’s Horizons in Heroes of the Fourth Turning, a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He will soon make his Broadway debut opposite Sean Hayes in Good Night, Oscar as “George Gershwin,” a role he originated at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago this past year. Other theatre credits include Romeo and Juliet at Huntington Theatre and Before We’re Gone at 13th Street Rep. On television, John has guest starred on Billions, The Code, and Madam Secretary. He is a graduate of the NYU Tisch MFA Acting program.

Producer, BACK SEAT
Shrihari Sathe is a New York-based director and producer. Sathe most recently won the 2019 Film Independent Spirit Award–Producers Award. His credits as producer/co-producer include Bassam Jarbawi’s SCREWDRIVER, Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam’s THE SWEET REQUIEM, Mostofa Sarwar Farooki’s NO LAND’S MAN, Eliza Hittman’s IT FELT LIKE LOVE and BEACH RATS, Partho Sen-gupta’s SUNRISE (ARUNODAY), Afia Nathaniel’s DUKHTAR, amongst others. Sathe’s feature directorial debut 1000 RUPEE NOTE has received over 30 awards. His latest co-production, Francisca Alegría’s THE COW WHO SANG A SONG INTO THE FUTURE, had its world premiere at 2022 Sundance Film Festival and his latest production, Jamie Sisley’s STAY AWAKE, had its world premiere at the 2022 Berlinale, where it received two awards. He has received fellowships from the HFPA, PGA, Trans Atlantic Partners, IFP, Film Independent and The Sundance Institute to name a few. In 2016, Sathe received the Cinereach Producer Award. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor and Senior Production Advisor at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and a Lecturer at SUNY Stony Brook’s Manhattan Center for Creative Writing and Film. Sathe is a member of the PGA, IMPPA and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).


Susan Shopmaker has over 25 years of feature film credits to her name. In 2018 she won the Casting Society of America’s Artios Award for Eliza Hittman’s BEACH RATS and previously won an Artios Award for Sean Durkin’s acclaimed Sundance drama MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, and was also nominated for Darius Marder’s Academy Award-winning film SOUND OF METAL, GOAT (Andrew Neel), JAMES WHITE (Josh Mond), Cannes winner AFTERSCHOOL (Antonio Campos), and Disney’s ENCHANTED.

This past year Susan cast Alexander Payne’s THE HOLDOVERS, Alonso Ruizpalacios’s LA COCINA , Michel Franco’s MEMORY, and Sean Durkin’s THE IRON CLAW . She cast Paul Schrader’s FIRST REFORMED and THE CARD COUNTER, and worked on his latest, THE MASTER GARDENER. Susan also cast John Cameron Mitchell’s cult classic HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, and Michel Franco’s CHRONIC (Cannes 2015 Award Winner and 2017 Spirit Award Nominee), Franco’s SUNDOWN (2021) and THE NEST for Sean Durkin.

Susan always enjoys working with Lois Drabkin.

Lois Drabkin is a Casting Director who has cast a wide range of projects, most notably in independent film, and many for first-time directors. Among those features, numerous ones have screened at prestigious festivals, won awards, and have garnered Independent Spirit Award acting nominations. Additional credits include the Emmy-winning first season of the Showtime documentary series investigating climate change, Years of Living Dangerously, and the second season of the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary series The Vow. She has also worked as part of the casting teams for Steven Spielberg’s WAR OF THE WORLDS, the acclaimed HBO series The Wire, and Michael Mann’s PUBLIC ENEMIES. A member of the Casting Society, Lois has been nominated for multiple Artios Awards for Outstanding Casting.

The annual HamptonsFilm Screenwriters Lab, celebrating 23 years in 2023 (April 14-16), pairs emerging screenwriters with established screenwriters, directors and producers for a collaborative weekend of one-on-one mentoring sessions each spring in the Hamptons.