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Top Row (L-R): Shaz Bennett, Jill D’Agnenica

Bottom Row (L-R): Leena Pendharkar, Ian Truitner

LOS ANGELES – Oct. 22, 2019 – CBS today announced participants for the 2019-2020 Directors Initiative. Now in its 16th year, the initiative provides a platform for experienced directors to gain access to showrunners, executives, managers and agents and, more importantly, the opportunity to shadow CBS Television Network and CBS Television Studio shows throughout the year. The program helps directors develop strategic objectives aimed at cultivating meaningful relationships with industry professionals that are essential to getting hired.

The access provided through our Directors Initiative gives television directors valuable first-hand exposure to the CBS Television Network’s episodic directing process,” said Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, Executive Vice President, Entertainment Diversity, Inclusion and Communications, CBS Entertainment. “Our participants spend quality time on set and begin fostering constructive connections with showrunners, producers and executives with the objective of cultivating relationships that enable them to be considered for employment. Last year’s participants directed episodes of GOD FRIENDED ME, NCIS: NEW ORLEANS, BULL and DYNASTY following the program. The success of this initiative has created a growing community of support, where past participants, who are now in positions of influence, are mentoring and hiring current participants.”

This year’s participants are listed below. Click here to download their photos.

Shaz Bennett (Drama Director) worked in a fish cannery; bartended at a mafia bar; was a film programmer at Sundance, the L.A. Film Festival and AFI FEST; peddled liquor undercover; developed films for actor Giancarlo Esposito; and was Cher’s stand-in for a day, all before working in film and television. Her films and performance pieces have been viewed in festivals, theaters, museums and abandoned warehouses all over the United States, Mexico, Canada, South Africa and Europe. Selected as one of Fox’s Top 20, Sundance Screenwriting Labs with director Crystal Moselle (“Skate Kitchen,” “The Wolfpack”), Bennett’s original pilot, “The Salt Flats,” was included as one of the top unproduced scripts written by women for WeForShe and the Blacklist. Bennett’s debut feature film, “Alaska Is a Drag,” which she wrote and directed, was highlighted as one to watch in Vogue, Filmmaker and OUT magazine. It also won Best Feature Film and Jury awards for Best Director at New Filmmakers L.A., Leeds, Chattanooga, Urbanworld and the Smithsonian African American Film Festival, among others. Bennett’s first television writing job was on “The Glades” on A&E. Later, she joined the writing team for “UnREAL” on Lifetime and produced the popular spin-off “The Faith Diaries.” She directed her first episodic for Ava Duvernay’s “Queen Sugar” on the Oprah Winfrey Network, and currently she writes on the police procedural “Bosch” on Amazon.


Jill D’Agnenica (Drama Director) is a multiple award-winning filmmaker and visual artist. The Los Angeles Times called “Life Inside Out,” Jill’s directorial debut, “a gentle, poignant drama whose heart and head are squarely in the right place.” Since then, D’Agnenica has directed a series of PSAs for the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, music and art videos, and her first episode of television on Freeform’s “Switched at Birth.” Her tragi-comic absurdist short, “A Dog’s Story,” is currently making the festival rounds. As an editor, D’Agnenica has crafted 76 hours of primetime television on shows including “How to Get Away with Murder” (ABC), “Lucifer” (Fox), “Pretty Little Liars” (Freeform), “Switched at Birth” (Freeform), “Undercovers” (NBC), “Hollywood Heights” (Nickelodeon), and “The Division” (Lifetime). Currently, she is editing Freeform’s “Party of Five” reboot. She holds a BA in history from UCLA and an MFA in visual art from Claremont Graduate University. She enjoys sharing experiences with fellow filmmakers, including moderating panels for Slamdance, Phoenix Film Festival, SAG/Aftra Foundation and the DGA Women’s Steering Committee, and teaching Master Classes at the Motion Picture Editors Guild. She is a member of Film Independent, Film Fatales, the Motion Picture Editors Guild and the Directors Guild of America.


Leena Pendharkar (Drama Director) is an award-winning writer and director. She premiered her sophomore feature film, “20 Weeks,” at the Los Angeles Film Festival. It won the Best Feature Film Award at the Maryland Film Festival, and was selected as one of the best independent films of 2017 by Film Threat. Also, it was described as an “intimate, compassionate take on abortion” by the Los Angeles Times. It was released theatrically in 10 cities in April 2018, and is now available on a number of other platforms. Pendharker has also directed a number of short films including “Awaken,” starring Parminder Nagra, which is nearing completion. Also, she directed “Scrap,” which won the Best Director award at the First Glance Film Festival, and “Dandekar Makes a Sandwich,” winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Indian Film Festival of L.A. and selected as a Vimeo Staff pick. Her first feature film, “Raspberry Magic,” played in festivals all over the country, and was distributed on Starz, Hulu and other platforms. She teaches film production at Loyola Marymount University.


Ian Truitner’s (Drama Director) foray into directing combines service in the U.S. Army with stage production. In the theater, he gained the proficiency of working collaboratively with actors, and as a combat photographer in the U.S. Army, he learned how to work with teams and adjust on the fly under pressure. Truitner’s first few short films were created by leveraging those amalgamated skills, resulting in numerous festivals and leading to his first feature film, “Cutting Room,” one of the early films on the Netflix streaming platform. His second feature, “Teleios,” was a multi-award-winning sci-fi film and distributed by Screen Media Films. His directing projects have been shown at the following festivals: SXSW, Milan International, Palm Springs, Seattle International and London Sc-Fi Film Festivals. When he’s not busy directing, he spends his time teaching filmmaking classes in the LAUSD area, and also mentors fellow military veterans who are transitioning to civilian life and starting businesses. He has an MBA from Penn State University and a BA in theater from the University of Minnesota (cum laude). Truitner is a member of the Asian American Committee at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and is also a protégé in the 2019-2020 DGA Directors Development Initiative (DDI) for episodic television.

Past participants of the CBS Directors Initiative include Zetna Fuentes (MADAM SECRETARY, “Zoo,” “Jane the Virgin”), Laura Belsey (NCIS: NEW ORLEANS, BULL, CRIMINAL MINDS), Lily Mariye (CRIMINAL MINDS, NCIS: LOS ANGELES, MACGYVER), Kevin Berlandi (BULL, CRIMINAL MINDS) and Jennifer Derwingson (NCIS: NEW ORLEANS), among others.

The CBS Directors Initiative also hosts various events throughout the year for all directors looking to gain access to CBS producers and showrunners.

For more information about CBS Diversity & Inclusion, please visit:

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Press Contact:

Christine Park