The Distinguished Contributions to Popular Culture Award honors our Keynote speaker each year. The Award recognizes the unique contributions that our speakers have made in the entertainment and media industries.
Philo Barnhart is professional film animator living in Oak Park, IL, known for his work on feature-length films: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Rescuers Down Under, The Secret of NIMH, Happily Ever After, An American Tail, and special effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Philo worked many animated TV shows and video games including The Smurfs, Scooby Doo, Jem and the Holograms, Space Ace, Dragons Lair, and many more. He worked on consumer products for several years with Disney, and to this day you can still find his artwork still being used on toys, books, home electronics/appliances, apparel, and posters. Philo's parents Dale Barnhart and Phyllis Barnhart were both animators at Disney's animation studios. Growing up watching the magic of art become animation, he spends his life continuing the tradition of making stories come to life through art. Currently Philo is working with Silver Phoenix Entertainment Inc. His latest comic title is Whispers from the Void
Rachel Talalay is a celebrated and successful writer, producer, and director who made her film directoral debut in 1991 with Nightmare on Elm Street 6: Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. In addition to directing films such as Tank Girl and Ghost in the Machine, Rachel has become a prolific television director as well, including becoming Doctor Who’s first female director in four years, helming multiple episodes (including the 2017 Christmas episode...). She’s also directed episodes of Sherlock, The Flash, Supergirl, Riverdale, Reign, Legends of Tomorrow, Kyle XY, Boston Public, Ally MacBeal, Haven, Cold Case and The Dead Zone.
Alanna Bennett is a Film and TV Writer for Buzzfeed. She is perhaps best known for her writings on Harry Potter and racebending Hermione Grainger. She has written previously for The Mary Sue, Bustle, and The Harry Potter Alliance. She writes entertaining content about entertainment, has interviewed talent, appeared on camera, covered live events, and worked in innovative formats. She tweets at @AlannaBennett
Emmy-nominated Brannon Braga is currently a Writer, Executive Producer, and Co-Creator of the drama series “Salem,” WGN America’s first original series. Set in the volatile world of 17th century Massachusetts, “Salem” explores what really fueled the infamous witch trials, uncovering the suspenseful, supernatural truth of this dark period in American history. It was recently renewed for it’s third Season. Braga also served as Executive Producer and Director on FOX’s re-launch of “COSMOS,” the iconic 1980 television miniseries from Carl Sagan. Recently he served as Executive Producer and Writer on FOX’s “Terra Nova” along with Steven Spielberg. Prior to that, Braga was an Executive Producer and writer on the award-winning drama series “24.” Braga also created “Flashforward” and served as an Executive Producer on the series. Braga previously worked as writer and Executive Producer on the sci-fi drama series “Threshold.” Braga was a key creative force in one of the most enduring and well-known science-fiction franchises as a creator, writer and Executive Producer of more than 300 episodes of the “Star Trek” series. For over 13 years collectively, he worked on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Star Trek: Enterprise.” His film credits include “Mission: Impossible II,” “Star Trek: Generations” and “Star Trek: First Contact.” In 1990, Braga received the prestigious Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Internship, which led to his involvement with “Star Trek.” He attended UC SANTA CRUZ.
Robbie Thompson was co-executive producer of Supernatural and the author of some of the most thrilling episodes of the show, including the 200th anniversary episode, "Fan Fiction.” He has previously worked on the series Jericho, Human Target, and The Cape, and is currently working on a Marvel comic series, Silk.
Screenwriter Cheryl Cain began her working experience with Joss Whedon as an Assistant Production Coordinator for Fox’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and was thrilled to return a few years later as a writer for Fox’s “Firefly”. She’s also written for Warner Brother’s “Roswell” and ABC’s “Threat Matrix.” Cain studied writing at UCLA Extension and currently lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is working on two feature film projects and a short story adaptation.
Robert Shearman's best-known contribution to Doctor Who is as the writer of 'Dalek,’ the first season story that reintroduced the pepperpots to the 21st century and was nominated for a Hugo award. But his Who work stretches across all media: short stories, comic strips, and seven Big Finish audios, and a guide to the black and white years of the original series. His original short story collections have collectively won the World Fantasy Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, the Edge Hill Readers Prize, and two British Fantasy Awards; his radio writing for the BBC has won two Sony Awards; his plays for the theatre have won the Sunday Times Playwriting Award, the World Drama Trust Award, and the Guinness Award in association with the Royal National Theatre. He has lectured in creative writing at Middlesex University, and was writer in residence at Edinburgh Napier University.