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Northwestern School of Communication

David E. Tolchinsky

Professor; Director, Pritzker Pucker Studio Lab for the Promotion and Creation of Mental Health via Cinematic Arts
He is a longtime screenwriter (for various Hollywood studios) and sound designer/composer, and an emerging playwright, director, and producer. His work, which spans comedy and darker fare, often involves teenagers, dystopias, trauma, memory and mental illness. Lately, his work has been centering on health and illness in the modern world, especially illnesses that are not easily explainable.

Area(s) of Expertise

Film Scoring, Media production, Mental Illness and Media, Playwriting, Screenwriting, Sound Design
David E. Tolchinsky

David E. Tolchinsky is the founding director of Northwestern University’s MFA in Writing for Screen and Stage program and current director of the Pritzker Pucker Studio Lab. He is a longtime screenwriter (for various Hollywood studios) and sound designer/composer, and an emerging playwright, director, and producer. His work, which spans comedy and darker fare, often involves teenagers, dystopias, trauma, memory, and mental illness. Lately, his work has been centering on health and illness in the modern world, especially illnesses that are not easily explainable. His film credits include the experimental narrative Creature Companion (producer); the psychological thriller Cassandra (writer/director/composer/sound designer); the documentary Fast Talk (co-producer); the dramatic thriller The Coming of Age (co-producer/screenwriter); the dark comedy Girl (associate producer/screenwriter, from Sony, starring Selma Blair and Tara Reid); the documentary St. Catherine’s Wedding Ring (co-producer/co-director, premiered at Sundance); and Debra Tolchinsky’s The New York Times’ Op-Docs documentary Contaminated Memories (co-producer/composer). In theatrical work he was voted Best Director in 2015 for the New York production of his play Where's the Rest of Me? (which was nominated for Best Play); he co-curated Sick by Seven (seven plays/films about mental health in the modern world) at A Red Orchid Theatre in Chicago as part of its Incubator Series; he recently directed his dark comedy An Attempt to Heal in the Contemporary World, about the rogue psychologist Wilhelm Reich, in New York City; and his play Where’s the Rest of Me? was produced as part of the Road Theatre’s Summer Playwrights Festival.

Beyond the screen and stage, Dave co-curated The Horror Show at Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs in New York City; Shimon Attie: The Neighbor Next Door at the Block Museum, Evanston, Ill.; and The Presence of Absence at the Hairpin Arts Center in Chicago. Dave is developing a TV series about Wilhelm Reich called Heal, the feature version of the thriller Cassandra, a one-person show called Why Ask for the Moon, and is co-producing and scoring Debra Tolchinsky’s feature documentary True Memories and Other Falsehoods (currently in production). Most recently, he produced (along with Brett Neveu and Neil Edelstein) the feature film Night’s End, written by Neveu, directed by Jennifer Reeder, and starring Geno Walker with Michael Shannon and Kate Arrington, to be released on Shudder/AMC on March 31, 2022. He is habitually included on New City’s Film 50: Chicago Screen Gems list. Tolchinsky served as the chair of the Department of Radio/Television/Film from 2007 to 2018. More at


  • MFA Film/Video Production, USC School of Cinema-Television
  • BA Video/Performance Art, Yale (Scholar of the House)
  • Certificates, Digital Audio Processing and Computer Music Composition, MIT's Media Lab

Recent Publications

  • 2015 One-Act play, Where's the Rest of Me?, published in The Best Plays From The Strawberry One-Act Festival. (2015). Van Dirk Fisher (Eds.), vol 8.
  • 2015 Full-length play, Clear, one of six selected to be published in Issue 3/2015 of Proscenium Theatre Journal. The journal also published a long interview with Tolchinsky.
  • 2013 Essay, “Where's the Rest of Me?” thoughts on Spalding Gray and monologue-writing. In Paraphilia Magazine, March 2013 issue.
  • Lipscomb, Scott and Tolchinsky, David (September, 2005). The Role of Music Communication in Cinema in Miehl, MacDonald, Hargreaves, editors, Musical Communication. OUP.
  • Tolchinsky, Debra and Tolchinsky, Dave (June, 2004). Cicadas Could Mean Redemption. Newsday.
  • Tolchinsky, David (April, 2004). Violence in Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ is Well, Too Violent. Newsday.

Recent Awards and Honors


  • Karl Rosengren Faculty Mentoring Award, for being the mentor of the Best 2020-2021 Summer URG Project "making the Invisible Visible: Creating an Accurate Portrayal of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in Film" by Adelaide Young.
  • Nominated, Best Feature Screenplay, Apollo's Curse (formerly Cassandra), Unrestricted View Festival, London, UK.
  • Nominated, Best Feature Screenplay, Apollo's Curse (formerly Cassandra), Mammoth Lakes film Festival, Mammoth Lakes, CA.
  • Nominated, Best Feature Screenplay, Apollo's Curse (formerly Cassandra), Horrorhaus Film Festival, Santa Clarita, CA.
  • Awarded, year-long GA, to support Rebecca Seligman, Peter Locke and Tolchinsky's initiative, Global Mental Representations of Mental Health/Illness, by Buffett Institute for Global Affairs.
  • Platinum Award, Spotlight Films Awards, for Cassandra, January 15. The highest award given.
  • Distribution, Cassandra premiered on Apple TV in 4K and on Amazon Prime.


  • Winner, Best Director, for his film Cassandra, Atlanta Underground Festival, Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Winner, Best Short, for his film Cassandra, Genreblast Film Festival, Winchester, Virginia.
  • Winner, Best Horror Film, for his film Cassandra, Oxford International Short Film Festival, Oxford, UK.
  • Winner, Best Thriller Short, for his film Cassandra, Women in Horror Film Festival, Marietta, Georgia.
  • Winner, Best Editing, for his film Cassandra, Women in Horror Film Festival, Marietta, Georgia (Chad Davis, editor).


  • First place Van Gogh award for his script, Clear, and finalist Van Gogh award for his script Heal at the Amsterdam Film Festival.
  • Grand prize winner for TV pilots, for his script Heal at the Rhode Island International Film Festival.
  • Named Best Director of a Crime Short, at the Anatomy Crime&Horror International Film Festival, for his film Cassandra.
  • Included, New City's Film 50 2019 Chicago's Screen Gems.


  • Special Mention of the International Jury at the Oberhausen Film Festival Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen, for the film Creature Companion, produced by Tolchinsky and Dan Silverstein.


  • Included, New City's Film 50 2017 Chicago's Screen Gems.
  • Silver Award Recipient, Los Angeles Film Review, The Coming of Age (writer/co-producer), Feb 13, 2017.




  • Included, NewCity's Film 50 2013: Chicago's Screen Gems.
  • Recipient, The Contemporary Arts Council's Yearly Grant to Curators, to curate The Presence of Absence at Chicago's Hairpin Arts Center, May 8-June 2, 2013. 


  • Best Documentary Feature, Fast Talk, co-producer, Chagrin Documentary Film Festival, Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
  • Best Documentary, Fast Talk, co-producer, Iowa Film Fest, Iowa.


  • Co-Curator, The Horror Show, Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs, New York City (, chosen as a “Voice Choice for Art” by The Village Voice.


  • Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence.


  • Clarence Simon Award for Outstanding Teaching and Mentoring.


  • Nominee, New Media Fellowship, as part of the Rockefeller/Ford Foundation's Program for Media Artists.


  • Nominations, Motion Picture Sound Editors' Golden Reel Awards in the Special Venue Category.


  • Fellowship Award to the Atlantic Center for the Arts, New Smyrna Beach, FL., to participate in a three-week artist's residency directed by writer-actor Spalding Gray (Monster in a Box, Impossible Vacation, Swimming to Cambodia). One of 10 "mid-career writers" selected.

Recent Press

For Pritzker Pucker Studio Lab
  • Variety, May 19, 2022, "Northwestern's Film Program Shines a Light on Mental Illness" 

For Contaminated Memories (co-producer/composer)

  • New York Times Op-Ed, June 25, 2019, "Contamnated Memories" by Debra Tolchinsky

For An Attempt to Heal in the Contemporary World (written and directed by Tolchinsky at the HB Studio's Playwright's Theatre as part of the 2018 New York International Fringe Festival):

  •, Oct 19, 2018, “An Attempt to Heal in the Contemporary World” by Ed Malin
  • Daily Northwestern, Oct 10, 2018, “Northwestern professor to premiere play on psychoanalyst at New York festival” by Andrew Toban
  • Broadway World, Oct 4, 2018, “An Attempt to Heal in the Contemporary World Comes to FringeBYC”
  • Splash Magazine September 27, 2018, “An Attempt to Heal in the Contemporary World Preview – A Dark, Screwball Comedy” by Barbara Keer
  • Broadway World, September 12, 2018, “New York Theater Festival Features Northwestern Filmmaker's Play About Wilhelm Reich”

For Sick by Seven (the night of plays/videos co-curated by Tolchinsky at A Red Orchid Theatre, Chicago):

  • Splash Magazine, June 22, 2016, “The creators and actors of ‘Sick by Seven' Review- interviews about the profound and the personal nature of this project” by Debra Davy
  • Splash Magazine, June 8, 2016, “‘Sick by Seven' Preview- an upcoming A Red Orchid Theatre incubator series and an interview with auteur/ Professor David E. Tolchinsky” by Debra Davy
  • Broadway World, May 6, 2016, “Sick by Seven Set for a Red Orchid Theatre's Incubator Series”

For The Coming of Age (short film written and produced by Tolchinsky):

For Where's the Rest of Me? (one-act play written by Tolchinsky):

  • Broadway World, February 26, 2015, “Northwestern Professor David E. Tolchinsky Named Best Director at Theatre Festival”
  • Broadway World, February 5, 2015, “Northwestern University Professor David E. Tolchinsky's Debut Play to Premiere in NYC”

For Clear (full-length play written by Tolchinsky):

  • Proscenium Magazine, Sept 1, 2015, Interview with David E. Tolchinsky, writer of Clear

Selected Mentions/Quotations

  • Interviewed/quoted in The Chicago Maroon, “Grant Will Explore Echoes of Hollywood in ISIS Propaganda,” by Emily Kramer, February 23, 2016
  • Interviewed/quoted in ABC7Chicago's “HOW ISIS RECRUITING VIDEOS MIRROR HOLLYWOOD SCRIPTS,” by Chuck Goudie and Barb Markoff – live and on their web site, February 9, 2016
  • Interviewed/quoted extensively in New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing, “Script Development and the Hidden Practices of Screenwriting: Perspectives from Industry Professionals,” by Stayci Taylor & Craig Batty, December 14, 2015
  • Interviewed/quoted in The Chicago Tribune, “New ‘Star Trek' episodes push us closer to streaming service overload” by Nina Metz, November 4, 2015. Picked up nationally via newswire services so published in multiple local newspapers and web sites.
  • Interviewed/spotlighted about the meaning of Spock and Leonard Nimoy's death (and mostly my Spock collection) in The Chicago Tribune, “Northwestern Professor Has Spock Collection that's out of this World” by Duaa Eldeib, February 27, 2015
  • Interviewed/quoted extensively, Yale Daily News, “Screenwriting grows amidst limited resources” by Caroline Wray, November 21, 2014
  • Interviewed/quoted, The Independent, “Outsider Writers: Four Not-in-LA Grad Programs in Screenwriting,” by Jared M. Gordon, March 26, 2013 regarding one of the four programs was NU's MFA in Writing for Screen and Stage which I direct.


  • 561 Foundations of Writing for the Screen+Stage
  • 360 Writing Chronological Innovations
  • 464 Writing Mental Health/Illness
  • 360 Writing the Horror Screenplay
  • 360 Writing the Teen-Centered Screenplay
  • 360 Writing the Comic Book Adaptation
  • 360 Writing the Unraveling/Psychotic Screenplay
  • 360 Writing at the Frontier
  • 360 Designing Dialogue
  • 384 Foundations of Sound Design
  • 350-2 Adaptation/Business of Creative Writing for the Media