Diverse Creators Turn to New Media for Production Opportunities

New Media Film and TV Production
dawid ryski for Variety

The Oscars are behind us, but the controversy over the under-representation of racial and ethnic minorities and women in the film industry isn’t going away any time soon. Particularly in the nitty-gritty world of production, two women are using new technology to take matters into their own hands.

Production, of course, begins with financing, which itself is a male-dominated field, according Emily Best, an indie filmmaker who three years ago started crowdfunding and distribution platform Seed&Spark.

“The (existing) systems … are built for a very tiny percentage of white men,” says Best. “But if you use the new landscape the digital space has created, then you’re not married to the strictures of the system. We simply don’t have to spend our time beating down a door that was never open to us.”

Rachel Skidmore, director of media development and production at Skybound Entertainment, which produces content for comic books, film and TV, agrees. “Digital is where you can make space for yourself,” she says.

Best didn’t set out to create a funding source that favors women, but, as it turned out, 60% of the projects funded by Seed&Spark are female-driven — and benefit from the crowdfunder’s 75% success rate, according to the company.

One such project, “The Camel’s Back,” a thesis film by Nairobi-born Yale senior Michelle Mboya, quickly received 120% of its funding.

Set to be shot in remote Kenya locations, it will tell the story of an African teenager who believes she has one day left to live.

“We simply don’t have to spend our time beating down a door that was never open to us.”
Emily Best, Seed&Spark

The company’s crop extends to a variety of other projects, including Brooklyn-set Web drama “Money & Violence,” picked up by Jay Z’s Tidal streaming service, and Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren’s “The Dog,” a docu about the would-be bank robber who inspired “Dog Day Afternoon,” which was gobbled up by Cinedigm.

As CEO, Best is primarily focused on raising money, but she has traveled to more than 50 cities to educate filmmakers on using crowdfunding to build a relationship with audiences, and to take home the knowledge she gains from meeting with such creatives to construct  “the best audience-building product we can.”

Skidmore has found an audience on YouTube. She co-developed and exec-produced original series “Scare PewDiePie,” along with Robert Kirkman, David Alpert and Kevin Healey, for YouTube Red, the streamer’s new paid-subscription service. “Now, YouTube is only a portion of what I take on, since there’s more opportunity for over-the-top content,” she says.

Skidmore also is working on “Gone,” a live-action, scripted, 360-degree interactive VR thriller series from director J.T. Petty (“Splinter Cell,” “The Burrowers”). Virtual reality entertainment, she believes, is here to stay. “It is going to be what 3D wanted to be,” she says.

Both Skidmore, who previously worked with YouTube creators and digital talent at Big Frame, and Best think that the digital world is far more democratized than that of traditional filmmaking. “If you want to make something,” Skidmore says, “you can go out and do it right now. You don’t have to wait for someone to anoint you to become successful.”

Adds Best: “This is an utterly different landscape, where anyone who is a self-starter can really excel.”

Skidmore recently spearheaded a writers workshop in conjunction with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at YouTube Space L.A. Next up: panels at WonderCon and SXSW. In digital, new voices are always clamoring to be heard.

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