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Octavia Spencer, Common Among Mentors for AT&T Hello Lab’s Short-Film Initiative

AT&T has enlisted Oscar winners Octavia Spencer and Common as mentors for an initiative giving five aspiring young filmmakers funding and resources — including exclusive distribution on DirecTV Now — for their short-film projects.

The mentorship program is being launched by AT&T Hello Lab, the digital studio collaboration with Fullscreen Media that produces content for social platforms. The five filmmakers picked for the program come from diverse backgrounds, and each of their shorts tells a different coming-of-age story. The films are slated to debut on DirecTV Now in the fourth quarter of 2017.

In addition to Spencer and Common, the other mentors in the AT&T Hello Lab program are director Rick Famuyiwa (“Dope,” “Confirmation”), director-actress Desiree Akhavan (“Appropriate Behavior”) and producer Nina Yang Bongiovi (“Fruitvale Station,” “Dope”).

Under the program, the mentors will provide guidance to the filmmakers on directing, pitching their work, and managing budgets. In addition, AT&T Hello Lab has tapped a group of industry advisers — including studio and production company execs, agents and attorneys — to support the five filmmakers.

“What I love about this program is that it’s tactical,” Spencer said in a statement supplied by AT&T. “It’s enabling young filmmakers to make actual, physical work. It’s giving them the first crucial part of their reel.”

AT&T declined to disclose how much it’s spending overall on the program. According to a rep for the telco, the mentors selected their own mentees and “we do not disclose the details of these arrangements, including cost or payment.” For AT&T, the initiative is geared toward burnishing its image in the entertainment biz by showing that it’s socially conscious, while also yielding exclusive content for its DirecTV Now over-the-top video offering.

The launch of the AT&T Hello Lab Mentorship Program comes after the telco’s sponsorship of “Untold Stories” in partnership with the Tribeca Film Festival to discover scripted film projects from women and minorities. Through that program, AT&T granted $1 million to Faraday Okoro to produce “Nigerian Prince,” a film about a Nigerian-American teenager who after being sent to Nigeria against his will joins forces with an internet scammer in order to return to the U.S. The feature film will premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and then distributed across AT&T’s video platforms.

The five AT&T Hello Lab Mentorship Program filmmakers are Neil Paik (mentored by Famuyiwa), Matthew Castellanos (paired with Bongiovi), Nefertite Nguvu (mentored by Common), Gabrielle Shephard (mentored by Spencer), and Sara Shaw (working with Akhavan).

“I wanted to be a part of this program because opportunity is everything,” Common commented. “Connecting with young filmmakers, such as Nefertite Nguvu, is an honor. It’s the young and gifted visionaries who take the arts to levels we haven’t seen.”

Industry advisers participating in the program include Judy McGrath (founder and president, Astronauts Wanted), Mike Jackson (co-founder, Get Lifted), CAA agent Cameron Mitchell, Bianca Levin (partner at Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown), Ivana Lombardi (senior VP of film, Chernin Group), Kevin Iwashina (CEO and founder of Preferred Content), producer-director-writer Roberta Marie Munroe, Brickson Diamond (founder, the Blackhouse Foundation), Emily Best (CEO and founder, Seed&Spark), Damian Pelliccione (CEO and founder, Revry) and James Lopez (Head of Motion Pictures, Will Packer Productions).

“We’re beyond humbled to join arms with these industry leaders who have catalyzed change and believe in the importance of supporting and amplifying new voices,” said Billy Parks, executive producer and EVP of Otter Media, the joint venture of AT&T and Chernin Group that owns Fullscreen Media.

Here’s a synopsis of the five film shorts:

  • “Candid,” by Gabrielle Shepard: Faced with the memory of her late mother, an aspiring street photographer takes a surreal journey through the city as she reconciles her future and the relationship with her father.
  • “Yoshua,” by Matthew Castellanos: A group of outcast teens must flee their hometown of South Central to protect their big blue alien friend from a ban against its kind.
  • “The Lost,” by Neil Paik: The events surrounding a highly publicized protest altercation are played out from three differing points of view.
  • “The Last Two Lovers At the End of the World,” by Nefertite Nguvu: A future-set, New Year’s Eve wild night’s journey that follows two young lovers as they try to survive the end of the world.
  • “How to Bury a Hatchet,” by Sara Shaw: After their youngest child is diagnosed with terminal cancer, members of an estranged family reunite and struggle to overcome their dysfunction.

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