Expanding showbiz diversity via mentoring can be as simple as explaining what’s expected at a pitch meeting.
“Hollywood can be so uncaring about its young,” notes Marshall Herskovitz, Producers Guild VP. “The implications of meetings are so difficult to pick up, if you’re not already in the business.”
SAG general counsel David White agrees that mentoring is a crucial component of SAG’s diversity programs. “We find that the most valuable part of our events are usually the informal relationships that come from answering questions about getting into the business,” he says.
The PGA launched a free four-month program last year for three dozen participants to foster production of projects that reflect creative and cultural diversity, culminating in actual pitch meetings with studio and network execs. Herskovitz handled the feature track while Marta Kauffman was in charge of TV comedy and Shonda Rhimes oversaw TV dramas.
The org opted for the new program in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and placed its Celebration of Diversity event on hold to focus on the new effort. The PGA’s efforts add to an already substantial number of programs offered by Hollywood’s Guilds to promote diversity for their constituents.
DGA efforts include a directing fellowship program with ABC, assistant director training programs in Los Angeles and New York and the ABC/Touchstone directing assignment initiative. In its inaugural year, the initiative yielded 20 primetime episodes directed by women and minorities.
SAG’s efforts include presenting over a dozen panels annually that revolve around issues such as breaking through barriers, along with organizing 15 showcases per year for network executives and casting directors. The union has also partnered with the PGA on a pitching workshop and the WGA on stage readings and table readings.
“These events really underline what a vast multicultural base we have among SAG members,” notes Angel Rivera, SAG’s national director of affirmative action and diversity.
For its part, the WGA West has 20 events during the next nine months aimed at expanding diversity, from “Seasoned Readings” by its Age Awareness Committee to social and screening opportunities for its Asian-American, Latino and gay members.