Variety Celebrates Inaugural 10 Storytellers to Watch Event

Storytellers from across the spectrum of entertainment — film, literature, podcasting and play writing — were honored Thursday at Variety’s inaugural 10 Storytellers to Watch luncheon at Gramercy Park Hotel, hosted with partner the Independent Filmmaker Project and presented by Audible.

Honorees Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of “Friday Black”; “Limetown” podcasters Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie; “Hybrid Creatures” author Matthew Baker; “Miracle Creek” author Angie Kim; MAMAG Studios brand storytellers Sing J. Lee and Sylvia Zakhary; “Letters of Love in WW2” podcaster Anna Priestland; and “You Know You Want This” author Kristen Roupenian accepted their awards at the event. Four other honorees — “Six” creators Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, singer/songwriter Tenille Townes and “On a Sunbeam” graphic novelist Tillie Walden — were unable to attend.

Before the presentation, attendees and honorees gathered for wine and photos on the hotel’s rooftop terrace overlooking downtown Manhattan. Plants, greenery and dahlia floral arrangements accented the outdoor space while tunes played over the loudspeakers as honorees like Patti Smith and Kim posed for photos. After attendees found their seats, they were greeted by a lunch menu featuring braised portobello mushroom, asparagus risotto, roasted chicken and a dessert of chocolate raspberry roulade.

Steven Gaydos, EVP of content for Variety, took the stage to introduce Smith, winner of the Creative Impact in Storytelling Award, before launching into a 15-minute conversation with the writer and musician.

Then, Gaydos moderated a panel discussion with the honorees, talking to each about the stories they were being acknowledged for, the stories they have yet to tell and what inspires them. Akers, co-podcaster of “Limetown,” a fictionalized investigative story that has now been developed for Facebook Watch starring Jessica Biel, said his writing process starts with something that he inherently fears about our world.

“The place where I like to start is what scares the hell out of me right now and how I can make other people feel that, too, and make it more of an urgent thing. So I think that’s where my brain leads because of what the world is right now,” Akers said.

Through their collective and entertainment company MAMAG Studios, Lee and Zakhary have worked with the likes of Donald Glover on his Adidas Originals and Google Pixel 3 campaigns and music videos for Halsey, Muse and CHVRCHES, ultimately producing around 60 stories per year, working on everything from film and television to brand storytelling and technology. Zakhary explained that she wants their stories to be experiential and authentic.

“It’s most important for us to create the platform and space to bring in authentic voices. Most stories are so important to tell and they go unheard,” Zakhary said. “We, on a business level, get to play in this pool of marketing dollars from brands. We love to bring in the authentic space and voice for people to come in and tell their stories.”

After the honoree panel, Gaydos brought IFP executive director Jeffrey Sharp, producer and Killer Films co-founder Christine Vachon and Audible Originals editor-in-chief David Blum to the stage for a keynote discussion about the state of storytelling in today’s media landscape. The three praised the diversity of platforms featured at the awards luncheon, saying it’s indicative of how viewers and listeners are consuming stories.

“It all begins with the idea. To me, as wonderful as it is and as exciting as it is to be engaged with audio storytelling, it is just another form of storytelling that follows, I think, a great tradition,” Blum said. “And I think for all of us, we have these great technological means to listen, to watch, and to consume stories. And I think that’s what’s really fun to me, is you can walk down the street and listen to a story on your phone or see it in a movie theater or on television.”

More Scene

  • Charlize Theron speaks at the GEANCO

    Charlize Theron Talks 'White Privilege,' Growing Up During Apartheid in South Africa

    Charlize Theron, during an onstage discussion with her “Gringo” costar David Oyelowo about philanthropy at Thursday’s annual fundraiser for Nigerian children’s educational and health program GEANCO, said she was a beneficiary of “white privilege” while growing up in Apartheid-torn South Africa. “I obviously am a white person who benefited from my white privilege,” Theron said [...]

  • Lyliana Wray, Sam Ashe Arnold, Miya

    ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark’ Revival Team on Living Up to the Series’ Legacy

    The 2019 revival of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” centers around the Carnival of Doom, a place that star Jeremy Ray Taylor (“It Chapter Two”) describes as “beautiful on the outside, but…in the middle of it, there are definitely dark secrets. Variety caught up with the young star during a carnival-themed celebration at Row DTLA [...]

  • Charlize Theron'The Addams Family' film premiere,

    Charlize Theron Speaks Immigration, Diversity in ‘The Addams Family’

    They’re creepy, they’re kooky, and they’re an allegory for immigration in America.  Charlize Theron discussed the changing face of the nuclear family and her animated film, “The Addams Family,” with Variety at the movie’s recent premiere at the Century City Mall in Los Angeles. “When you think of [the Addams] being around since the sixties, [...]

  • Emma Stone attends the Los Angeles

    Emma Stone Talks 'Cruella' Transformation, New 'Zombieland' Sequel

    Despite inevitable comparisons to Glenn Close’s iconic turn as Cruella de Vil in 1996’s “101 Dalmatians,” Emma Stone teased that her take on the infamous villain in the upcoming “Cruella” movie will be very distinctive. “It comes long before her story,” Stone told Variety at the premiere of “Zombieland: Double Tap” at the Regency Village [...]

  • Gwyneth Paltrow arrives at the 2019

    Gwyneth Paltrow Honored at amfAR Gala

    Gwyneth Paltrow received one of this year’s courage awards at amfAR’s annual gala on Thursday night in Los Angeles. Paltrow’s longtime friends Dan Bucatinsky and Don Roos presented her with the award. “I didn’t prepare anything because I don’t think I really believe in thank you speeches, but I did want to thank amfAR for this,” [...]

  • Variety’s Power of Women Gift Bag

    Variety’s Power of Women Gift Bag: Sneak Peek

    While there are only so many cover honorees, everyone will go home a star this Power of Women Los Angeles. Each guest will receive a large Shopping Tote provided by The Little Market, and screen-printed by Homeboy Industries. Item inclusion ranges from product in entertainment, beauty, health, fashion, and more. Missed your chance to attend? [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content