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Verizon Launches $5 Million Fund for Women Filmmakers (EXCLUSIVE)

Verizon has earmarked $5 million in production budgets for female-led entertainment projects — with the twin goals of burnishing its brand and encouraging filmmakers to tap into the capabilities of its 5G wireless network.

The telco’s Future Fund will support emerging female talent behind the camera, focused on up-and-coming creators. The purpose is to create a pipeline of content that celebrates women, and it’s part of Verizon’s overarching goal of “ensuring that we have women represented in creative projects,” according to chief marketing officer Diego Scotti.

The first initiative coming out of the Verizon Future Fund is documentary film “Not Done,” marking the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution’s 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. The film was executive produced by Dyllan McGee, a documentary filmmaker who is founder and executive producer of Makers, Verizon Media’s brand dedicated to accelerating the women’s movement. “Not Done” serves as the directorial debut for emerging filmmaker Sara Wolitzky and has an all-female and non-binary production crew.

The 60-minute “Not Done” is slated to air on PBS on June 30 and will be distributed on Verizon Media’s properties as well. The film and the $5 million fund are being unveiled Tuesday at Verizon’s 2020 Makers Conference in L.A.

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McGee (pictured above) said in a statement, “As a female founder and filmmaker, I know how much this opportunity means to our community and how important it is to society that these important issues come to light. The Future Fund is creating a pipeline for emerging talent that offers the chance for us to see issues from diverse perspectives and illuminate the stories and storytellers of tomorrow.”

As illustrated by this year’s Oscars — in which no women directors received a nomination — “we need more diversity, more female voices” in entertainment and media, Scotti said. “This year we thought it was a good moment to ratchet up and accelerate our efforts.”

“Not Done” explores how today’s feminist leaders are making progress toward true equality. The film features interviews with actors, writers, directors, politicians, athletes and activists, including Natalie Portman, America Ferrera, Shonda Rhimes and Jill Soloway. The film is funded and presented by Verizon and Procter & Gamble’s Secret.

Projects commissioned under the Future fund aren’t “branded content” per se, according to Scotti. “Verizon doesn’t appear in ‘Not Done’ at all,” he said. “We’re not going to do Verizon commercials.”

Verizon expects to disperse the $5 million in production money over the next 24 months, Scotti said. There’s no formal application process for the Future Fund. The telco will work with McGee and the Makers team to identify and greenlight projects under the program, in collaboration with third-party organizations dedicated to women representation in film.

As for what kinds of projects Verizon is looking for, Scotti said there are no specific criteria other than that they need to be female-led. “It could be any genre, not just documentaries,” he said. “We will produce amazing content that will be part of how we activate the Verizon brand in different channels.”

Verizon’s Future Fund will give creators access to all of the telco’s 5G Labs across the country as well as Verizon Media’s production facilities at the RYOT 5G Studio in L.A. for creating immersive AR and VR content. It’s not a requirement that the selected filmmakers use 5G, Scotti said, but he added, “We want to democratize this technology as soon as possible.” Verizon plans to explore multiple distribution options for projects created through the Future Fund, including releasing them across the Verizon Media ecosystem.

Verizon’s Future Fund follows on the company’s initiatives to promote diversity in the creative and marketing industry. In 2017, Scotti spearheaded the launch of Adfellows, which brings recent college grads to New York City for an eight-month fellowship in which they work in rotating jobs at Verizon and partner ad agencies and corporate brand-marketing groups. About 70% of Adfellows participants have been women.

Verizon’s 2020 Makers Conference is being held Feb. 10-12 at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown. Speakers at this year’s event include Chelsea Handler, Gloria Steinem, Anita Hill, Olivia Wilde, Katie Couric, Tina Tchen and Billy Eichner. The conference is being live-streamed on Makers.com.

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