SeriesFest is expanding its commitment to female-forward initiatives, renewing its partnership with Shondaland, introducing an Executive Elevation Mentorship Program and presenting a live-streamed roundtable discussion about the current state of parity in the industry, Variety has learned exclusively.
Additionally, Christina YR Jun has won the Women Writing Competition, which comes from SeriesFest in partnership with Big Swing Productions.
“We’re excited to broaden our initiatives and provide real opportunities for minorities who are still very much underrepresented in the television landscape,” said SeriesFest founders Randi Kleiner and Kaily Smith Westbrook in a joint statement. “While statistics are showing an improvement, there’s still a long way to go. As two women who have experienced challenges first-hand, we will continue to put this conversation front and center to raise awareness, and most importantly, opportunities. We’re grateful to have such inspirational industry leaders participate in our mission.”
SeriesFest and Shondaland are poised to launch the second cycle of the “Women Directing Mentorship,” a competition that is designed to discover aspiring female directors and provide a launchpad for their careers. This began in 2018 and the recipient of the inaugural mentorship, Rachel Myers, went on to shadow director Tessa Blake on an episode of “Station 19,” Shondaland’s “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff for ABC.
“The Women’s Directing Mentorship with SeriesFest and Shondaland was a full professional immersion into the mechanism of how television is made,” said Myers. “Walking step-by-step through the process with a seasoned director helming the ship from prep through shoot to the edit was an amazing experience. I’m very grateful to SeriesFest and Shondaland for opening the door for more opportunities for women directors for TV and new voices in telling stories.”
To celebrate the success so far, SeriesFest will hold a watch party a third season episode of “Station 19” on April 22 at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT, followed by a Q&A with showrunner Krista Vernoff.
Submissions for the new cycle will open that same day and continue through June 25. The winner, who will be announced in September 2020, will receive the mentorship and a $5,000 stipend to use during the duration of their mentorship.
New this year is the Executive Elevation Mentorship Program, which aims to diversify the landscape of television’s top decision makers by pairing participants with influential entertainment executives of color, including Management CBM’s Cheri Barner, Rideback’s Elsie Choi, Zane Ryder Management’s Terry Washington and independent producer Chiké Okonkwo. Mentors for the program will choose one mentee from a group of select finalists to counsel for six months. Submissions are open until May 26, and those selected will be announced by the end of June.
“As the industry continues to rapidly evolve, the need for great storytelling and great storytellers remains the same. All of the most impactful story-making that I have been part of has happened as part of a community, and welcoming in new voices while nurturing them as they find a footing is something that we should all be very mindful of,” said Okonkwo. “I’m excited to be part of SeriesFest’s Executive Elevation Mentorship Program, and look forward to meeting some of tomorrow’s voices, today!”
Also new this year is the Creator Hangout: Focus on Female Filmmakers panel, which will be live-streamed on April 23 at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT. Ruthie Marantz, Annabel Essink, Misha Calvert, Rachel Myers, Milena Govich and Kate Chamuris are onboard to take place in the discussion, which will take place on YouTube.
Jun won the Women Writing Competition with her original script “Jackpot” and will receive a year-long development deal with Big Swing Productions and a live read of her script with professional actors.
“We’ve really enjoyed our collaboration with SeriesFest. We share a common mission of embracing and uplifting female creators. Christina is a powerhouse talent and we look forward to working with her on ‘Jackpot,’” said Kyra Sedgwick, co-founder, Big Swing Productions.
In accordance with “safer at home” health advisories, SeriesFest: Season Six will take place digitally this year from June 18-24, but the seventh annual event will return to Denver in June 2021.