The development and production company founded by Waithe and Rishi Rajani is again presenting the Hillman Grad Mentorship Lab, an eight-month tuition-free program focused on helping marginalized storytellers connect, grow and accelerate their entertainment careers.
In its second year, the lab will be spearheaded by program director Lacy Wright and program advisor Justin Riley, who will handle day-to-day operations under the direction of Hillman Grad CEO Waithe, president of TV and film Rajani and chief operating officer Ericka Pittman.
“Since the inception of Hillman Grad, it has been our ultimate goal to break down barriers to entry into Hollywood for new and diverse artists, while also ensuring they are paid for their art,” the Hillman Grad executive team stated.
“The program was built around the idea of an informational coffee meeting,” they continued. “Many up and coming filmmakers were reaching out for advice and insights, and as that demand grew, we knew that there was a gap in the industry for a program like this – one that offered mentorship in an organized way, while keeping the essence of an intimate, one-on-one connection at its core.”
The program’s curriculum features a slate of workshops, educational resources, professional development and networking opportunities, with tracks including television writing, screen acting and executive development, instructed by Carolyn Michelle Smith (co-director of the acting track), Behzad Dabu (co-director of the acting track) and Michael Svoboda (director of the writing track), among others. Program participants also have the chance to work with and receive mentorship from an impressive list of actors, directors, casting directors, editors, union reps and publicists. Previous guests have included Cynthia Erivo, Kendrick Sampson (HBO’s “Insecure”), Carmen Cuba (casting director, Netflix’s “Stranger Things”) and Femi Oguns (Identity Agency Group CEO).
The Hillman Grad Mentorship Lab initially launched in December 2020, with more than 4,500 BIPOC filmmakers applying to the program. As the program aims to celebrate regional, cultural and linguistic diversity, within the program 64% of the mentees identified as Black/African American; 24% identified as Asian American; 12% identified as Latinx; 48% identified as Female; 20% identified as Non-Binary; and 40% identified as LGBTQ.
The inaugural session wrapped up in November 2021 with a showcase event on the rooftop of Neuehouse Hollywood (pictured below), featuring screenings of the acting mentees’ tapes and live table reads of writing mentees’ scripts cast with professional actors. Copies of all mentees’ scripts and monologue tapes are available at the Hillman Grad website.
The Hillman Grad executive team added: “Our showcase this past year was a beautiful testament to the work of these talented individuals who met for multiple sessions to focus on their craft, learn together, and grow together. Off its success and the astounding number of jobs it led to for these artists, we are excited to see what another year of the program brings.”
Success stories from the inaugural class of mentees include Nova Cypress Black (they/them), now a staff writer on Season 3 of “L Word: Generation Q”; executive mentee Ranard Caldwell (he/him) was hired as director of development for Sunny Hostin’s production company Roots & Wings; writing mentee Josh Fulton (he/him) can be seen next month off-Broadway in Obie award-winning playwright Aleshea Harris’s play “On Sugarlan” at the New York Theatre Workshop; writing mentee Tea Ho (she/they) was hired as a writer’s assistant on HBO and A24’s series adaptation of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s bestseller “The Sympathizer”; acting mentee Juliana Aidén Martinez (she/they) was cast in Sofia Vergara’s upcoming Netflix limited series, “Griselda”; writing mentee Urvashi Pathania (she/her) was selected as a 2021 HBO Asian Pacific American Visionaries short film winner; and writing mentee Arturo Luís Soria (he/him) was cast as a series regular in Apple TV plus’ upcoming show “Bad Monkey.”
Applications are currently open and are due February 11. Finalists will be notified at the beginning of March, with the mentorship lab beginning on March 12.