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Josh Hutcherson Teams Up With Indigenous Media and Condé Nast To Give Voice to New Filmmakers

Variety logo Variety 2/27/2017 Dani Levy
© Provided by Variety

What’s the best way to nurture the talent of young filmmakers? Host content on platforms used by younger generations? Or experiment in the digital space in some new capacity?

“In the coming years, there’s going to be more and more people whose voices are going to be heard,” Indigenous Media’s co-CEO Jon Avnet says. “The question is, who’s going to hear them and how?”

Indigenous and Condé Nast Entertainment have found one solution: incubators, in which the studios fund the creation of a work and provide mentorship for young filmmakers before, during and after production.

One of Indigenous’s incubators, “The Big Script,” culminated in a February 16 screening at CAA, attended by agents, studio execs, burgeoning screenwriters and the young actors who starred in the resulting films. As the more seasoned creatives chit-chatted during the reception, the younger set filled the lounge with their laughs, decidedly hip clothing choices and an excitement for filmmaking reserved for the not-yet-jaded.

Five short films written and directed by and for this demographic were screened in the agency’s intimate theater. The stories ranged from tales of young love gone wrong to siblings seemingly at odds with one another. One brought the audience into the apocalyptic near future while another took them to a high school student council meeting. The writers-directors were only able to see their visions realized through the help of Indigenous and CNE.

Indigenous’ Avnet and Rodrigo Garcia say thy knew that millennials and generation Z’ers had stories to tell. There was great content on different platforms, stories like their feature film “Sickhouse” being told through Snapchat, and simply not enough opportunities for these creators to make or consume actual premium content.

“Millennials and Gen Z’ers are spending so much time watching digital content,” CNE president Dawn Ostroff says. “To be able to speak to them with projects that are scripted and in which they see themselves reflected is really part of what we’re trying to do.”

They joined with “The Hunger Games” veteran Josh Hutcherson—who, along with his mother, co-produced the films and served as a mentor—to see if they could nurture newer filmmakers into creating shorts that could propel their careers forward and offer something powerful to viewers.

“We were trying to see if we could create the kind of frugal loam out of which that talent can rise,” Avnet says. 

To find the final four (Hutcherson would direct one himself), Hutcherson and Indigenous partnered with the Black List. Together they read through over 2,000 scripts, seeking out protagonists between 17 and 30 written into existence by the most talented young screenwriters.

They landed on “Boy in the Backpack” by Bradley Martocello, “Crowbar Smile” by Jamie Mayer, “Honor Council” by Scott Simonsen, and “Lyra” by Djochoua Belovarski. Hutcherson’s original pick backed out at the last minute and he was left scrambling until he remembered a script he had been attached to years prior.

“Ape,” written by Jon Johnstone, tells the story of a schizophrenic early 20-something trying to deal with his hallucinations at the most inopportune moment: on a bed, hooking up with a girl at a party.

Once the scripts and directors were secure, Indigenous, CNE and Hutcherson’s Turkeyfoot Productions funded the production, marketing and distribution. Indigenous folks mentored the budding creatives, forcing them to cut their scripts by tens of pages (to fit the short form format) and giving them advice, support, and “tools to see their dreams realized.”

These youthful narratives turned into premium quality shorts. Avnet and Ostroff were amazed at the outcomes.

“A lot of these projects turned out so much better than I thought they would, honestly. I was so incredibly impressed,” Ostroff adds.

Looking forward, CNE will try to grow the shorts’ reach by expanding distribution and moving them to other platforms. Some of the films will be shopped into feature films, including Hutcherson’s “Ape.” Now the shorts are available on CNÉ’s “The Scene,” a platform which helps both advertisers find the target demographic and companies making digital content house their work.

Indigenous has another incubator coming up. Project HER will pair established female creatives Lesli Linka Glatter, Kasi Lemmons, Sarah Treem, Betty Thomas, and Mimi Leder with young aspiring female showrunners. Together, they’ll create a short pilot with the potential for a full version as well. Avnet hopes the partnership will go beyond the confines of the incubator, with the mentors creating meaningful relationships with their mentees that could help them get somewhere in the field.

“It’s a great time for new filmmakers,” he says. 

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