Here’s a riddle for you: what do Newark education reform, mental illness, passing for white, African youth culture, intergenerational family conversation, Detroit high school students, the challenges of fatherhood and Washington, D.C.’s U Street Corridor have in common?
If you’ve been reading the Black Public Media blog lately, you probably know the answer: they’re all themes from the eight projects whose producing teams have participated in this month’s NBPC 360 incubator program. (For project titles and filmmaker names, see our last blog post.)
The National Black Programming Consortium is the organization behind the NBPC 360 funding initiative and the proud host of its incubator. This year’s eight chosen producing teams have, so far, traveled from application to bootcamp to incubator stages, shaping and re-shaping their project ideas with an eye on Pitch Black, an interactive pitch session on April 23 which will feature a live audience and a panel of potential funders.
“Almost everyone involved in the incubator has directed, written and produced material before,” says Sabrina Gray, one of the team members for the transmedia web series Black Broadway on U. Gray herself has worked on films such as Dead Presidents, Baby Boy and the upcoming short Zoo: Volkerschau about the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. Her co-producer, project creator Shellee Haynesworth, directed Women’s Land Rights: A Ripple Effect and has a long history as a producer and writer for BET.
“This is the first time someone is taking me step by step through all the development stages,” says Gray. She cites story cultivation, pitching and budgeting as skills she has refined thus far. And after almost six weeks of training together, all of the producers, and their designated mentors, know each other very well.
They’re also friendly with the NBPC staff members who have organized and supported weekly workshops at the Centre for Social Innovation in Manhattan. “The NBPC team is very supportive and encouraging, and very hands-on,” says Nosa Garrick, producer of the docuseries My Africa Is. “It’s just a great team of people to work with.”
Filmmaker Damon Colquohoun speaks during an NBPC 360 feedback session.
The people may be nurturing, but there’s no doubt the process is tough. Last Friday afternoon, the NBPC 360 finalists crowded into a classroom at the Centre for Social Innovation for a pitch rehearsal feedback session. Staff members scurried to arrange chairs in a circle. A projector screen dominated the space. Producers paced to and fro, peeking at notecards in their hands and taking deep breaths.
Two weeks until the pitch. The kid gloves had come off — you could hear it in the group’s matter-of-fact responses and the nervous laughter of each presenter. “Seems disjointed,” was the consensus for one pitch. “Don’t apologize so much,” was the reaction to another. “Why are YOU passionate about this?” demanded the mentors, over and over. “Get your audience excited about this project. That is the most important thing.”
The team members, now so familiar with their own and others’ speeches they could probably recite them from memory, took all the advice in stride, smiling, nodding and asking clarifying questions. Despite a concluding reminder that next week would be the final rehearsal — their last chance to practice before the Pitch Black forum — no one who filed out of the classroom four hours later seemed discouraged.
“We want you to speak from here,” urged Kay Shaw, NBPC’s Director of Strategic Engagement, putting a hand over her heart. “You’ve now been working on your projects long enough that you know them, you know what’s compelling about them. You know what makes the project important to you. You know who you’re trying to reach. You know these things. So, we want you to speak from that place.”
After one last mock presentation and one last feedback session — both taking place at the end of this week — the first-ever set of NBPC 360 finalists will be prepared to do just that.
Photo Credit: Lindsey Saide