By Piya Sinha-Roy
June 03, 2019 at 12:00 PM EDT
Disney Plus

Ahead of the launch of Disney+ later this year, Disney announced a new initiative on Monday calling for filmmakers from underrepresented backgrounds to bring their pitches for short films that could end up on the new streaming platform.

Called Disney Launchpad, up to six filmmakers will be selected to make their short film for Disney+ over a 7-month program that will see the filmmakers work closely with Disney mentors to script, develop and make an original piece of content.

“We get to see directors’ work, work with a director who has probably not gotten into the studio system, have new voices in our ecosystem and quite frankly, get an amazing piece of content out of the process as well,” said Julie Ann Crommett, vice president of multicultural engagement at Walt Disney Studios.

The program, which launches on Monday, will take short film pitches until 12pm PT on July 2nd, after which it will select the shortlist of filmmakers that will go on to make their films. Crommett said the goal of the program was to find directors of diverse backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in the film industry, and help them get a foot in the door into the film studio system. She described a director’s journey in three specific stages, using Ryan Coogler as an example – Phase 1 being “that short film or initial project that allows for a director’s voice to break through and becomes the calling card for a step into the studio system,” often from an independent project such as Coogler’s Sundance hit Fruitvale; Phase 2 is the “low to mid-budget film moment in a director’s career,” such as Coogler’s Creed; Phase 3 is “where a director is directing one of our tentpole films with a large-scale budget,” specifically Coogler’s Black Panther.

Disney has faced criticism in the past for not having a more diverse roster of filmmakers making their big-budget fare, and in recent years has been working to bring filmmakers of underrepresented backgrounds, such as Coogler for his Oscar-winning Black Panther, Ava DuVernay for A Wrinkle in Time, Chloe Zhao for The Eternals and Mulan, directed by Niki Caro. The Launchpad program is looking for original ideas, not adaptations or biopics or stories based on existing Disney IP, and Crommett hopes it leads to “stories of all different experiences and ideas and even genres” that fit within the larger Disney brand. After making their short film for Disney+, filmmakers will have the opportunity to possibly expand their shorts into larger features or pitch new story ideas. “Our goal is that this incubator is not one and done, the filmmaker is able to make the short film with us and then progress to the next stage of their career within the larger Walt Disney ecosystem,” Crommett said.

Launchpad is hoping to find filmmakers in that Phase 1 stage and bring them into the Disney family, and the program is open to filmmakers who have made at least one piece of scripted, live-action narrative work at least 5 minutes long in the past 8 years. “What we know is that there is this grey area between having graduated maybe from a film program, having gotten commercial work but haven’t been able to break into the studio system as such, and this program is really defined for people who fit in that area,” Crommett said. Once selected, the program will provide filmmakers with a stipend if they need to move to LA, and will allow filmmakers to hold their other jobs except for the days they need to be in production on their short. “The barrier entry in this industry is real from a financial standpoint,” Crommett said. “[Filmmakers] are free to hold down another job as part of their daily life and we anticipate several will, the program is designed as such to make it possible.”

Launchpad is the latest shorts program to be launched at Disney, following Pixar’s SparkShorts initiative that is geared towards cultivating voices from the company’s own artists and directors.

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