Today, Emmy award-winning screenwriter, producer, and actor Lena Waithe’s company, Hillman Grad Productions, is announcing its inaugural mentorship class of emerging storytellers exclusively with ESSENCE. 

The Hillman Grad Mentorship Lab connects 25 individuals from marginalized communities with networking opportunities and resources to remove barriers to industry access and propel them into their careers in television and film. The 10-month, tuition-free fellowship includes one-on-one instruction from industry experts, workshops set to enhance ingenuity in generating narratives, and professional development to polish and broaden their creative skills. Fellows are categorized into television writing, screen acting and executive development to tailor their mentorship to their professional skillset.

“Mentorship has always been important to me. The hope is to populate the industry with people that otherwise wouldn’t have access to it,” Waithe said in a statement. “Our focus will be on craft, how to navigate the industry and how to build community. We’re looking forward to meeting the next generation of storytellers.”

A total of 4,500 applications were submitted to The Hillman Grad Mentorship Lab which just announced the program this past December. Recently, Waithe’s production company also partnered with Indeed to provide adequate funding for up-and-coming BIPOC filmmakers.

“To produce a high-end television commercial, we would easily spend $1 million on production. We came to Hillman Grad saying, ‘We have a million dollars. What’s the best way to spend it?,’” Indeed CEO Chris Hyams said to The Hollywood Reporter.

The jobs listing company will work in collaboration with Hillman Grad for the Rising Voices iniative, selecting 10 filmmakers to create short films with a production budget of $100,000 each. The budget, which Waithe calls “unheard of” for rising short film directors, includes an additional $25,000 which will be allocated to the productions to ensure COVID-19 safety measures are followed. Each filmmaker will also earn a $10,000 writing fee for their screenplay submissions. 

The films will be produced by Hillman Grad in partnership with 271 Films. Waithe will work alongside Hillman Grad president of film/TV Rishi Rajani to act as executive producers and guide the filmmakers. At the conclusion of the program, one filmmaker will be offered a filmmaker-in-residency position at Indeed to continue to produce content with the brand.

Check out the members of the inaugural Hillman Grad Mentorship Lab below and see their reactions as they found out the news. Tune in to ESSENCE at 5:30 pm EST for a special IG Live with Waithe on the program.

Writing Track

Acting Track                          

Executive Development                               

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