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Disney Launchpad looks to diversify director ranks with new initiative

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“Our goal is to have a reflection of the world as it is in the voices of these directors,” says Julie Ann Crommett, Disney’s vice president of multicultural audience engagement.
(Valerie Macon / AFP/Getty Images)

The next big Disney director could be one short film away from their big break via Disney Launchpad: Shorts Incubator. The inaugural program will give six filmmakers from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to produce short films for the studio behind the $1.3 billion-grossing “Black Panther” and $1.1 billion-grossing “Captain Marvel.”

The Launchpad program will consider applicants from underrepresented communities “including but certainly not limited to women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, various religious groups, military veterans, people with disabilities, and others,” according to a Disney press release on Monday.

“We want these six directors to really represent the voices of the global audience,” Julie Ann Crommett, vice president of multicultural audience engagement, told The Times. “Our goal is to have a reflection of the world as it is in the voices of these directors.”

Earlier this year a USC Annenberg study found that women directed only 4.3% of top-grossing films from 2007-18. Of 2018’s top 100 films, only four were directed by women. UCLA’s 2019 Hollywood Diversity Report found that minority directors comprised only 12.6% of 2017’s top films despite representing 39.4% of the population.

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Disney’s upcoming film slate includes “Frozen 2,” directed by Jennifer Lee; “Mulan,” directed by Niki Caro; Marvel’s “Eternals,” directed by Chloe Zhao; “Avengers” spinoff “Black Widow,” directed by Cate Shortland; and “The One and Only Ivan,” directed by Thea Sharrock.

Applications are now open for Disney Launchpad, whose participants will be provided development and production budgetary resources by the studio, paired with Disney creative executive mentors and tasked with creating original live-action short films. Launchpad shorts could also be distributed on the Disney+ streaming service, which debuts in November.

The theme of this year’s program is “Discover.” Shorts must line up with the studio’s core brand values and can potentially be developed into future long-form or episodic Disney projects.

Unlike many studio diversity initiatives, Disney Launchpad is not aimed at first-time directors, but rather experienced filmmakers poised to make the leap to studio filmmaking.

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“There’s that earlier stage of a director’s journey where maybe they’ve made some things independently, maybe they’ve done commercial work, but they haven’t really broken into the studio system as such,” said Crommett.

“We see Launchpad essentially as a launchpad for a director to catapult into the studio system in a really organic way, which is by actually making something with us, in this case a short film, and going through the studio system to do it,” she added.

American Film Institute will provide supplemental educational support, and participants will receive a stipend for the duration of the program.

“At the Walt Disney Studios, we believe that great stories come from everywhere, and we are committed to telling inclusive stories and working with filmmakers who bring diverse perspectives to the table,” Alan Bergman, co-chairman of the Walt Disney Studios, said in Monday’s press statement. “The Disney Launchpad gives us a platform to empower a new generation of filmmakers to share original stories that resonate with our global audience and reflect the world we live in.”

The seven-month program is open to the public as well as employees of the Walt Disney Co. and its affiliates and will be based out of the Disney Studios in Burbank.

Directors must submit samples of their previous work, an original script for their potential Launchpad short, along with a lookbook, a resumé and a personal statement. The deadline to apply at launchpad.disney.com is July 2.

jen.yamato@latimes.com

@jenyamato

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