Filmmaker Prentice Penny (Insecure) and his A Penny For Your Thoughts Entertainment banner today announced the launch of The First Up, a new program for writers of color at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
Emmy-nominated SCA alum Penny created the First Up program to give BIPOC writers the opportunity to have their work seen, while providing real-world work experience as they embark on careers in the entertainment industry. Students will receive guidance and participate in the process of creating a film or TV project from script development to pitching to network and studio executives. All SCA students are eligible for the program and are not required to be enrolled in classes in the John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television to apply. However, they should have the goal of entering the industry as a professional writer. All candidates must be students of color.
The year-long program will kick off this summer, with three SCA writers in their final year of undergraduate or graduate studies soon to be selected. Applicants will first submit a writing sample—either a TV or feature script. If selected, they will move to the second phase of the process which includes submitting a five-minute live pitch of their show or movie idea. The final candidates will then be chosen, working directly with execs from A Penny For Your Thoughts, who will help guide them through all stages of the development process. The program will culminate in pitches to networks and studios through Penny’s overall deal at Disney/Onyx Collective, which includes all the subsidiaries under the Disney umbrella—Hulu, FX, Disney Plus, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, ABC, Fox, ESPN, Fox Searchlight, National Geographic and 20th Television.
In addition to running The First Up program, Penny will also create a database for participating students’ work, similar to Franklin Leonard’s Black List, which will allow agents, managers, showrunners and executives to access projects—the goal being to create additional pathways for career advancement.
“I’m so excited to partner with USC’s School of the Cinematic Arts and start The First Up program for graduating seniors who are writers of color,” said Penny. “One of the hardest and scarier things is to enter into the workforce without any momentum and no clear understanding of how to get your career started. I know it was for me and it’s even more daunting when you see limited opportunities for people who look like you. I’m so grateful that Dean Daley, Justin Wilson and the rest of SCA are aligned in helping my company make that change and I couldn’t think of a better place to do it than my Alma Mater.”
“One of the aspects that has always set our school apart is the way our alumni use their unique platforms to actively support students and help them launch careers in our industry,” added SCA Dean, Elizabeth M. Daley. “Prentice Penny is one of our most esteemed alumni, and has dedicated his production company to creating hit content that centers upon people of color, but finds fans in everyone. For him to provide this level of guidance to students with similar goals is extraordinary. We couldn’t be more thrilled to help implement this program and to see our students reach their goals and continue to make enormous impacts within the industry.”
USC’s School of Cinematic Arts is one of the leading media schools in the world. Founded in collaboration with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1929, SCA offers comprehensive programs in directing, producing, writing, cinema and media studies, animation and digital arts, production, interactive media and games, all backed by a broad liberal arts education and taught by leading practitioners in each field.
Penny graduated from SCA in 1995 with a BFA in Writing, and was named as the School’s Mary Pickford Award recipient this year.
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