EXCLUSIVE: Paul Feig’s digital production company Powderkeg has launched Break the Room. It is a writers room development initiative formulated with writer-producer Sameer Gardezi. BTR, done with support from PopCulture Collab and MuslimArc, will approach the creation of diverse content by bringing writers of color together with community thought leaders for a week long writers room filled with diverse scribes to put marginalized voices in control of representing each projects’ community and ideas.
Feig has been quietly road testing this initiative, and the first show to come out of it is the digital short-form series East of La Brea, produced in association with Lyft Entertainment and Pillars Fund.
The project follows two twentysomething working class Muslim women, Aisha Hassan and Farha Munshi, as they struggle to navigate the changing landscape of their native Los Angeles home. East of La Brea premieres at SXSW, competing in the Episodic Pilot Competition.
BTR has completed two rooms in Los Angeles and Albuquerque respectively with another one to commence later this month in Portland. The first project under the banner is and untitled D’Lo project, which is based on the life of Sri Lankan trans comic D’Lo, who was supported by what they call an “all queer” writers room to tell the story of coming back to his small desert hometown of Lancaster, CA. From the Albuquerque room has come The Great Manygoats, a comedy about a Navajo family that struggles to cut through the red tape of government grant funding by changing their trading post business into a vegan sex shop. This project was written by an all Native American room.
The next room will write a comedy centered on the refugee experience of Portland comedian and Libyan native Mohanad Elshieky. The aim is to highlight the experience of living in a “welcoming” ultra- liberal bubble, yet still feeling like a fish out of water.
BTR is also looking to scale internationally with partnerships lining up in Canada, India and the Middle East, with plans to develop stories that have a unique connection to each region. The first BTR partners are international production company Hyde Park Entertainment and ShivHans Pictures, who have joined to fund development of a South Asian-American comedy through a BTR writers room.
“Real change requires breaking norms and paradigms,” Gardezi said. “What makes Break the Room impactful is that it’s not a diversity initiative, a shadowing program or a workshop. We are empowering writers by actually letting them do the work and be part of the process in a meaningful way. It’s less about backing a cause than it is investing in underrepresented voices.”
“We started Powderkeg to tell the stories of talented, emerging and underrepresented voices in comedy. Break the Room invites these writers across the country and globe to develop, control and craft them, with our support, in a way that will resonate with viewers,” adds Paul Feig and Laura Fischer.
Feig and Fischer launched Powderkeg as a digital studio to champion diverse comedic voices and incubate multi-platform projects. It is soon to launch a feature film contest with Issa Rae’s Color Creative looking for the next great teen movie, and its inaugural female directors program Powderkeg: Fuse will premiere later this spring. The company is also in development on a variety of formats, including a half hour scripted comedy at YouTube Premium, a series at Snapchat, two movies for Freeform and a multi-script deal at the interactive platform EKO. The Powderkeg venture is being funded by Superbrands Capital, the private entertainment industry investment company run by Adam Bold.
As long as Feig continues working toward another mad comedy vehicle for Melissa McCarthy, these offshoot projects are very laudable.