EXCLUSIVE: Jane The Virgin alum Justin Baldoni has taken the concept of his film Five Feet Apart and turned it into a new $50,000 filmmaking competition that speaks to the age of COVID-19. Baldoni’s Wayfarer Studios and Wayfarer Entertainment have launched “The Six Feet Apart Experiment” to empower creatives with the access, opportunity and resources to produce innovative and socially impactful films during the current pandemic.
Released last year and directed and produced by Baldoni, Five Feet Apart starred Hayley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse as two patients with cystic fibrosis who make a romantic connection, but are unable to interact because of their illness. As a result, they must maintain a safe distance between them — which certainly speaks to the time.
“The idea came from true creative collaboration within our organization,” Baldoni told Deadline. “D’Angela Proctor, Wayfarer Entertainment’s CEO and I were on one of our weekly catch up calls when she told me she had a crazy idea to make a film during quarantine for very little money. She pitched me the bones of something really exciting that could be done cheaply a la The Blair Witch Project or Searching and that’s when the idea for the competition hit me.”
Baldoni said that this was “bigger than us” and built on that. “I remember all the hairs standing up on my arm and I asked her how she would feel if instead of us making the movie, we made it a national competition and empowered fresh filmmakers to make their own,” he continued. “She flipped it and said we had to do it. I then brought in Labid Aziz who is a partner and Wayfarer Studio’s new COO/CFO into the conversation and together as a family on FaceTime at 11pm on a Saturday we decided to create ‘The Six Feet Apart Experiment’.”
“The Six Feet Apart Experiment” challenges filmmakers and storytellers by pushing them to step outside the box, look past social isolation and use these current circumstances to fuel their creativity.
“I had no idea that our world would look the way it does just a year later,” Baldoni said about his film. “I just wanted to raise awareness for cystic fibrosis — it’s CF awareness month by the way — and show that you could make a teen movie with no sex (and no touching) built solely off chemistry and character development that could be a commercial success.”
He continues, “Look, no one could have predicted we would be all living like the characters from that film, but my hope is that the experience of watching FFA can give people compassion for what it’s like to live in a pre and post COVID-19 world as an immune-suppressed person. We have to realize that we are staying home and wearing masks to protect our most vulnerable. This is not our rights being taken away… this is love.”
Submissions from aspiring filmmakers, including screenwriters, directors and/or producers for scripted and experimental feature-length storytelling projects, will be accepted through June 5 (applicants can submit as individuals or as a team). The film doesn’t necessarily have to have a specific genre, but “they must capture the spirit of Wayfarer to create radically sincere content that celebrates and elevates the human spirit.”
On June 22, up to five filmmakers will be selected and they will be paired with a seasoned storyteller who will mentor them throughout the production process. Wayfarer Studios and Wayfarer Entertainment will provide the winners with $50,000 in production financing and in-kind services. As the title of the competition suggests, all projects must be filmed with social distancing guidelines in mind and feature innovative filmmaking techniques. This includes webcams, mobile phones, user-generated and sourced footage. Filmmakers are asked to submit pitches for original stories – screenplays or experimental – with complete scripts encouraged but not required. For a full list of guidelines visit www.sixfeetapartexperiment.com.
“I hope it brings not just a moment, but a surge or a wave of creativity,” he said of the competition. “I hope it inspires people from all over the country, young and old, from all communities and in particular communities we don’t often see represented on screen. This is the time when the blades are sharpened and the gold is melted in the fire. Some of the most beautiful moments in my last two films came when all our plans flew out the window and preparation met the opportunity to pivot and adapt.”
“This is a time for creatives to adapt and use their genius to create something we haven’t seen before. I’m so excited to see not just what people come up with, but to see people pushing cinema forward in a new way,” he adds. “Over the last hundred years, when the world is in the most pain and turmoil, it’s the creatives who always find ways to bring us hope and lift us up. It doesn’t come from us, but through us, and I believe deeply that this virus as terrible and devastating as it has been for millions and millions of people around the world also presents an opportunity to create a new normal. To push our civilization and industries forward. And what better way to see what’s possible in cinema then to reach out to the undiscovered voices in our country and give them the chance to have their voices heard and create.”