SeriesFest Launches ‘From Start To Screen’ Inclusion Initiative To Boost Diversity At Annual Festival, Year-Round Programs


EXCLUSIVE: Episodic festival SeriesFest is looking to further boost diversity and equity within its own space with Inclusion Initiative: From Start to Screen.

The Inclusion Initiative, which is presented by Royal Bank of Canada, seeks to serve creators and future executives applying to programs at the annual fest and during SeriesFests’ year-round movements. Programs and the year-round initiatives will begin with submissions for SeriesFestSeason 8, which will run from May 5 to May 11, 2022.

Year-round engagement for 2022 will include three emerging artist programs: ‘The Women Directing Mentorship in partnership with Shondaland, The Pitch-a-thon, and The Level Forward Impact Award.

Individuals and companies interested in participating in the year-round efforts must complete a waiver that details their on-set inclusivity and artistic intentions to support more diversity.  Those selected will have access to professional development opportunities including pitch sessions, workshops, screenings, panels, special access, and curated creator benefits such as cash awards or mentorships.  

“Since its creation, SeriesFest has strived to recognize and celebrate underrepresented voices in the entertainment industry,” said SeriesFest Co-Founders, Randi Kleiner and Kaily Smith Westbrook. “Through this partnership with RBC, we believe that we will not only reach closer to these goals by creating opportunities to help shepherd the next generation of content creators and executives into the festival, but also influence much needed changes within the industry.” 

SeriesFest’s Inclusion Initiative is currently open for access at Read more about the year-round initiatives below. 

Women Directing Mentorship: SeriesFest and Shondaland are proud to have partnered for the past three years on the Women Directing Mentorship — a competition designed to discover aspiring female directors with a unique voice and provide a launchpad for their career. 2020 Finalists and Winner Video here.   

How it Works: The Women Directing Mentorship is anchored with the prestigious opportunity to shadow a director for an episode of a Shondaland original series and a $5,000 stipend to use during the duration of their mentorship. SeriesFest will offer a travel stipend to the finalists and a trip to the annual festival for the winner. All applicants will receive a stipend for submission.    

“Through our partnership with SeriesFest, we have been fortunate to discover new directors that we may have otherwise been unaware of,” said Tom Verica, Senior Creative Production Advisor for Shondaland. “With the addition of the Inclusion Initiative, we are so excited for the increased access and opportunity it will provide these new filmmakers and look forward to seeing the stories they tell.”  

Level Forward Impact Award:  In its second year, this award will be given to the episodic pilot and team who demonstrate, on top of their commitment to creative excellence, a thoughtful, thorough, and deliberate approach to using storytelling as a means of leveling the playing field for Women, Black, Indigenous, Latine, Asian, Disabled, LGBTQIA+, geographically, socioeconomically, or otherwise diverse voices who have been historically overlooked, ignored, or exploited. The selected winner will work with mini-studio Level Forward to develop their series, pitch, and work together towards setting it up with a distributor. By rewarding intentional art and process, the Impact Award incentivizes dual value creation – financial and social – as contemporary measures of success. 

How it works: The Level Forward Impact Award is awarded to one filmmaker during the 2022 SeriesFest event and is supported by Royal Bank of Canada. The awardee will receive a $5,000 cash prize and will participate in the Level Forward Impact Award Conversation at the 2022 festival, which includes a screening and travel stipend for all finalists. 

Pitch-a-thon: Going into its sixth year, SeriesFest’s Pitch-a-thon program provides independent emerging artists in the episodic space with an opportunity to participate in an exclusive live pitch session with top television, new media and digital executives in hopes of moving their unproduced projects forward. SeriesFest has expanded the program to include a cash prize for the festival winner. Following the festival, SeriesFest will travel to Toronto in Fall 2022 for the first-time ever with the Pitch-a-Thon Road Show. Celebrating creators and producers across Canada, the winner will receive a $2,500 cash prize.   

Netflix CCO Ted Sarandos spoke to the importance of fine-tuning your pitch during his SeriesFest: Season 5 Innovation Talk: “I love that you have pitch sessions here because that is the one thing they don’t teach you in film school, they don’t teach you in college and it turns out to be probably the most important function of creating a show and getting it on the air is this 30 to 60 minute meeting that you’ll have with a programmer that you will be able to passionately sell. And it’s a real sales job and you either close or you don’t get in the room mostly.” 

How it Works: Participants for each pitch-a-thon are selected through a submission process curated by the SeriesFest programming team. Prior to the pitch session, all finalists participate in a week-long mentorship program with Working Artist Group to fine tune their pitch presentation and materials. The participants receive feedback from the panelists as well as offers for support for their project or mentorships. The winning pitch will also receive a $2500 cash prize to help fund the development of their concept.  

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