A new fund named after a pioneering film producer will connect budding filmmakers with resources and experts in an attempt to grow Baltimore’s film industry.
The Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film and Media Studies, recently launched at Johns Hopkins University, creates an incubator for filmmakers to connect with industry veterans, executives, artists and entrepreneurs to develop and produce projects in Charm City. The fund requires the projects to take place in the city in order to provide sustainable jobs in the television and film industry.
“A big part of what we’re trying to achieve here is to build a two-way bridge between Baltimore and the rest of the industry,” said Roberto Busó-García, director of the fund and director of the university’s Master of Arts in Film and Media program. “The hope is that we can create a continuity of projects that makes for stable job creation, not just jobs that come in when a production comes in for a week and leaves, but for a [continuous] flow.”
The fund was made possible through a $1 million grant from the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation. The foundation and the fund are named for Zaentz, who died in 2014. The three-time Academy Award-winning producer’s film credits include “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Amadeus” and “The English Patient.”
The incubator’s inaugural class includes 18 projects from filmmakers and visual artists that were selected from more than 75 submitted proposals. The writers of five of those proposals took part in an April screenplay lab, a four-day workshop with five established artists who helped them further develop their screenplays. The others will have one-on-one mentors and advisors to help with their projects.
Harrison Demchick, 32, took part in the lab to work on “Time-Traveling Idea Bandits,” a story about a young writer who discovers these bandits who steal ideas from one era and sell them to writers in the past.
“The screenplay lab was an opportunity to receive direct and detailed one-on-one feedback from accomplished screenwriters, those who already achieved what I and other participants aim to achieve ourselves,” he said. “The whole experience was invaluable.”
Demchick said he got feedback on clarifying the arc of his central character.
“I also need to make sure the story is clear, which is always an obstacle when writing about time travel,” he said.
For Demchick, whose project came in third place in the feature category of the 2016 Baltimore Screenwriters Competition, the community-building aspect of the lab and the resources the fund offers can break down barriers for young writers like himself. While he won the screenwriting competition in 2011 and came in second in 2008, his works have yet to reach the point of production.
“There is so much creativity in Baltimore but simultaneously anybody who wants to work in film has certain obstacles in not being in an acknowledged hub like L.A. or New York,” he said. “I feel like becoming a part of this will ultimately be a turning point in my screenwriting career.”
Zack Schlosberg is one member of a team of three who took part in the screenplay lab with “Excessive Force,” about a family in a post-Freddie Gray Baltimore coming to grips with a death from an act of police brutality.
“We thought, seeing the way the national media descended on Baltimore for a short period of time and then kind of left, there was something left to be told about the human cost of violence and just that there are stories, that families have real lives that are really affected,” he said.
The lab helped Schlosberg, who is about to graduate from Hopkins with a degree in writing seminars, and his group focus its idea. While they thought they’d set the film in post-uprising Baltimore, they may set it closer to or during the uprising of April 2015. The lab also impressed upon them the importance of going out and doing more research.
He thinks the project is great for Baltimore.
“There are some people in Baltimore who have some great ideas, great stories to tell and don’t have the means to do it until something like this comes along with the resources and the money and the ways to connect people,” he said. “It is a place with so many people with diverse voices and diverse experiences.”
“I think Baltimore’s history is fascinating itself and there are huge changes — social, political and economic — that have transpired in the last 200 years, and all of that builds up to the fact that Baltimore is a deeply diverse place,” he said. “I don’t only mean ethnicity, I mean walks of life. And you can find so many pockets of reality that America has lost already in Baltimore still.”
All of the writers in the inaugural class can apply for grants through the fund to help finance their projects. In addition to the labs and mentoring, there will be “brain trust meetings” in which movers and shakers in different fields and all the fellows are brought together for intensive brainstorming and problem-solving questions.
Busó-García thinks the fund is a fitting continuation of Zaentz’s legacy. The late filmmaker made films that, while many are now classics, were hard to get made and produced at the time.
“A lot of his movies were based on challenging works of literature that people thought were inaccessible to an audience and he thought different, so that’s the legacy we’re building off of,” he said. “We’re doing it with all kinds of audio-visual content. We’re taking it to the next level and we’re doing it in Baltimore.”