Lena Waithe Indeed Rising Voices
Lena Waithe's Hillman Grad and Indeed's Rising Voices poster featuring finalists

When it came to creating the Rising Voices initiative — a collaboration between the job listing website Indeed, Lena Waithe’s Hillman Grad Productions, and Ventureland — Indeed’s Lafawn Davis wanted to be sure of one thing: “It’s not your mama’s diversity program.”

The job site and the production company teamed up to create a program that would help moviemakers from the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community — but also keep in touch with them after it’s over. To find their finalists, Indeed: Rising Voices selected 10 filmmaker teams out of a pool of 850 applicants and awarded them each a $100,000 budget with which to make a short film that’s 15 minutes or less. The finalists also got to premiere their films at a special event at the Tribeca Film Festival.

MovieMaker‘s Micah Kahn spoke to Davis, Hillman Grad Production President Rishi Rajani, and several finalists from the fellowship in a three-part video series, which you can watch above, below, and on our YouTube channel here.

“Most of these filmmakers are going on to do more and more things, whether it’s a one-person show or they’re turning their short into a feature film, we just wanted there to be another element where they can continue to work,” Davis told MovieMaker.

“There [are] so many components of this where it’s not your mama’s diversity program. This is something where we really want this to live in this industry, and also we’re applying pressure because there are other companies that are looking to see what is happening and what’s going on, and hopefully will also invest in the film industry so that representation is there, not just in front of the camera, but behind it.”

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Hillman Grad’s Rishi Rajani wants to make sure that all of the finalists continue to be supported even after their short films are completed.

“We’re also not interested in letting these filmmakers just disappear now,” Rajani said. “For us it’s check-ins, it’s all the filmmakers are coming in to meet with the whole team at Hillman Grad to talk about next steps and what they want to do —getting them in the right rooms to get their first TV gigs, making sure that we understand and know what their passion projects are and whether we’re producing them or someone else is, making sure that they continue to have the support that they need to be successful because too many diversity programs fail in that regard.”

“I think that’s why we wanted to do this differently. We didn’t want this to be a diversity program in that way in that we just support the community or ‘we stand’ with the BIPOC community,” Davis added. “We really wanted to make this something that could live on.”

For Flames filmmaker Deondray Gossfield, the greatest joy of being a finalist in the program came down to one word: “Access.”

“You get to work with some of the best in the industry,” Gossfield told MovieMaker. “Quincy [LeNear] and I know lots of great people and lots of great collaborators to work with, but they’re expensive… I was like, Oh my gosh, I could go after whoever I want!” he added. “This was kind of like, the sky’s the limit.”

However, Gossfield’s filmmaking partner LeNear noted that even a $100,000 budget is easy to spend fast.

“I can say that although we’ve produced and directed things for under $10,000 or under $5,000 and you think all of a sudden you have $100,000 and you think oh my gosh, the sky’s the limit — it is not. Because that money, when you’re paying people what they’re worth and their value, it goes fast,” said LeNear.

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For Huella filmmaker Gabriela Ortega, being backed by Indeed and Hillman Grad made finding collaborators easier.

“It’s a great testament to the prestige of the program, the sort of faith that people had in us. It felt like people feel like they’re getting something out of this, too,” Ortega. “My producers who I’m really close with, they were like, ‘Oh, this is a fellowship for us, too. We’re learning so much, we’re growing so much.’ I think having the experience in general, it’s so magical to have an idea and two months later it’s realized. How many times has that happened?”

Shoebox filmmaker David Fortune said his biggest takeaway from the experience was learning how to work well with others.

“Normally when I work on a project, I’m the top voice, I make my own decisions, there’s nobody I have to consult with or run it by. With this project, it taught me how to collaborate with executive producers and quote-unquote studio heads. Because now you have to take their opinion into consideration, and there might be times when you might have your stance on something, they might have their stance on something, but how do you guys come to the meeting and find a happy place?” he said.

“I think that’s helpful because we pretty much want to move higher and better — and the higher we go, the more those interactions we’re going to have,” Fortune added. “So I think this was something that’s very important to my development as a director, learning how to collaborate with other moving parts.”

Watch our full interviews with the Rising Voices finalists and organizers above.