Work In Progress – A Preview To The 2019 AT&T Hello Lab Mentorship Projects

The 2019 AT&T Hello Lab Mentorship Program is well underway, supporting up-and-coming filmmakers as they bring their projects to life. A program specifically designed to spotlight underrepresented voices in the entertainment industry? Sign us up! Helmed by lead mentor and Emmy® Award-Winning Actress, Writer, Producer, and all-around dope human being, Lena Waithe, five Writers are paired up with five Directors and are guided through the process of bringing their short films to fruition. They attend workshops, learn how to pitch their projects, and launch into production, getting incredibly hands-on experience. The program is an amazing platform to bring the voices and stories of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community to mainstream media, which we can all agree, is insanely needed.

Mitú has been covering the exciting journey that these filmmakers are on from the very beginning. And because we always keep it real, we wanted to give you a behind-the-scenes look at these projects during the craziness of production. AT&T Hello Lab also created a YouTube series called The New Creative Class with Lena Waithe, which gives an unfiltered and fascinating look into the different artistic journeys, featuring commentary from Lena herself. Not everything always goes smoothly. (Wouldn’t that be a dream if it did?) There are challenges, anxieties, and major problem-solving when it comes to making a short film. Each Director/Writer team faced both setbacks and victories as they started to film.

“Postmarked”

“Postmarked” follows a young boy, Scooter, on a quest to find the whereabouts of his Trans-sister.

Director: Malakai

Writer: Angela Wong Carbone

In episode 3 of The New Creative Class with Lena Waithe, Director Malakai shared about the many changes that the “Postmarked” script underwent prior to production. She and Writer Angela had to change the script about 80 times. But Angela was on it with the changes and rolled with the punches. She churned out different drafts of the script in order to find the best way to present the story. As Lena pointed out in episode 3, sometimes there’s nothing more brutal than having to rework your script over and over, but “ultimately it’s an artist’s journey to know when to stop painting.” Malakai also faced the challenge of approaching a story about a trans woman when she herself isn’t trans. The actress in the short – Quei Tann – is trans and also acted as the consultant on the film. Malakai found it incredibly helpful to have Quei working with them to help make sure they’re holding up the integrity of the story and the importance of what they’re sharing with the world.

“One out of Thirty” 

Director: Vishnu Vallabhaneni

Writer: Malik Aziz

“One out of Thirty” is a romantic comedy that centers around a young, black Muslim architect as he tries to fast for Ramadan with his fianceé, while also trying to win a major contract for his firm. 

Because director Vishnu Vallabhaneni is not a black Muslim man, he took his research very seriously prior to filming. He visited a mosque several times in order to learn the morning prayer. On set, he also had two script consultants for guidance when it came to shooting the morning prayer scenes. A major challenge that Vishnu and Writer Malik faced was a particular scene that required the main character to essentially sink and descend into his bed. In order to get the shot, production had to take an air mattress and build a plywood cover on top of it. They then cut out a section of the plywood that was roughly the size of the actor. They placed the air mattress underneath the plywood structure, and when it was time to shoot, they quickly deflated the air mattress. Talk about movie magic! You can check out how they pulled off the stunt in episode 4 of The New Creative Class with Lena Waithe.

“Spilt Milk”

In “Spilt Milk,” a single mother of a baby boy must move back home with her parents, and deal with reconnecting with her ex-partner who she conceived her child via sperm donor.    

Director: Cierra Glaudé

Writer: Mechi Parada Lakatos

Writer Mechi had extensive rewrites on her script and churned out roughly 10 drafts. In episode 3 of The New Creative Class with Lena Waithe, Lena pointed out that “writing is rewriting” and is part of the process. Mechi found it both sad and exciting to go through the rewriting process and to see what new things came alive in a new draft. The rewrites were definitely worth it because heading into production, Director Cierra Glaudé was ecstatic to learn that she landed her dream cast in actresses Dascha Polanco (Orange Is the New Black) and Zuri Adele (Good Trouble). In episode 4 of The New Creative Class with Lena Waithe, Cierra talked candidly about her experience directing this film and the vulnerability of having to dig into her own history and explore past heartache as the director of a film that deals with that subject. During an interview in the episode, Lena explained that Cierra leads with kindness and joy but can also tap into her own personal experience – including the hard memories – in order to tell stories through her filmmaking. 

“Fragile.com”

Director: Alison-Eve Hammersley

Writer: Brittany Menjivar

In the horror short “Fragile.com,” teenager Mara dreams of being an actress and meets a man who promises that her dreams will come true if she agrees to live-stream herself crying for his website.

In episode 5 of The New Creative Class with Lena Waithe, Director Alison-Eve experienced some nerves as she headed into production. But a visit from Lena on set helped her confidence and re-affirmed her creative choices as a Director. Allison-Eve kicked off shooting with a major prom scene, involving lots of moving parts and actors. She had to deal with the challenges that come along with a huge scene involving background actors and continuity with shots. The story of “Fragile.com” involves the main character, Mara, crying a lot. Lead actress Carly Stewart was perfectly cast. She possessed a unique depth in her performance which allowed her to take on the difficult material. She had to cry for roughly 10 hours straight, and she knocked it out of the park. Lena’s advice for the production was to make the film feel not like school, but instead to focus on making it feel like art and human.

“Adeline, The Great”

“Adeline, The Great” is a comedy about Adeline, the only person of color at an all-white boarding school, who is forced to question her commitment to activism when she realizes she’s in serious trouble.

Director: Jessica Mendez Siquieros

Writer: Jasmine Johnson

Jessica has both a gift and a love for directing kids, so it makes sense that “Adeline, The Great” by Writer Jasmine Johnson (formerly titled “The Fat Friend”) would be the project she would bring to life. When Lena visited set, she said she felt a synergy between Jessica and the kids. This is incredibly important since kids – as Lena pointed out in the behind-the-scenes video – don’t necessarily know how to tap into certain emotions or certain headspaces. A Director with a gift for working with children – like Jessica – is able to communicate with them clearly, warmly, and effectively. Heading into production, any Director faces stress and anxiety. Jessica’s biggest anxiety was living up to all of the expectations. “Adeline, The Great” faced unique challenges since the majority of the cast consists of children. Kids can only shoot for nine hours in a day, so Jessica knew she had to utilize her time wisely to get all the shots that she wanted. On set, Writer Jasmine was excited to watch Jessica flourish as a Director, and Jasmine pointed out how cool it was to see Jessica bring the script to life. 

As these filmmakers (who are bursting with so much talent it’s crazy) continue on their journey with the AT&T Lab, it’s exciting to see their projects take shape. Through all of the challenges and stress that comes along with filming and production, there has also been immense artistic growth as these projects continue. Stay tuned for more info and our culminating video as the lab wraps up!

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