Traditional film schools and colleges play a pivotal role in teaching up-and-coming filmmakers about various creative and technical aspects of the industry, such as scripting, casting, cinematography, lighting, editing, distribution, and marketing.
However, film labs offer additional benefits, giving writers and directors a place to hone their craft and increase their chances of getting their work screened at film festivals. They can also connect with mentors and potentially receive funding for their projects. Here are a few film labs worth applying to.
Film Independent’s Project Involve
Committed to championing underrepresented voices in the indie film world, this signature program from the organization that runs the Film Independent Spirit Awards offers a range of grants. Project Involve pairs emerging artists with seasoned mentors to assist in the production of six short films. Participants also receive an education on the business side of filmmaking. Past fellows include Emmy winner Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) and Oscar winner Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight.”)
Notable recent project: Stephanie Osuna-Hernandez and Gerardo Maravilla’s short “Calabaza” depicts a reckoning between a Mexican American musician and his alcoholic father. The film was screened at the Palm Springs International ShortFest in 2022.
Indeed’s Rising Voices
Co-produced by Emmy winner Lena Waithe, who created Showtime’s “The Chi,” this program focuses on BIPOC storytellers, providing a $100,000 budget to 10 filmmakers to create shorts. Fellows are mentored by members of the lab’s advisory council. Participants have gone on to become Netflix staff writers and NAACP Image Award nominees. Rising Voices is currently accepting applications through Oct. 22 for its fourth season.
Notable recent project: Written by Tee Jaehyung Park and directed by Gbenga Komolafe,“100% USDA Certified Organic Homemade Tofu” tells the story of a young trans woman who begins working at her family’s restaurant to raise funds so she can pay for gender-affirming surgery. The film had its world premiere at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival’s Inclusion Fellowship
LALIFF partnered with Netflix to award 10 filmmakers—five Indigenous Latino and five Afro Latino—$20,000 apiece to produce shorts that will screen at the festival, which was co-founded by Edward James Olmos. Mentors include producers, editors, writers, and composers such as “Raya and the Last Dragon” co-director Carlos López Estrada.
Notable recent project: “Heritage,” directed by Sebastian Rea and co-written by Rea and Julian Laro, is a coming-of-age tale that went on to feature in the 2022 New York Latino Film Festival.
MoMA’s the Future of Film Is Female
This grant program aims to amplify women’s voices through short films, taking a three-part approach that involves funding, exhibition, and promotion. Access to preproduction, financial grants, postproduction, editing, and special effects equipment helps boost the careers of BIWOC directors. The lab culminates in a screening series at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Past fellows have had their work accepted by the Tribeca Film Festival, South by Southwest, and the Cannes Film Festival.
Notable recent project: Directed by Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan and written by Lucas, “Naked Gardens” follows the residents of a socialist nudist community. It screened at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam in 2022.
Outfest’s Screenwriting Lab
Outfest is one of the premier media organizations dedicated to LGBTQ+ creators, hosting festivals and providing grants to filmmakers and actors. The Screenwriting Lab helps writers hone their voices and advance their careers; graduates have gone on to write for shows like “Homeland” and “The Good Wife.” Though it’s currently on hiatus, the Screenwriting Lab will resume in 2024.
Notable recent project: Jared Freider’s “Three Months” follows a teenager who’s waiting for test results following an HIV exposure. This year, the feature received a Critics’ Choice Award nomination for best movie made for television.
Sundance Feature Film Program
Robert Redford’s iconic institute hosts a variety of film and screenwriting labs in multiple areas, including documentary, episodic, and features. The Sundance Feature Film Program aims at developing original full-length films, encouraging experimentation and cross-cultural storytelling, offering year-round financial and creative assistance in project development. It has helped support directors such as Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón, and Lynne Ramsay.
Notable recent project: “Story Ave” is a feature from writer-director Aristotle Torres and co-written by Bonsu Thompson, in which a petty crime leads to a life-changing artistic discovery. The film placed in the 2023 SXSW.
This story originally appeared in the Oct. 19 issue of Backstage Magazine.