Baltimore is rich with artists, entrepreneurs and storytellers with unique voices and projects. However, many of them lack the resources and connections that are necessary to bring their projects to life…until now.
Launched in March 2016 and led by Roberto Busó-García, the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film & Media at Johns Hopkins University identifies innovative visual media artists in Baltimore and connects them with prestigious artists, veteran film-makers, executives and technologists to produce powerful projects and bring meaningful stories to life.
The Fund’s Bold Voices, New Paradigms Incubator includes a mentorship program that centers around one-on-one consultancies from those in the industry; an intensive lab where fellows work one-on-one with veteran artists to guide their pre-production and development process; and Brain Trust meetings where special industry guests lead brainstorming sessions to solve project-specific challenges.
“What is spectacular about Mr. Zaentz’s career as a film producer is that most of those movies he financed outside of the Hollywood system,” Busó-García said in an interview with citybizlist’s Edwin Warfield. “He always found a best way of producing them at the highest level…That is a big part of the legacy that he leaves behind and I think that is sorely needed today not only in Hollywood but in a lot of the arts.”
The only one of its kind at any university in the country, the fund is open to residents of Baltimore as well as students from Johns Hopkins, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Peabody and Hopkins alumni with film, television, virtual reality or technology-centered projects.
The Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund launched in 2016 through a $1 million grant from the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation. Zaentz was a three-time Academy Award-winning producer whose work included “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Amadeus” and “The English Patient.” Over the last year the fund has awarded $410,000 in production and development support to 19 fellows and provided mentorship and production assistance to 37 artists.
Recently, Busó-García sat down with Edwin Warfield to discuss the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund, Maryland’s film industry and the importance of supporting independent artists and filmmakers.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Could you update us about the fund’s activities so far?
ROBERTO BUSÓ-GARCIA: The Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund has been open and running for a year now and we have supported 32 projects. They have been accepted into our different programs and gone through the labs, through the Braintoss meetings and through the incubators. Once a project is accepted into the Innovation Fund the artists become Saul Zaentz fellows, which means that they have access to these initiatives and also to all kinds of other social support as they continue on their process.
One of the most sought after kind of support is the Development and Production Fund, which is the financial component of the Innovation Fund. Here, fellows who have completed their round of initiatives are eligible to ask for actual cash grants and we give up to $70,000 in production funding and up to $20,000 in development funding. Now, the Development and Production Fund has granted more than $400,000 already, in just one year to 19 projects.
The Bold Voices, New Paradigms incubator is the central initiative of the new innovation fund. Within it, you have the mentorship program, the screenplay lab and the documentary lab. Another unique aspect of the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund is that it is open to all Baltimore residents. It’s a program that is housed at Johns Hopkins University and sponsored by Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation, but it is for Baltimore. Any person who lives in Baltimore can apply and they can apply for free and one of the requisites to keep the fund Baltimore-centric is that all projects must be able to be produced in Baltimore. So that means if you write a screenplay that happens on a beach on a Caribbean island (it) is probably not for us, but, Baltimore has so many different sites. It’s like a small continent in a way that a lot of projects that are not based here, can actually be shot here or produced here. We have great animators; we have excellent augmented realty houses, great postproduction houses, etc., but it has to be the production aspect of it that has to happen in Baltimore.
There are other ways of funding right now, and there is also a lot of other ways of showing…if it’s a film, if it’s in the independent film, the biggest problem is, you still have to spend money to get attention to your film. There are a lot of theories out there of creating community around the film so that when it comes out, the marketing has been done.
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