Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Tyler Mitchell.
Even as the industry becomes increasingly global, Australia can still feel a long way from Hollywood.
Impact Australia, the upcoming local iteration of Imagine Impact – the content accelerator program developed by Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Tyler Mitchell – aims to lessen the tyranny of distance and uncover local talent.
To be held in Melbourne in June, it’s the first international iteration of the eight-week Impact program, which pairs writers with highly experienced showrunners and screenwriters in order to hothouse their projects from concept stage through to sellable screenplays. The initiative, based a on start-up accelerator model, then culminates in a pitch day in front of global buyers.
“Australia has a history of having wonderful, incredible artists and voices, whether they be screenwriters, directors or actors. For a country that has a relatively small population, it has amazing talent that comes from it. But it’s also very far away from Los Angeles,” Imagine Impact head Mitchell tells IF.
“Australians have proven over the years to have really interesting, fresh points of view and stories to tell that connect with audiences. More than ever audiences are hungry for those unique stories and voices.”
That Imagine Impact has sought to expand beyond the US makes sense; it was developed in part with the aim of democraticising access to the screen industry.
“We want people who may not have the opportunity, the connections, or the financial ability to take a risk on becoming an artist to have a place to where they can apply, regardless of their experience, and get the mentorship and the process that Impact offers,” says Mitchell.
— Imagine Impact (@ImpactImagine) March 3, 2020
To date, three Imagine Impact programs have held in the US, with alumni projects picked up by Netflix, Legendary, Amblin Entertainment and/or alumni signed by major agencies and management companies, including; WME, CAA, UTA, Verve, Anonymous Content, Management 360, and Lit Entertainment.
The US program has been highly competitive; it received 12,000 applications across its three rounds from 82 different countries, with 60 projects from 77 writers developed so far. A number of Australians have participated, including Lynda Heys and Steve Turnbull (we interviewed them about their experience here), and Philip Tarl Denson, whose Impact-developed TV series Anomaly was picked up by Legendary TV.
Indeed, it was previous Australian involvement in the Impact program that inspired representatives from Film Victoria and Screen Australia to approach the Impact team about hosting a version Down Under – an idea which in turn has gone on to be supported by Gentle Giant Media Group and the other state screen agencies.
Up to 10 writers/writing teams will be selected, and will receive a stipend to relocate to Melbourne for the duration of the program. Imagine Impact will bring over from Hollywood a variety of people to serve as mentors, in addition to local writing talent. Known as ‘shapers’, these mentors will meet twice weekly with the participating writers to workshop their projects.
Crucially, the pitch day that will be held in Melbourne at the end of the program will also be live-streamed back to the US to a group of global buyers.
In addition, Impact will host weekly meals and seminars for the creators; the US bootcamps saw speakers like Jason Bateman, Ryan Murphy, Issa Rae, and Universal chair Donna Langley. Since announcing Impact Australia, Mitchell says the team has been approached by high-profile Australian talent to deliver talks – people who want to give back to the local industry. Mitchell will also be in Australia with other members of the Impact team, and either Grazer or Howard will come down.
So what will make an application to Impact Australia stand out? Firstly, ideas that have a clear pathway to market.
“They’re viable projects that are going to attract talent and and make it through all of the obstacles and hurdles to getting produced. We really are looking for things that we believe have a chance of getting made,” Mitchell says.
However, Mitchell adds that what separates Impact from other scriptwriting programs is that the team also take into account, through the application process, the whole of the writer and their voice; who they are and their life experiences. This means when they’re reading their sample, it’s not a cold read.
“We can see where it’s coming from, what informed it, that person’s life experience, and maybe the story that they want to tell that might not be coming through on the page.”
Also key is that applicants can demonstrate that they are able to work collaboratively, and have resilience; they’re able to survive in a rejection-filled business.
“Even the people who are at the top of the field get told ‘no’ everyday. It’s the people who will bounce back and keep going [we’re after]. If their script gets passed on, they’re going to take the input that they heard, work on it more, rewrite it and just keep going. That grit and determination is something that we look for in writers, because it’s not just about what they do in our program. It’s about setting them up to succeed in the long-term.”
After the Impact program is finished, writers’ scripts can be hosted on a platform that Impact has developed that the top 250 companies in Hollywood have access to. It’s a platform Mitchell says they’re looking to substantially develop into the near future, to become something like “the LinkedIn for Hollywood” and the broader global industry. Writers who complete the program also enter into a one-year first-look deal with Impact; projects developed through the program have sold to Imagine Entertainment.