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Can Brian Grazer and Ron Howard change how Hollywood hires talent?

By Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

LOS ANGELES — The entertainment business has embraced modern technology when it comes to streaming shows, targeting ads and using data to predict what you'll like. When it comes to hiring screenwriters, though, Hollywood is a Luddite, relying on personal relationships, phone calls and lists of proven scribes cobbled together by talent agencies and studio executives.

Oscar-winning filmmakers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard said they've witnessed that problem during their nearly four-decade-long partnership making movies including "Splash," "A Beautiful Mind" and "Apollo 13." Promising writers blow years of their lives trying to get agents and have their work seen by the right people.

"It's called 'development hell' for a reason," said Howard, 66. "It's not just hard, it's deeply flawed."

So what are they doing to fix it? Their Los Angeles-based startup Impact Creative Systems has spent the last two years connecting up-and-coming talent with studios through its competitive screenwriter accelerator program — an eight-week boot camp that helps scribes get their scripts in shape to pitch to executives.

This week, the company expands with the launch of an app called the Creative Network, which allows executives to find talented writers and helps them get work. If successful, Impact hopes to grow the app to change hiring for not just writers but directors, crew and other professionals.

Impact — founded in 2018 as a unit of Imagine and now a separate entity — borrows Silicon Valley ideas to cut through a system that has for decades put up massive barriers for new talent, particularly outsiders and diverse voices, Grazer said.

 

"Hollywood is very medieval and extremely hierarchical," said Grazer, 69, who was inspired by tech accelerator Y Combinator. The idea, he explained, is "to create some level of equality within all the voices that are not only in Hollywood but in the world."

Eighty-seven writers have gone through the free-to-apply accelerator program, which matches participants with established industry mentors (dubbed "shapers") to workshop their scripts. Its A-list speaker series has featured the likes of J.J. Abrams, Jason Bateman and Issa Rae. The program culminates in a "pitch day," on which the writers show off their ideas for invited studio executives.

Impact, which employs 13 people, has held two programs in Los Angeles and one in Australia (a major international filmmaking hub), each costing about $1 million to put on, including stipends of up to $40,000 for participants. The recent Australian version, financed by the Australian government and film agencies, was held online over the summer because of COVID-19.

Alumni have gone on to staff jobs on shows and have sold films and series. Impact alum Tanya Steele was hired as a staff writer for the DC series "Doom Patrol." Zimbabwe-born writer Godwin Jabangwe sold his animated musical "Tunga" to Netflix last year.

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