Disney Seeking Underrepresented Filmmakers for New Shorts Incubator

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The seven-month paid Disney Launchpad: Shorts Incubator will yield live-action shorts that may premiere on the upcoming Disney+ streaming service.

For many filmmakers, the opportunity to direct a Disney movie represents a type of holy grail. Now the studio is launching a program to help directors from underrepresented backgrounds along the first step in that journey.

Disney Launchpad: Shorts Incubator is a seven-month program that will guide emerging filmmakers in the creation of original live-action short films that may receive their premiere on the upcoming Disney+ streaming service. Based at the studio's Burbank campus and featuring a curriculum of storytelling and professional development led by educational partner AFI, the program, crucially, will provide participants with a living stipend, and they will be paid the Guild-negotiated minimum for the content they create. (Over on the television side, the Disney/ABC Writing Program is the only of the major network programs to pay a stipend.)

"Part of being inclusive and representative is [being mindful of] geography, and it's not exactly inexpensive to live in southern California," Disney vp multicultural audience engagement Julie Ann Crommett tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Economics and entry into this business is so much based on whether or not you can actually move and live here, and we wanted to lift that burden as much as possible."

Launchpad considers a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives in its definition of underrepresented. "We're very inclusive across the spectrum of what that means, including gender, race, ethnicity, LGBTQ, persons with disabilities, veterans, different religious groups," says Crommett. "The sky is the limit."

Applicants must be at least 21 as of July 2 and eligible to work in the U.S., with the experience of at least one completed live-action narrative work (at least five minutes long) within the past eight years. Filmmakers who have helmed a theatrically distributed feature or at least two episodes or projects that have been released on broadcast or cable TV or a premium streamer are ineligible. Applications can be submitted at launchpad.disney.com and are due by Tuesday at noon PT.

Disney will select up to six directors or directing duos, whose pitches must align with the studio's brand and fit the inaugural Launchpad theme of "Discover," for the first class. They will be partnered with two mentors apiece from a pool of creative executives from each Disney feature brand: Marvel, Lucasfilm, Disney live-action, Pixar, Walt Disney Animation and Disney+. Crommett says she looks forward to engaging executives from Fox as the two studios continue to settle into their merger.

Looking ahead, Disney will have the option to adapt Launchpad shorts into features or series, or continue working with participants in a variety of other ways across the massive company's film, television and digital units. "We believe we're setting them up for multiple pathways in the organization, and we have the buy-in internally," says Crommett. "The feedback we've heard is that a lot of times these programs can feel one-and-done, and we want to be really intentional that this is just step one of a long journey with our company, a real investment both monetarily and in terms of creative talent. We hope we can share that seven years down the line, one of them is directing a tentpole for us or is a producing director on a series. That's really the goal here."