YouTube Strikes Development Deals With Creators Following Sundance Program (Exclusive)

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Devin Graham & Anna Akana

The streamer will continue to work with Devin Graham, Anna Akana, Jasmeet Singh and pair Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn with the goal of greenlighting new shows for subscription service YouTube Red.

Last year, YouTube brought 10 of its creators to the Sundance Film Festival with the aim of helping them develop their ideas into scripted series. Now, on the eve of the second year of the Sundance Institute | YouTube Creators Intensive, the Google-owned streamer has struck development deals with four of the program's alumni. 

The projects hail from extreme sports enthusiast Devin Graham (aka DevinSuperTramp), comedian Anna Akana, vlogger Jasmeet Singh (aka JusReign) and duo Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn (who together operate YouTube channel Just Between Us). Should their projects receive series pickups, they would debut on subscription service YouTube Red. 

All five creators began working with YouTube and the Sundance Institute last January in Park City during the festival, where they attended screens and Q&As with independent filmmakers. Back in Los Angeles, they met for a three-day writing and directing workshop that featured mentors Mara Brock Akil, Aline Brosh McKenna and Stephen Falk. 

The projects that ultimately scored development deals had "strong perspective," says Nicole Emanuele, a scripted development manager for YouTube Originals. "They are closely tied to what the creators embody. That's what makes them special and what makes me think their audiences will also like them." 

Akana's series, titled Youth and Consequences, was developed with Jason Ubaldi (Dream On), who also wrote the series, and focuses on a fight for power at Central Rochester High. The Never was created by Graham and Victoria Stewart, who also wrote the series, and tells the story of a young man who leads an escape effort for a group kidnapped as young kids. Raskin and Dunn together wrote Everyone's a Liar, a case-of-the-week series about a duo who start a private agency to investigate the morality of friends, business partners and significant others. Singh stars in Mountain of Light, which he also developed in partnership with Abso Lutely Productions, as a young man who leads a heist on the Tower of London to recover crown jewels stolen from his ancestors. 

One result of the program was that many of the creators developed partnerships with writers or directors who helped them develop their ideas into more fleshed-out series concepts. It's something Emanuele says will be built into this year's Creators Intensive, which has already tapped Jenn McAllister, Meredith Foster, Mikey Murphy, Brittany Furlan and other online talent. 

Once known as a vault of bloopers and other low-quality videos, YouTube has taken a number of steps over the years to boost the production value of its video library. Red, which features original movies and TV-length series, is the latest step. For $10 a month, subscribers get an ad-free experience, access to YouTube Music and a slate of professionally produced programming such as an upcoming Step Up adaptation

The Creators Intensive, meanwhile, signals that perceptions about YouTube and the creators it has birthed are changing, especially as a market grows for their projects — Netflix, Hulu and Verizon's go90 have all ordered projects from YouTubers — and as independent filmmakers turn to the platform as a way to reach their audience. 

For the Sundance Institute, the program is about working with young creatives no matter their preferred platform. "We are dedicated to discovery and development of independent artists and we have to go where they are," says Michelle Satter, director of the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program. "YouTube is a great partner for that reason, as well as the creators who are emerging without gatekeepers, telling their stories and connecting with audiences. That's really key to Sundance."