2016 Grantee Profile: Pilot Light

Pilot Light is a project that combats real life problems with real life solutions. Pilot Light founders Sasha and Maame were both in film school and highly passionate about issues facing themselves and their communities. They explain, “we were both in a film program, but in different years, and it just so happened that one of the instructors thought we would be perfect to work together. It took off amazingly. We had a blooming relationship immediately.”

Maame and Sasha reflected on their relationship and realized they could spread its beauty across their community, “We thought that there must be potential for relationships like this all over the place. So, we had an idea- let’s connect minority youth who are interested in film so they can come together and share their ideas and experiences with each other.”

“Nothing can replace experience. You can’t learn these roles out of a book.”

The idea was to create connections within the community, while simultaneously offering concrete film experience to young minority film students who might not have the opportunity otherwise. This was achieved through the creation of a broadcast-ready pilot. The women explained, “Nothing can replace experience. You can’t learn these roles out of a book. The only way you learn the role of a PA is by being a PA, the only way you learn lighting is by working with a lighting team. It’s beyond theory.”

The women took their time to carefully strategize just what the program would look like, “We thought it would uphold the essence of what we wanted to do better if it was something that was originated and entirely created by us. At every layer we wanted it to help people of colour and females and we wanted it to feature females of colour – we had to address that.”

“We wanted to create something that people would have to join because it was gold.”

The filmmakers did not take on the task lightly, “We knew it was a big task to take on. We knew it would have to have a solid foundation – we knew that the story had to carry the weight of the task. We didn’t want to write a story and then (network) and ask people ‘can you help us?’ We wanted to create something that people would have to join because it was gold.” And they did.

The women crafted a program that would provide fruitful employment for minority youth while simultaneously building a network for people of colour, “We did not position the program as training sessions or workshops – that makes it sound like a drop-in. No, this is your job. We set up an expectation that you are the agent or the production manager. When you put people to the test that this is their job, people take it seriously.”

The women explained to us how the collaborative and professional environment nurtured leadership within the participants, “one participant was taking their position too lightly and other members of the team sat them down and said, ‘we are a team and it is important for us all to work and run this as a machine.’ They brought the other person up – that doesn’t happen in weekly ‘sessions’.”

By the time it was time to shoot, everyone knew exactly what their responsibilities were, “The actual shoot went AMAZING! Everyone was on point. Everyone understood what their job was: managing props we were using; making sure the shoots were working well. Some of the students never knew what this stuff was before, but once we were shooting they had learned and knew enough that they could relax in their roles. They could think and act very quickly.”

“The same way the grant and idea had to be solid – this has to be solid. We want to have a steady evolution.”

That momentum has carried into the post-shoot days as well, “Students are asking, ‘when are we doing the next one’? And we want to do so much! But, it’s all about timing, and the first one needs to be done and wrapped up in a pretty box first. The same way the grant and idea had to be solid – this has to be solid. We want to have a steady evolution.”

Though, the evolution did not come easy, “When we first applied for a grant, we didn’t get it. But, ArtReach championed for us. They walked us through why we didn’t get it and didn’t make us feel like it wasn’t because they didn’t want us to get it. ArtReach helped us learn the proposal process and helped open our minds into the kinds of thinking that we needed in order to apply. ArtReach made the whole thing possible, and made it feel so much more rewarding when we got it.”

Author: Cassey Andrews