Los Angeles, Aug. 19 – RespectAbility’s Entertainment Lab kicked off its latest 2022 virtual cohort earlier this week, welcoming eighteen individuals and one writing duo, from the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Australia. The Lab’s first session included a panel of recent Lab alumni who shared their industry experiences, offered advice to the participants, and discussed their most recent projects and endeavors.
Peter Lee, a television writer who just completed the in-person version of the Lab earlier this summer. Lee described how RespectAbility’s guest speakers and industry panels helped him find unique consulting opportunities. “The execs that we met with really understood how valuable our perspectives and experiences are,” said Lee. Lee also shared his hope that the newest cohort make every effort to get to know each other and connect with professionals to build a lasting network. “I felt an immediate connection to everyone. They really understood what it meant to be disabled, and I didn’t realize how meaningful that would be to me.”
Shireen Alihaji is a filmmaker and alumna of the 2019 Lab. She spoke about how the Lab provided her with the opportunity to share her disability in an empowering way. Her film, Blue Veil, which Alihaji included on her Entertainment Lab application in 2019, is based on a personal narrative and was featured on both The Black List and the Cannes Screenplay List. “I felt like I was in a safe space, and I also learned how to talk about my project,” she shared. “The friendships I gained from this space were amazing and life-changing, some of which turned into collaborations,” Alihaji continued. In addition to her other accolades, Alihaji was selected for the Sundance Institute’s Latine Collab Scholarship this past year.
2021 Lab alumna and film director Cashmere Jasmine cited the RespectAbility Entertainment Lab as a turning point in her career, as her experiences within the Lab led to her film being selected for the Slamdance Film Festival. Jasmine encouraged the cohort to forge professional connections with their fellow participants, as she herself left the program with writing groups, collaborators, mentors, and professional opportunities. “If you don’t have a huge network, these are the [relationships] you start with,” she said. Jasmine recently participated in Sundance Institute’s Accessible Futures Initiative, and she is currently the first black female director in Disney’s Launchpad Shorts Incubator program.
Elisabeth Good is a talent manager, casting professional, and alumna of the 2020 Entertainment Lab. Having been a member of the first virtual Entertainment Lab cohort, Good encouraged all participants to learn as much as they can about all facets of the industry such as writing, directing, casting, acting, and production. “There’s a lot to learn, even if you are only interested in one side, be open to the other opportunities that come up,” said Good. She currently works at GAMUT Management, a talent agency that focuses on the representation of actors and models with disabilities. Good also works in casting to help creatives and production teams find disabled talent for their projects. Good recently served as a script supervisor on the 2020 film, Best Summer Ever, which is now available on Hulu.
Ru Kazi works in physical production and is an alum of the 2019 Entertainment Lab. Kazi is currently in the Directors Guild of America Assistant Director Training Program, a program that allows participants to work on active commercial, film, and television sets and join the DAG union upon program completion. “That opportunity would not have happened without the RespectAbility Lab,” shared Kazi. As a multi-hyphenate in the industry, Kazi also advised the newest cohort about the importance of personal agency and voicing their own needs and aspirations to get the most out of the Lab experience. “There are so many ways to participate in storytelling. All of you have an opportunity in this program now to explore different paths.”
RespectAbility’s Entertainment Lab has more than 100 alumni, many who are currently working in all facets of the entertainment industry for studios such as The Walt Disney Company, Paramount Pictures, and Netflix. The alumni shared how the Lab is a unique opportunity for all participants to collaborate and network within the entertainment industry. “From the get-go, RespectAbility did everything in their power to make the Lab a great experience for us. I felt cared for in a way that I rarely do,” said Lee.
RespectAbility’s fourth annual Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities brings authentic and diverse portrayals of people with disabilities to the screen by creating a pipeline of diverse professionals with disabilities behind the camera. Participants include people with physical, cognitive, sensory, mental health, and other disabilities. Lab alumni currently work for a variety of studio partners including DreamWorks Animation, Netflix, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and The Walt Disney Company, as well as in a variety of writers’ rooms. Others have had films featured at festivals such as Cannes Short Film Festival, SXSW, Slamdance, and Tribeca, and participated in additional career track programs including with Film Independent and Sundance Institute.