CREATING SPACE - Safiya Sinclair
I developed, oversaw production, and shepherded the creative post-production as Director of Programming (effectively the executive producer). The series was born from Bluprint’s desire to broaden the subscriber base as it transitioned from a TVOD business model to SVOD. As part of that effort, I was tasked with creating a new channel of content for Creative Writing. Importantly, I tasked my team with making the Writing channel the most diverse of all Bluprint content. In this matter, we succeed overwhelmingly.
The Creating Space series focused on five writers with the goal of inspiring the budding writer. The concept of the largely biographical series was to examine writers’ working spaces to learn what inspired them. Capacity restrictions included both timeline and budget. Originally we had planned six episodes but I decided to cut an episode rather than pull back on quality. I was able to sell this decision to my superiors and the results back up this decision. Each shoot was only 1-day long. I worked closely with the producer in the field to ensure the story hewed closely to the vision I had developed. In post, I worked with the editors to ensure the narrative thread was not lost amid too much lingering b-roll (a tendency with this particular editing team). While Bluprint ultimately reverted back to Crafty, this episode and indeed the series was viewed as a major success when completed. It showed that while staying on budget, Bluprint could produce dynamic narrative documentary videos in addition to their traditional educational content.
TEN MINUTES DEAD (trailer)
[WARNING: This video may potentially trigger seizures for people with photosensitive epilepsy. Viewer discretion is advised.]
This was a narrative short film that I directed and produced. I used Kickstarted to successfully raise the full budget for the production. I insisted on paying my cast and crew and was, therefore, able to recruit a high-quality DP and excellent actors. To instill a sense of teamwork, I viewed my cast and crew as collaborators to earn buy-in from all parties. This is how I like to lead. I also like to be the first one to jump in and help whenever possible. Finally, I like to lead with kindness and compassion, regardless of the situation. On a film set, decisions must be made fast and sometimes furiously. As the director of this short, I was the keeper of the creative vision and knew there were things I wanted. However, when it was appropriate, I always invited my collaborators into the decision-making process. I am incredibly proud of the finished result which was completed on a very small budget.
The complete short film can be seen on Vimeo.
TRIPLE-D NATION (trailer)
I developed this series for the Food Network staring Guy Fieri while I was Director of Development for the Denver production company, Citizen Pictures. I was tasked with building a spin-off series for the Diners, Dives, and Drive In’s star and helped develop this project from the ground up. While budget is always a consideration, since the Food Network expressed early interest in the idea, the main complication in prepping a sizzle reel was the incredibly fast timeline required. To do that I relied on relationships that we had established with local restaurants that had already been featured on Diners, Dives, and Drive-Ins. In addition to setting up the sizzle shoot, I researched different restaurants all over the country to lay out what a first season could look like so that could be included in our pitch to network executives. The project was ultimately a success and was picked up for a full season.
This show aired on the Weather Channel when they were involved with original series. The linked clip is from an episode from the fourth and final season that I wrote. My role on the production was as “Story Producer” which is just another way of saying “writer” (without drawing the attention of the WGAw). My job was to quickly go through the available footage and craft scenes and story beats from what we already had. The pressure to do this in a timely fashion was momentous. After the people involved, I believe the story is the most important part of any project. To collaborate on and execute the Executive Producer’s vision for the series meant many late nights. However, the end result was viewed as a success and the fourth season became the highest rated in series history.
BLUPRINT KIDS & FAMILY (channel sizzle reel)
This is a sizzle reel for the Kids & Family content that I helped develop as Director of Programming. As the company was transitioning from a TVOD business model (then known as Craftsy) to an SVOD model (rebranded as Bluprint) they demanded broader content offerings and introduced new content for children. I was promoted to Director of Development as most of these series were already in development. Therefore, I was not able to influence the casting of any of these productions. If I were, I would have pushed for a more diverse cast than is displayed here (as I did for the Writing shows, such as in Creating Space, above). Despite this, I was able to greatly influence the style and character of all of these shows. While they were originally conceived of as kid-friendly versions of traditional Craftsy content, we were able to include more whimsy, play, and imagination—three components that are critical to childhood education. I am incredibly proud of the Kids & Family content that came out of Bluprint. They were hands down the most creative, expressive, and fun content that the company has ever made.
POLKA KINGS (30-sec promo)
I was a Story Producer on this “nonfiction” “reality” show for the REELZ Channel. Naturally, there was very little that could be called “nonfiction” and nothing that could be called “reality.” “Polka Kings,” like the guiding lights that came before it such as “Duck Dynasty” and “Pawn Stars,” was essentially a sitcom filmed with people who don’t act. Whatever the merits or faults of this genre of show, I will say this was the most fun I had working on a cable TV show. The entire raison d'être of the show was to make the viewer laugh. I chose this promo clip because it featured one of my favorite gags/jokes that I wrote for the show. As far challenges go, the hardest part of this show was actually managing the showrunner who felt he had a monopoly on what was funny or a good story, the opposite of collaborative. In my time working in film and television for the past 10+ years, I have learned to work with many different big egos. While I’d much rather work with true collaborators, there are ways to encourage working together and sharing ideas, even when their ego takes front stage.
Was this ultimately a successful project? I don’t think so. The finished series was hokey and lacked any sense of reality. The series quietly aired with no promo and then never saw the light of day again. Most of my best material (in my opinion, of course) was left on the cutting room floor. However, I am including this project to emphasize that comedy—or at least, fun—is an important part of any story. Even a documentary on the most serious topic will benefit from a little levity. I think Exposure Labs demonstrated this perfectly with the narrative scenes that were included in “The Social Dilemma.” (On an unrelated but fun aside, the first cable TV show I ever worked on was a DIY Network show called Cool Tools, that starred “the Step Dad,” Chris Grundy.)
(For a full episode that I co-wrote can be seen here on vimeo. Note that it is not the episode that is teased the video.)
GOOD WORDS (series trailer)
While I have already included a full-length episode of one of the Writing channel shows that I developed for Bluprint while Director of Programming, I wanted to highlight another show as well. I have mentioned that the Writing content included the most diverse talent that Bluprint had ever employed. Of the nine different writers that we featured, Steve Almond was the one white male in the line-up. We cast him because he led outstanding workshops we were already familiar with and knew would work well on film. We shot five episodes with him in front of a live audience of workshop participants. Complicating the project was casting and prepping the shoot in Boston on a tight budget while working 2000 miles away. However, with adroit planning on the part of myself and my team, the end result was full of insight and beauty. A typical comment from users was this one from “Felice”: “Great class. Enjoyed the calming style of Steve. I want to be a poet, and there were plenty of little nuggets here that I will remember and use in my writing. I had thought of writing a story once when I was young, and maybe I still will, but for now, poetry is my outlet. Thank you!” That is exactly what we hoped to achieve with this series.