In the world of television, HBO has a reputation to keep up. So when the “It's Not TV, It's HBO” network planned on reaching out to a community in some way, it had to be as unique as the premium channel tries to be.
Given that the network is built on movies and original programming, HBO decided to reach out to the community of aspiring filmmakers.
But HBO, which prides itself on finding programs and movies not seen elsewhere, went one step further, focusing its support on the aspiring talent whose voices might not otherwise be heard: blacks, Latinos, gays and lesbians.
“We really identified this early on,” says Olivia Smashum, HBO's executive VP of affiliate marketing. “This arose out of the need to serve an underserved market. There are great stories and divergent voices out there, and that's what put us on the map.”
There are now a plethora of film festivals and competitions reaping aid from HBO.
The network has sponsored the American Black Film Festival, the Urbanworld Film Festival and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers Annual Conference/Summit for a decade, but it continues adding new events to the roster, including the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (four years ago), Sundance Film Festival's The Black House (last year) and more recently the Blackfilm.com/Chase/Kodak Short Film Competition.
“We get a lot of requests,” Smashum says. “We want to go where the talent is, and no festival has a monopoly. We make sure it's a truly legitimate event where we can have a presence.”
As technology has lowered the cost barrier for filmmaking, HBO has also found new ways to spend its money in this arena—at both the NY International Latino Film Festival short-film competition and the SHOUT GLBT short-film competition. HBO provides the money so that the authors of the best-judged scripts are given the means to finish their films, Smashum says.
Aid comes from more than just money. “We help with the curating and take an active role in the selection process,” Smashum adds.
But it goes beyond picking the movies; in many situations it's about helping raise the next generation of filmmakers.
“We want to demystify the whole process,” Smashum says. “We bring in HBO executives to run sessions on how to pitch effectively. We bring in established filmmakers and producers who can provide contacts and connections for young talent to help them get to the next level.”