The Leading and Empowering New Storytellers program’s first cohort will present their film, ‘The Spider Within: A Spider-Verse Story,’ at the Annecy Festival this June.
Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Pictures Imageworks have announced their joint 9-month leadership program, Leading and Empowering New Storytellers (LENS), rolled out internally last year with a talented core filmmaking team. The program sets out to identify four candidates, from inside and outside existing crews, who then dive headfirst into creative leadership positions - Director, Writer, VFX Supervisor, and Animation Supervisor - and work together to make an animated short film.
Backed by Sony Pictures’ global, multi-pronged racial equity and inclusion strategy, Sony Pictures Action, the studios developed the program to provide high-potential candidates from underrepresented groups an opportunity to gain valuable leadership experience. Program creators and producers Michelle Raimo Kouyate (Puss In Boots, Silver Linings Playbook) and David Schulenburg (Spider-Ham: Caught in a Ham) guided the group, with the participants receiving unprecedented access to and mentorship by leaders at the two studios via workshops and talks with directors, animators, visual effects artists, and other seasoned crew members.
Kouyate and Schulenburg stated, “We feel honored and privileged to have been given the opportunity to give shape to the inaugural launch of the LENS program. We are incredibly proud of how the hard work of all four filmmakers - Jarelle Dampier, Khaila Amazan, Clara Chan, and Joe Darko - has paid off. They far exceeded all expectations as they stepped into their leadership roles and created a remarkable short. We are very grateful to be part of a studio that is doing meaningful work to give voice to varied groups and to the studio leadership - Kristine Belson, Michelle Grady, Pam Marsden, and Paul Martin - who gave rise to this program and supported us every step along the way.”
The first short from the LENS program is titled The Spider Within: A Spider-Verse Story, a genre-bending thriller focusing on a theme meaningful to the filmmaking team.
In The Spider Within, Miles Morales struggles to balance his responsibilities as a teenager, friend, and student while acting as Brooklyn’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. After a particularly challenging day living with these pressures, Miles experiences a panic attack that forces him to confront the manifestations of his anxiety and learn that reaching out for help can be just as brave an act as protecting his city from evil.
The short will debut exclusively at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival this June, presented by the LENS program’s first cohort and team, including:
Jarelle Dampier, director:
Dampier is a director and story artist at Sony Pictures Animation who began his entertainment career in television as a story artist on various Justice League animated shows, Skybound’s Invincible, Marvel’s What If…? and Marvel's Spider-Man before moving on to feature animation boards. After teaming up with Sony to direct for the LENS program, he served as a story artist for the highly anticipated sequel, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. He is currently working on an unannounced feature at Sony Pictures Animation.
Khaila Amazan, writer:
A writer at Sony Pictures Animation, Amazon began her entertainment career as a story trainee in the creative development department at Columbia Pictures, followed by executive assistant positions in development departments of Walt Disney Studios and Netflix’s Original Independent Films group. Her TV writing credits include Netflix’s Freeridge and Blumhouse x Amazon Studios’ upcoming series The Horror of Dolores Roach. On the film side, Amazan wrote ACE Entertainment’s A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea & Tomorrow and co-wrote Stampede Ventures’ K-POPS! with Anderson .Paak.
Clara Chan, VFX supervisor:
Chan is a VFX Supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks with over two decades of industry experience. In 2001, she joined Imageworks as a technical director in the lighting department. Her credits include the upcoming animated feature Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the Academy Award-nominated Over the Moon, the first three Hotel Transylvania films, Storks, The Emoji Movie, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Oz the Great and Powerful, The Amazing Spider-Man, Cats & Dogs 2, G-Force, Beowulf, the Academy Award-nominated Monster House, The Polar Express, and Stuart Little 2. In addition, in her early career, Chan worked as a software engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. She earned a B.S. in computer science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a master’s degree in visualization sciences from Texas A&M University. In her spare time, Chan also directs and produces an animated short film funded by the Canada Council for the Arts.
Joe Darko, animation supervisor:
Darko was a senior animator at Sony Pictures Imageworks, most recently completing work on the highly anticipated Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. He joined Imageworks in 2017, and his credits include the Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the Academy Award-nominated The Sea Beast, for which he served as animation lead, The Mitchells vs. The Machines, Smallfoot, The Angry Birds Movie 2, and Vivo. Darko’s earlier credits include Thor: Ragnarok, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, and The Son of Bigfoot. Darko attended Bournemouth University in the south of England and graduated with a degree in Computer Animation.
Commented LENS filmmakers Dampier, Amazon, Chan, and Darko, “The LENS Program was life-changing for all of us - it allowed us to achieve a goal that we felt was very far away. Seeing diverse representation in leadership roles really makes a difference because it shows the next generation of filmmakers that the barriers are being broken down. Animation is the most collaborative art form there is, and it takes a special place to open its doors and foster creatives who have the potential to tell great stories but haven’t been given their chance to shine. We are so grateful for this experience and the opportunity to create something meaningful, and we can’t wait to share it with the world.”
Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Pictures Imageworks will soon be gearing up for the program’s second round, in which participants will collaborate to create a short within the world of the studio’s upcoming animated feature, K-Pop: Demon Hunters.
Source: Sony Pictures Animation