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Open Television to fund new work from four creators

OTV will support the development of new projects from up-and-coming television producers, writers, directors

Open Television fellows (from left to right) Vincent Martell, Reshmi Hazra Rustebakke, Deja Harell and Karan Sunil
OTV fellows (from left to right) Vincent Martell, Reshmi Hazra Rustebakke, Deja Harell and Karan Sunil

Open Television (OTV) is taking a big step toward growing its platform and becoming a creative pipeline to Hollywood. For the first time since its inception, OTV will fund the development of projects from four creators who OTV’s founder said are on the edge of breaking into the mainstream industry.

Prior to this, OTV has mainly focused on being a platform for the distribution of stories that sit at the intersection of different experiences and identities that are often unrepresented in media.

OTV was founded as a development and distribution platform for web-based shows by School of Communication Professor Aymar Jean Christian in 2016. The concept for OTV came from Christian’s book “Open TV: Innovation Beyond Hollywood and the Rise of Web Television,” in which he looks at how the internet changed how shows get on primetime television.

The funding for the fellowships comes from a grant OTV received from the Pop Culture Collaborative, a philanthropic resource and funder learning community focused on how pop culture and social justice can change and add to the narratives available in mainstream media.

“This grant is significant is because it’s the first time that we’ve been able to fully invest in the development of a project and an artist,” Christian said.

The fellow program is led by Stephanie Jeter, head of production for OTV, and Britt Julious, who joins OTV as its first artist manager. Jetter and Julious will read scripts the writers produce and shepherd them through two retreats organized by Pop Culture Collaborative. 

Each of the fellows have worked with OTV before on a series and are people that Christian said have the potential to impact and change the television industry landscape.

“These are all people who within a year or two will be writing for major television shows or feature films,” Christian said.

OTV’s Inaugural Class of Fellows:

Vincent Martell 

Martell is a queer filmmaker and the founder of the Chicago-based production company VAM STUDIO. VAM is uniquely comprised of a dedicated team of filmmakers of color, women and queer-identifying professionals. One of VAM STUDIO’s most recent productions was a trilogy of videos for Grammy Award winner Esperanza Spalding, the latest video “How To (hair)” featured a few dozen black women and femmes from Chicago. 

“Vincent has a great eye as a director and is helping develop and diversify Chicago’s film scene,” Christian said. “He has built an independent studio in Chicago with people whose communities have been historically excluded from Hollywood.” 

His latest original series with OTV, “Damaged Goods,” premiered in March of this year. The series centers four roommates in Chicago as they navigate the complexities of sexuality, race, drugs, social media and more.

Karan Sunil 

Sunil is a writer and director whose award-winning web-series, “Code-Switched” follows five South Asian-American millennials juggling love, work and family in Chicago. The series was listed as one of Chicago Reader's “Web Series to Watch in 2018” and won “Best Web Series” at the Los Angeles Film Awards.

"OTV's commitment to artists has gone beyond just a platform, it has created a prototype for what it means to make work that reflects a community while creating one in the process,” Sunil said.

He recently worked as a writers’ production assistant on “The Red Line” from CBS. He has also featured his work at venues like the Museum of Contemporary Art and the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago. 

“Karan is rigorous in his commitment to representation,” Christian said. “He did a lot of research for ‘Code-Switched’ and worked hard to craft a series that not only innovates within the comedy genre but also showcases the diversity within the South Asian community in a way we’ve never seen in the U.S.”

Deja Harrell 

Harrell is an award-winning writer and actress from Chicago. Harrell wrote, produced and starred in the OTV web series “Seeds.” The comedy follows the misadventures of four young black women.

“Seeds” was selected to screen at various festivals including Series Fest, where Harrell was awarded Best Emerging Female Creator as well as at New York Television Festival, where she won Best Actress in a Dramedy. She also was nominated for Best Writing at the 2018 Streamy Awards.

“Seeds is something that is distinct in the television marketplace,” Christian said. “Seeds and Harrell’s work is getting a lot of interest in the industry.”

Reshmi Hazra Rustebakke 

Rustebakke is a multi-faceted filmmaker and theater maker. She is the co-director of critically acclaimed “Brujos” on OTV, which tells the story of gay Latino doctoral candidates who also happen to be witches, and on “FOBia,” a romantic comedy about an Indian immigrant woman.” 

“We really wanted to support Rustebakke in creating and developing a new project,” Christian said. “She has been an incredible asset as a director for two projects on our platform, and her own project is an excellent showcase of her own voice.” 

Rustebakke previously received the Robert Moss Directing Fellow at Playwrights Horizons Theatre and the Artist of Color Fellowship at New York Theatre Workshop. 

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