By Beth Deitchman
Personal storytelling and lived experiences are at the heart of Disney’s LAUNCHPAD, which on Friday, May 28, brings six amazing new shorts to Disney+. They’ve been directed by six dynamic filmmakers, all from underrepresented backgrounds, who have looked to their own lives to inspire these bold stories. Disney’s LAUNCHPAD will introduce audiences to a Mexican American teen who is half human/half vampire, struggling to keep her identity a secret from both worlds; a young Muslim Pakistani immigrant who goes on a mission to make Eid a public-school holiday; and a Chinese student at an elite U.S. boarding school who tries out for a leadership position that no other international student has ever applied for—to name just a few of the characters these stories center on. Each LAUNCHPAD short is wonderfully unique and personal, but all will touch the heart as the most quintessentially Disney stories always do.
Disney launched this new program in 2019 to create opportunity for those who have typically been left behind in Hollywood, and to give them a space where their voices can be heard. Mahin Ibrahim, Director of Disney’s Diversity & Inclusion, Market, who oversees the LAUNCHPAD program, says, “Disney at its heart is all about storytelling. So what better way to give artists a seat at the table than through the power of them telling their own stories?”
The six filmmakers whose shorts debut in this first season of LAUNCHPAD were selected from a pool of more than 1,000 filmmakers. In addition to classes—which were mostly conducted virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic—the filmmakers were assigned executive mentors from various divisions of The Walt Disney Company, including Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Production, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Disney+, Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios, and Pixar, who offered support throughout the process, from script development all the way through post-production.
Ann Marie Pace, writer and director of Growing Fangs, was mentored by Osnat Shurer and Halima Hudson of Walt Disney Animation Studios, home to so many films that resonated with her, such as The Lion King and Frozen. “I felt like I could call them any time or ask them any question I needed,” Pace shares. “I remember a very specific experience when we were working on the script. One of the script notes they gave me was, OK, what’s Val’s ‘Let It Go’ moment? It was really profound to hear from these women who have made these films that inspired me in my life, giving me a script note based on their work. I will take their lessons with me from now until forever.”
If storytelling is at the heart of Disney’s LAUNCHPAD, collaboration is intrinsic to the program’s soul, as well. Being a studio filmmaker is a collaborative experience, Phillip Yaw Domfeh, Senior Manager of Disney’s LAUNCHPAD, notes. He says, “We’re looking for people with unique voices and perspectives, but people who also are willing to work with others and build something new and beautiful with that.”
Fittingly, all of the shorts for Disney’s LAUNCHPAD season one live-action short films are based on the theme “Discover.” All six begin streaming this Friday on Disney+, and you can enjoy a sneak peek at all of the shorts in the trailers below.
America Eid, written and directed by Aqsa Altaf
Ameena, a Muslim Pakistani immigrant, wakes up on Eid to find out that she has to go to school. Homesick and heartbroken, she goes on a mission to make Eid a public-school holiday, and in the process reconnects with her older sister and embraces her new home, while her new home embraces her.
Dinner is Served, directed by Hao Zheng, written by G. Wilson & Hao Zheng
A Chinese student at an elite U.S. boarding school realizes excellence is not enough when he tries out for a leadership position no international student has ever applied for.
Growing Fangs, written and directed by Ann Marie Pace
Val Garcia, a Mexican American teen who is half human/half vampire, has had to keep her identity a secret from both worlds. But when her human best friend shows up at her monster-infested school, she has to confront her truth, her identity, and herself.
The Last of the Chupacabras, written and directed by Jessica Mendez Siqueiros
In a world where culture has nearly ceased to exist, one lone Mexican American struggling to carry on her traditions unknowingly summons a dark and ancient creature to protect her.
Let’s Be Tigers, written and directed by Stefanie Abel Horowitz
Avalon’s not ready to process the loss of her mother, but when she’s put in charge of a 4-year-old for one night, she finds more comfort than she ever could have expected.
The Little Prince(ss), written and directed by Moxie Peng
When Gabriel, a 7-year-old Chinese kid who loves ballet, becomes friends with Rob, another Chinese kid from school, Rob’s dad gets suspicious about Gabriel’s feminine behavior and decides to intervene.
A second season, which will be based on the theme of “Connection,” is already getting underway. Aspiring LAUNCHPAD filmmakers may submit applications now through June 11, 2021, here on LAUNCHPAD.disney.com. To bring even more storytellers into the fold, the program will also include a writers track for its sophomore season, which means that it’s possible to apply as a writer, writer/director, a director with a script someone else wrote (so as a team), or as a director. Domfeh emphasizes, “There are so many different types of stories. We want to see stories from every facet of underrepresented filmmakers out there. I think opening up that writers track is going to be paramount to doing that work.”
While the program gives its talented filmmakers a platform that enables their stories to connect with audiences around the world, Ibrahim reveals the unexpected impact Disney’s LAUNCHPAD has had closer to home. “There are about 100 of us who worked on LAUNCHPAD internally within the Company and people have talked about how meaningful it is to them—and one of the most meaningful projects they’ve worked on,” she shares. “This just floored me, because these people work on the most amazing films that impact culture like none other… When work becomes more than work and leads to purpose, that has been truly humbling to see for sure.”