A still from one of the five final videos in the Refinery29 "Pilot Season" in partnership with Kate Spade.

Digital media has been pushing into Hollywood lately and Refinery29 is working to go even further, getting in on the ground floor of developing film talent.

Having already formed R29 Originals, which has almost 30 TV projects in development and more than a dozen “in market,” meaning actively being shopped around to networks and streamers, a new partnership with Kate Spade is aimed at giving more women the tools and opportunity to develop as video creators. Dubbed “Pilot Season,” the project has cultivated five one-minute videos from female directors, with one to be selected in July by a jury of industry veterans, like actor Rosie Perez, writer Tracy McMillan and Kisha Imani Cameron, president of Completion Films, for further development.

The effort, which Kate Spade sponsored and provided fashion and product to be integrated into each video, is in part a push into what Amy Emmerich, Refinery29’s president and chief content officer, called “branded entertainment.”

“There is a shift in the tide with brands who are looking to create this kind of ‘branded entertainment,’” Emmerich said. “A lot of the lobbying I had to do three years ago [when R29 Originals was getting started], those doors are a lot more open now.”

Likewise, the film and TV industry is more open to work from women and is actively seeking it out in some cases, so it’s a better time to be a women’s brand looking to tell women’s stories. The five videos all feature women leads in an array of narratives, like the experiences of a young coat check; an intern who Instagrams her quitting an “abusive” internship and the aftermath, or getting a “dream job” in a circus troupe. The videos will be debuting on Instagram every day throughout this week.

But Emmerich admitted there is still a ways to go for women trying to get into the industry. She pointed to studies like that by Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles, finding women directors face a “fiscal cliff” in commercial work, steeped in industry biases, conscious and not. It also revealed a 22:1 director ratio of men to women in 2018, a number that has been stagnant for over a decade. As someone who has been working in TV and film for more than 20 years, Emmerich said part of the impetus behind “Pilot Project” was to give even a few women the industry opportunities they may have been denied so far, like getting experience simply talking business with — and learning how to pitch to — executives and producers.

“Even as we’re casting and developing projects now, I can see the difference between how women and men pitch,” Emmerich said. “Women don’t get enough opportunities to do it and men typically do — there’s an ease about some of these guys [because they have more opportunities] that changes the dynamic when you get in the room.”

But at the end of the day, “Pilot Project” is a business initiative for Refinery29 and Kate Spade. Emmerich referred to the current climate of video work among publishers as “a video arms race.”

Kristen Naiman, who leads brand creative at Kate Spade, said the project is part of the brand’s own expanding video efforts. The partnership came about when she last year met Emmerich at Sundance, where Refinery29 had gotten in with “Shatterbox,” a short film series that subsequently went to TNT.

“It’s about creating stories that people can see themselves in and creating diversity in that story,” Naiman said of the video push. “We’re ultimately in the business of making objects that play a role in people’s lives.”

She added that while Kate Spade indeed sponsored the project and, as such, its apparel and accessories and other objects are featured throughout, the creators were not told how to feature the products.

“If anything, we needed to make sure they understood they had free rein,” Naiman said. “Going in, they had a more constricted sense of how they were expected to use product and we were like, ‘No, no, take our thing and make it yours.’”

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