While moderating a panel at the Chicago International Film Festival, entrepreneur Troy Pryor heard a phrase coined by Qadree Holmes, founder of Quriosity Productions, that perfectly captured the sort of change that needs to happen in the entertainment industry, "It is like they are calling 1-800-Hire-A-Brother." Troy, whom we previously profiled on our site, has preached from the pulpits, competed in sports, and even acted. But now he is using his evangelical zeal as an advocate for connecting undiscovered diverse talent to mainstream media platforms through his entertainment brands Creative Cypher and Pryor Holdings. "We heard so much talk in recent years from companies vowing to make foundational shifts toward championing diversity, but few have put their money where their mouth is," he told me on a recent Zoom call. He is the founder of a new Creative Cypher Project, the Chicago Film XLerator, a content lab intended to discover new Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) talent and increase creative pipelines in the entertainment industry.
Comprised of executive mentors from major companies including Bron Studios, Netflix, BET, HBOMax, Univision, and more, the Chicago Film XLerator has built an extensive list of qualified executives, producers, and actors. Pryor said that since its inception, the organization has garnered the attention of executives in the film and TV industry including Teri Arvsue (SVP of Social Impact & Sustainability Univision), Lamorne Morris (Actor and Producer “Woke”), Barry Brewer (Actor and Producer), Brenda Gilbert (Co-Founder & President of Bron Studios), Darrien Gipson (Executive Director of SAGindie), Tiffany Williams (EVP of Development BET), Jaleel White (Actor and Producer) James Ward (Multicultural Publicity Executive at Netflix), Whitney McGowan (HBOMax, Marketing), Dometi Pongo (Host, Producer MTV) and more.
“Chicago can be very segregated and depending on what side of town you live on, you may not be aware of resources that are available to you,” said Pryor. “Three years ago, I launched the XLerator program as a way of aggregating Chicago organizations and their resources. A lot of similar pilot programs are great in theory, but they don’t end with a tangibly viable product, which is what we have already succeeded in doing twice. The first time we did it, Sundance recognized us in their National Inclusion Resource List. In our second year, we were able to fund fifty percent of a digital project while bringing in high-level network executives and show runners from a variety of media companies. This year, we are able to fully fund the project of our winning filmmaker.”
Last month, the organization announced the winner of its third cycle, Kimberly Michelle Vaughn, and her project "Hindsight." As the winner of the Chicago Film XLerator program, she will receive a package worth fifty thousand dollars ($50k) to go towards her project and the opportunity to partner with executives from major entities to help produce and streamline the film. Funding partners include Chicago Filmmakers, BTEC, Camera Ambassador and Periscope Post and Audio. The Chicago Film XLerator prize package also includes placement in Chicago’s Filmmakers Showcase, Black Harvest Film Festival Passes, a 1-year membership to Chicago's Screenwriters Network; and monthly customized care packages provided by Lusters products. The winning package also consists of Niche on Demand fundraising and marketing consultations and 50% off equipment rental from Camera Ambassador.This has been their most extensive winner's package to date.
Pryor said that they are entering a new phase, and he plans to scale the Chicago Film XLerator program to 6 additional cities including Atlanta, Milwaukee, Miami, London, Puerto Rico, and Los Angeles. “Kim Vaughn is a very talented creator, said Pryor. “We met at Second City years ago, and last year, she pitched a project that takes a satirical look at an experience she had that occurred during the 2020 protests. It’s a pretty witty way to talk about some serious subject matter.” The program's previous winners are Chantel Chavon and Adenike Thomas. Also among the program's mentors are JaNeika and JaSheika James, whom Pryor met on one of our Rogerebert.com Black Writers Week panels.
Beginning this past fall, Pryor is also serving as a consultant on Chicago Made, a program out of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events that is aiming to help build the Chicago creative economy and a more diverse workforce. XD Tech is leading the way on this workforce development program under the leadership of its founder, Xavier Hernandez, also known as Professor X.
“Chicago has always had amazing talent, amazing creatives, amazing thought leaders, but historically, we’ve had somewhat of a challenge retaining those individuals, and sometimes attracting more opportunities,” said Pryor. “Now, with Cinespace and the tax credit, there have been some amazing things that have been happening in our market to attract more opportunities. But the challenge is we have to continue to optimize those opportunities and build on them to create more. You’ve got the continuous expansion and push for more work in our market, and then you have the diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that many intuitions and organizations are aiming for. With our pilot program, Chicago Made, the goal is to essentially do both. In short, our role is to identify potential candidates that would be eligible to be a part of the program, emerging creatives in a variety of skill sets that just need an extra push. As these individuals become certified and complete the course, they’re going to go into a hiring pool for productions that Creative Cypher already has moving forward.”
Other roles Pryor has recently taken on include serving as an executive producer on the series, "How We Got Here," created by Ebert Fellow and Fellow University of Illinois graduate, Jewel Ifeguni, and collaborating with Cesar Rolon on launching Cypher Latino, which will have a full slate of programming in Puerto Rico and Miami this spring. He is currently working with SheaMoisture founder Richelieu Dennis on his new firm, Group Black, that will assist Fortune 500 companies in supporting Black initiatives. When I asked Troy if there is anything he is forgetting, he said he is co-curating "The Vibes," the new show at Second City from its executive producer Jon Carr, whom he also met during our Black Writers Week.
There's no question that Pryor doesn't shy away from taking the initiative, and that's why I believe he will succeed at any endeavor he desires to tackle. So Disney meets Def Jam, here he comes!
For more information, visit the official site of Troy Pryor.