- LOS ANGELES
Maya Albanese--one of six up-and-coming filmmakers who made the final cut for the Commercial Directors Diversity Program (CDDP), a joint initiative of the DGA and AICP--has joined production house brother for commercials and branded content in the U.S.
Having mentored and collaborated with Albanese via the CDDP, brother founders--director Ted Melfi (Hidden Figures, St. Vincent) and executive producer Rich Carter--were duly impressed, adding her to the shop’s directorial roster. The move underscores the potential value of the CDDP to not only provide guidance and support for women and ethnic minority directors, but also to ultimately connect this talent with viable, established production companies to meaningfully advance their careers. In this case, the connection was direct with the company participating in the CDDP deciding to sign the director. In other instances, the education provided for and the work produced in concert with a CDDP shop can help to put promising filmmakers in a better position to draw interest from the industry at large, leading to them finding a professional roost and competing for real-world projects. The overall ad community benefits as well from a more inclusive, diverse talent base.
As part of her CDDP experience, Albanese shadowed brother directors Melfi and Giovanni Messner. The latter already knew Albanese, having earlier collaborated with her on a job. Well before the final CDDP directors were selected, program director Tamika Lamison had reached out to Melfi about being involved in the DGA-AICP initiative. Melfi immediately agreed and they were later assigned Albanese. Carter and Melfi then met Albanese and struck up a rapport, which gained further momentum when they learned that Messner had a prior favorable working experience with her. Beyond shadowing a director, CDDP provides some funding for a spec project. Carter sought out ideas, casting a wide net which brought in Stuart Fink, who wrote The Last Word, a feature--directed by Mark Pellington and starring Shirley MacLaine--which debuted at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Fink had a spec spot concept for Georgia-Pacific in which a gay couple, a high school student with Down syndrome, and an immigrant to the U.S. each receive a letter bringing life-changing news. The couple reads that its adoption of a child has been approved. The student is notified that she has been accepted to Syracuse University. And the immigrant is informed that he has been granted permanent residency in the U.S. A supered tagline in three parts reads, “History is written on paper/Which is why paper/will never be history.”
Carter saw Albanese embrace the script, take charge of the project, and display her storytelling prowess and sensibilities encompassing casting, direction and connecting with on-camera talent and crew. She brought the CDDP spec spot, titled “History,” to fruition, helping to realize its full potential, said Carter. Additionally, brother then had the opportunity to work on a pair of real-world projects with Albanese: an IBM film chronicling its history of hiring high-level female executive talent, including its current chairperson and CEO Ginni Rometty, and what that has meant to the company; and an introduction for this week’s AICP Next Awards ceremony in NYC which had Albanese capturing interviews with competition judges and creatives who reflect on what’s next in terms of breakthrough work.
Getting the chance to observe Albanese on these actual jobs produced by brother gave Carter and Melfi a read on her that went beyond the Georgia-Pacific spec piece. “She was working with the IBM CEO and didn’t flinch,” noted Carter. “It was clear Maya could handle the client side of things and for lack of a better word, the ‘politics’ of being a director.”
This well-rounded talent was formed over years of experience prior to CDDP. As a self-starter, Albanese has fashioned a far-reaching body of work, making an initial splash with a pair of documentaries at Columbia University in New York where she received her Masters in Documentary Filmmaking. Though the curriculum required that she make one film, she doubled that output with Cuba’s Violin and Blind Date.
The former had her surreptitiously in Cuba just prior to President Obama restoring relations and access to that country. There she shot and directed this piece, the story of a donated violin that stealthily makes its way from NYC to a talented, instrument-less young musician in Havana. The 2014 documentary hit the festival circuit. Its production placed Albanese in Havana at an opportune time--just as the pathway between Cuba and the U.S. had re-opened. She reached out to media outlets and got the opportunity to report on and generate content in Cuba for NBC News.
A year after Cuba’s Violin, Albanese turned out Blind Date, which follows three blind New Yorkers on their quest for love in the digital age. Blind Date--for which Albanese served as co-director and co-producer--premiered at DOCNYC. She then went on to direct varied other projects, including an Ebola documentary in West Point, a notorious slum in West Africa.
Albanese also broke into the commercials/branded content arena and in recent years has told stories for such brands as Nike Women, Kids Foot Locker, John Frieda, Chevrolet, Ketel One, Capital One and JCPenney. She sought out and landed these assignments on her own, including a look at one generation of a family passing on its sneaker head passion onto the next for Kids Foot Locker, and an online series for Ketel One called Heirloom. Albanese produced her ad and documentary fare via her own Wildcard Productions, a shop which hires women for half or more of its crew on each project. Albanese shared that in her casting and hiring she proactively seeks “radical diversity across the board.”
Among Albanese’s recent endeavors is a PSA, “Packs Her Punch,” which broke in April to coincide with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. She is also currently wrapping a project about the first ever SAG feature film made by a cast and crew of whom more than half have a disability. Much of Albanese’s work shows her penchant for telling the stories of underdogs, and giving them the chance to find their voice and share it with others.
Carter noted that all the CDDP directors have, like Albanese, assembled impressive bodies of work. “The program’s other participants are also awesome filmmakers,” assessed Carter. “I urge my fellow executive producers to have a look. For me, at this stage of my career, there’s not a greater sense of satisfaction than being on the ground floor of a director’s career and helping to move them up.”
Albanese said she feels her joining brother was an act of kismet. She has a special connection with the company, valuing the support she’s gotten from Melfi, Carter, Messner and other colleagues there. She praised the CDDP for helping to bring talented women and people of color into the industry fold.
“I’m proud and happy to be with brother,” affirmed Albanese. “But this story has more meaning attached to it than that. We want to help talent get to the next rung on the ladder. I hope that my signing helps other directors in the program get signed.”
Client Georgia-Pacific (spec spot) Creative Stuart Fink, writer. Production Maya Albanese, director; Catherine Goldschmidt, DP; Rich Carter, exec producer; Jonathan Biebl, producer; Emily Terfehr, production manager. Editorial/Finish Cosmo Street Julie Kravitz Gannon, editor; Shinya Sato, Flame artist; Chelsea Spensley, producer; Yvette Cobarrubias-Sears, exec producer. Color Apache Quinn Alvarez, colorist; Stefanie Schaldenbrand, producer; LaRue Anderson, exec producer. Audio Post Lime Adam Primack, mixer; Susie Boyajan, exec producer. Production Support Quixote Studios Camera Support Keslow Camera Performers Ungela Brockman, Umberto Celisano, Arianna Ortiz, Katelyn Reed. CDDP Tamika Lamison, program director.