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Doing Something about Diversity

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A sci-fi project in preproduction is slated as the first of what Gold Pictures hopes will be many shows that fulfill its commitment to developing greater diversity both in front of and behind the camera.
Writer-director Jenni Gold and her husband, producer Jeff Maynard, are busy assembling a cast and crew of predominantly women and minorities to work on SYN, a fledgling project set in modern-day Los Angeles. It’s the brainchild of Emmy-winning visual-effects pioneer Grant Boucher. Plans are in the works to shoot a two-hour episode of SYN later this year and shop it around as a TV pilot or indie-produced feature.
“We’re not looking for diversity for diversity’s sake, but talented people who maybe aren’t getting as many opportunities as they should be,” says Gold, whose company is housed on the NBC Universal back lot. “I want to give them an opportunity to step up to the plate.”
The aim is to troll for top talent through word of mouth and networking. Crew members thus far include Linda Rockstroh, first AD for the pilot and director of a future episode, Alexander Ellis, an African American who will serve as second AD, and production designer Cherie Baker. High-profile talent above the line also is expected to get on board, with a directing slot reserved for Ted Lange, the sole African American cast member of The Love Boat.
Rockstroh praises the initiative, noting that Gold Pictures is the only production company she has known in her 15 years in the business that committed to hiring a large percentage of women and minorities—and followed through on that commitment. “When we shoot SYN,” she says, “it will be the first time that, as a woman, I’m not in the extreme minority on the set.”
As a woman whose wheelchair doubles as her director’s chair, Gold brings a unique point of view to the production. “Being a woman director is sometimes looked at as being more difficult, and being in a wheelchair you tend to have a lot of obstacles where nobody ever overestimates you, and it’s potentially going to make somebody feel uncomfortable,” she observes. “But I can relate more to being an overachiever and having to prove yourself than to being a woman.”
Her independent feature Ready Willing & Able, the first action film to have a wheelchair-using actress as the lead character, became a festival award winner and was also nominated for the Media Access Award given by the California Governor’s Committee for Employment of Disabled Persons in 1999, earning runner-up honors behind the Garry Marshall film, The Other Sister.
Given Gold’s background, she prefers to go against type in both her writing and casting, which she finds more interesting and enriching in terms of storytelling—a vision that is now being extended to crewing her newest project. Noting a high comfort level when proceeding with terrific material, Gold says: “SYN is a cutting-edge supernatural crime drama that television audiences are sure to love.”
Adds Boucher, who recently sold his first major feature-film screenplay: “When I heard about Gold Pictures’ plan to champion increased diversity in front of and behind the camera, I knew instantly that SYN was exactly what they were looking for.”
Never one to wilt under pressure, Gold maintains a sense of humor about her role as a disabled director. Once asked how it shapes her approach on the set, she wryly told an interviewer, “My director’s chair travels at seven miles per hour, and I can get there a lot quicker.”
On a more serious note, she can personally relate to the need to advance diversity programs in the entertainment industry in a straightforward way and is now doing her part to help realize this vision.

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