Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film & Media at Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore is rich with artists, entrepreneurs and storytellers with unique voices and projects. However, many of them lack the resources and connections that are necessary to bring their projects to life…until now.

Launched in March 2016 and led by Roberto Busó-García, the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film & Media at Johns Hopkins University identifies innovative visual media artists in Baltimore and connects them with prestigious artists, veteran film-makers, executives and technologists to produce powerful projects and bring meaningful stories to life.

The Fund’s Bold Voices, New Paradigms Incubator includes a mentorship program that centers around one-on-one consultancies from those in the industry; an intensive lab where fellows work one-on-one with veteran artists to guide their pre-production and development process; and Brain Trust meetings where special industry guests lead brainstorming sessions to solve project-specific challenges.

“What is spectacular about Mr. Zaentz’ career as a film producer is that most of those movies he financed outside of the Hollywood system,” Busó-García said in an interview withcitybizlist’s Edwin Warfield. “He always found a best way of producing them at the highest level…That is a big part of the legacy that he leaves behind and I think that is sorely needed today not only in Hollywood but in a lot of the arts.”

The only one of its kind at any university in the country, the fund is open to residents of Baltimore as well as students from Johns Hopkins, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Peabody and Hopkins alumni with film, television, virtual reality or technology-centered projects.

The Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund launched in 2016 through a $1 million grant from the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation. Zaentz was a three-time Academy Award-winning producer whose work included “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Amadeus” and “The English Patient.” Over the last year the fund has awarded $410,000 in production and development support to 19 fellows and provided mentorship and production assistance to 37 artists.

Recently, Busó-García sat down with Edwin Warfield to discuss the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund, Maryland’s film industry and the importance of supporting independent artists and filmmakers.

ROBERTO BUSÓ-GARCIA: Hello, my name is Roberto Busó-Garcia. I’m the director of the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film and Media at Johns Hopkins University. I’m the director of the Film and Media Master’s Program at the university as well.

EDWIN WARFIELD: Could you tell us how you fell in love with films?

ROBERTO BUSÓ-GARCIA: I’ve been a storyteller my whole life. I, particularly as an audiovisual content creator, the third grade shooting 8 mm film, doing puppet shows, all that stuff. I went to college, I did not study film, but I ended up being after college working in New York as Spike Lee’s assistant for a year, and that opened my eyes to the industry. How the industry had different kinds of resources to tell the stories that I had been trying to tell in other ways! After that, I went back to my native Puerto Rico where I made my first feature-length film, “Paging Emma.”

Thanks to that film, HBO offered me a job in New York. So I moved back to New York City. At HBO, I started as a film and talent evaluator for HBO films and miniseries and the acquisitions department, and I moved on to be acquisitions executive. Now, during my time at HBO, I wrote and directed a dramatic miniseries for PBS, the Reno PBS in Puerto Rico and Florida, called “Amores” and I wrote a lot of screenplays. I started watching a lot of television. I had not done a lot of that until then. During that time, I would see 400 movies a year looking or trying to figure out how they work, why they didn’t work, whether HBO should buy them, what part of HBO should buy them, etc.

I traveled around the world going to festivals, meeting film-makers and executives at the same time. In 2009, I decided to drop that particularly wonderful life because I needed to go back to telling stories, and that’s where I created Alquimia Films based out of Puerto Rico, and I ended up making my second feature film, “The Condemned,” which was distributed by Strand Releasing in the U.S. and HBO in television here and, it got a theatrical release and DVD and shown around festivals and in the world.

EDWIN WARFIELD: How did you find your way into Johns Hopkins?

ROBERTO BUSÓ-GARCIA: Now about three and a half years ago, when the U.S. release of the content (was happening) I started conversations with Johns Hopkins. At the time the dean and president Daniels were already thinking that film and media could play a larger part in what the university did in Baltimore for the community at large, but as well as part of the humanities programs. I started working at Hopkins as a screenplay teacher at the undergraduate level. About two years ago, I was approached to design and run a Film and Media Graduate Program, Master of Arts Program, so I did that. Around the same time, we were approached by Saul Zaentz Charitable foundation to create this, which has turned out to be this, wonderful initiative.

The first time I felt the power of film was in the third grade when we had to give those reports on whatever, Jupiter, Saturn, and people got up there with cardboard, Styrofoam planets and all that. I had been playing around with my parent’s 8 mm camera, so I said, well, you know, the solar system is much larger than a Styrofoam ball, so I drew and animated the solar system. I had learned by reading the world book encyclopedia and on persistence of vision how that, you know, translates to animation; and the day I had to give my book report, I showed up with the projector and I projected on the screen. Not only did my peers love it, but the teacher loved it. She just kept bringing other classes to see it and I saw the power of film. You can bring people together, you can affect people. I was bit by that bug, I was like, my God! I loved the process of it too and thinking about it. I love so many film-makers, film-makers that make me feel and think at the same time, that challenged me in a way that made me feel in a different way than I thought I could feel.

Connect with Roberto on LinkedIn

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