Creating Reel, Impactful Films with Viacom and Reel Works

Any professional filmmaker will tell you that creating original films is a challenging process that requires great effort and skill. One may assume, therefore, that young high school filmmakers would find it an enormous challenge to produce quality, original work. However, walking into Reel Works’ Reel Impact event at Viacom’s 1515 Broadway headquarters two weeks ago, audience members would never have guessed that the nine students presenting their original work were relatively new to the world of film.

Reel Works is a New York City based organization that immerses young people in filmmaking programs free of charge. In the Reel Impact program – which was recently launched through a partnership with Reel Works and Viacom – students create original films examining social issues of their choosing. A heavy emphasis is also placed on marketing and finding a target audience for the student films.  Participants are given the opportunity to conduct research through focus groups and interviews to determine which audience facets best fit the social topics of their choosing. A mentor guides students through the filmmaking and post-production processes, covering everything from concept through promoting their films via social media.

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Get Schooled and DJ Khaled celebrate ‘Major Keys’ Success on Get Schooled’s Annual Yearbook Day

It was a digital yearbook thrust six stories over Times Square, with 400 high school students from 38 states grinning from the side of Viacom’s world headquarters. They had good reason to smile. These self-assigned “change makers” were about to be acknowledged by DJ Khaled for their commitment to improving their schools and communities.

Khaled Key Day – as the whole activation was dubbed – was part of Get Schooled’s Yearbook Day. In particular, they acknowledged the impact of the Shorty Award-winning Major Keys campaign and honored Khaled’s role in helping it to flourish. The program – which challenges students to master seven “Major Keys,” or focus areas via Get Schooled’s gamified online interface – has been immensely successful, reaching more than 250 million people in just the past year.

While the digital yearbook photos flashed on the billboard outside, several New York City area high school students piled into Viacom’s studio inside to watch a catered question-and answer session between Khaled and radio host Sway Calloway. The students waved their “Grateful Khaled Keys” in the air and learned a bit more about the program’s Keys to Success.

“I’ve never really experienced anything like this before,” one student told Complex. “Everyone’s really excited and hyped up, and I’m excited to be here. It showed me that you can be who you are, and I’ve always struggled with that, so learning to be myself has gotten me to where I want to be when I graduate.”

Students also shared their aspirations and accomplishments with Khaled. “I am grateful for the positive impact we have had on so many young people and even more grateful for their talent and leadership,” said Khaled. “I am excited to work with Get Schooled to inspire and engage even more young people next year.”

#GRATEFUL #JUNE23RD 🔑 bless up @getschooled

A post shared by DJ KHALED (@djkhaled) on

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Join Paramount and Al Gore in Pledging to #BEINCONVENIENT

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

On June 1, the day that President Trump announced that he was withdrawing the United States from the 195-nation Paris climate agreement, Paramount confirmed that Al Gore would edit his forthcoming Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, to include the executive turnabout.

The last-minute changes to the Jon Shenk- and Bonni Cohen-directed film should only inject more poignancy and relevance into a film that earned standing ovations and critical praise when it opened this year’s Sundance Film Festival, on the eve of Trump’s inauguration.

In both a nod to Gore’s courage and an emphatic statement of its own commitment to environmental causes, the studio has launched a Pledge to #BEINCONVENIENT, a social activation where concerned citizens can articulate their solidarity with the movement to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Those who take the pledge can record a video explaining their passions for the environment:

A companion site offers resources to help pledgees choose renewable energy and communicate their priorities to others.

The Pledge follows Paramount’s longstanding commitment to environmental action, a philosophy that permeates the organization, from employee events organized by the studio’s Green Team to helping fund the Green Production Guide for making sustainable Hollywood films.

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Viacom Once Again Joins Everytown for Gun Safety to Wear Orange and Fight Violence

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

There’s a reason that hunters, bicycle messengers, construction workers, joggers and anyone else with a compelling reason to stand out drape themselves in orange: it works. After all, it is hard to be mistaken for a deer when you are wearing a blaze-orange insulated onsie in a snow-filled forest.

Yet, safety orange is not a widespread part of the everyday American wardrobe, because why should it be? Most Americans are not traipsing through the forest on a deer hunt or delivering pizzas via bicycle on a daily basis.

And yet, 93 people die, on average, every day from gun violence. Seven of them are children or teens. Hundreds more are injured. Every. Single. Day. With 12,000 annual gun murders, America’s gun homicide rate is 25 times greater than the average of other developed nations.

Source: Everytown for Gun Safety

It is an ongoing crisis in plain sight. And it often seems as though it is being widely ignored by lawmakers and others. On June 2, Viacom once again teamed up with Everytown for Gun Safety for Wear Orange, a statement initiative declaring that change is needed. Their weapon was one that cannot be ignored: orange clothing.

Viacom unleashed the power of multiple brands to support the initiative across a variety of on-air and outdoor platforms. The company’s headquarters, a tower heaving from the center of Times Square, served as the epicenter of this support, with the building lit orange along the New York City skyline and this public service announcement – created in conjunction with Everytown and HUGE – playing on the enormous video screens hanging off the building’s eastern facade:

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MyViacommunity Stories: Fostering Hope, By Design

We caught up with Katie Dominguez, senior art director at TV Land, to talk about her volunteer work through Viacom’s pro-social branch, Viacommunity.

Eli Musser: How do you volunteer? What are you involved with?

Katie Dominguez: I’ve volunteered for a few different organizations through Viacom’s skills-based Talent for Good program, donating design and branding services. One organization is Graham Windham, a foster care agency in New York City that also offers schooling, health care centers and after-school programs. Another organization is called Integrate, and they provide services for those with autism who have gone to college and can’t land jobs. They also educate companies about autism and offer recruitment to help candidates with autism.

EM: How do you feel when you’re volunteering?

KD: I take it as a serious job. I always give 100 percent when I’m doing my work, so when I’m volunteering, even though I’m not getting paid for it, I’m definitely trying to do the best job I possibly can. At the end of the day, I’m just glad that I can help give my services to something that’s worthwhile.

EM: How do you feel about Viacommunity’s presence at Viacom?

KD: I think it’s great. I’ve been taking full advantage of it. Being able to share your skill sets is really nice. I think it’s great that Viacom has this opportunity for people to get out there and give back. I hope a lot of people do it and continue to do it. I think it makes Viacom a better company because it enriches their talent and provides a great service.

Get Schooled and the Chainsmokers Celebrate Tulsa School’s Soaring Graduation Rates

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Fresh off topping a billion and a half YouTube views of their smash hit Closer, the Chainsmokers used their ever-growing profile to acknowledge something special happening in Tulsa: soaring graduation and college acceptance rates at Webster High School.

In a partnership with Get Schooled, an organization founded through a partnership between Viacom and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the duo crashed senior day at the Oklahoma high school, where 90 percent of a diverse student body is eligible for free or reduced lunch. After dazzling students at an assembly, the band gave every member of the school’s senior class a ticket to their concert that night at Tulsa’s BOK Center.

“We wanted to inspire them to go off and do an art, or whatever it is after this, and if we can be a part of it, that’s great,” the Chainsmokers’ Andrew Taggert told Marty Kasper of News on 6, a local television news show, as he stood alongside bandmate Alex Paul following the assembly.

The Chainsmokers’ Andrew Taggert and Alex Paul address students at Webster High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of Tulsa Public Schools.

Over the course of an ongoing four-year partnership with Diplomas Now, a national organization dedicated to improving retention and graduation rates, Webster’s graduation rate has jumped to over 75 percent from just over 50 percent, while the number of college-bound seniors has risen by 33 percent.

“The Webster High School community, in partnership with Diplomas Now, united the school around a common goal:  improved graduation,” said Get Schooled Executive Director Marie Groark. “Incredibly, they engaged every teacher and student in this work and in doing so have demonstrated to the nation what is possible when schools and partners work together. We are excited to recognize their hard work and success.”

The students seemed thrilled with the encounter. “I’m really excited,” Darius Arney told News on 6’s Kasper. “I can’t believe they’re actually here.” Check out the station’s full report from the school:

NewsOn6.com – Tulsa, OK – News, Weather, Video and Sports – KOTV.com |

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Logo’s Global Ally Examines the Less Sunny Side of Jamaica

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

“Growing up, my mother was always saying that [if] any of her child become gay or lesbian, she would take them out personally,” says the unidentified man in the red tank top, his head sliced from the camera shot. “Meaning she would kill us herself.”

Facing these sorts of attitudes and resorting to clandestine behavior are the reality for the LGBT community in Jamaica, where same-sex relations are scorned by an enormous chunk of the population: more than 80 percent, according to a new video from Logo’s Global Ally campaign and the Where Love Is Illegal organization, believe that homosexuality is immoral. And while homosexuality is not illegal, “acts of gross indecency” – intimate relations between members of the same sex – are.

The video, This is Who I Am: LGBTQ Stories of Survival, is the latest in Global Ally’s year-long storytelling project that launched last year on The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biophobia to unite victims, activists and supporters of LGBT rights around the world.

The Jamaica that unfolds on the video is a brutal realm where LGBT individuals often live in constant fear of violence, exiled from their families, unemployed and uneducated because they are forever shunning public places.

In an atmosphere so tainted, why, then, would anyone come out at all?

“Our personal stories, which display our humanity, are very important, because it’s not real to Jamaican people unless they know somebody who’s part of the community,” says one man, echoing Logo’s position that increased visibility of LGBT individuals – whether in one’s personal life or the media – is the best way to diffuse homophobia.

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Helping Dreamers Dream Bigger at Viacom HQ

Viacommunity and the “I Have a Dream” Foundation joined forces recently at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters for a speed mentoring event, an invigorating and inspirational experience for a group of under-served students seeking career guidance.

Focusing on goals, Viacom employees from across the Sales, Production, Marketing and Graphic Design departments, among others, delivered career advice to college students affiliated with the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, who are otherwise known as Dreamers.

Both the students and Viacom employees came equipped with positive spirit and energy. During several timed sessions, students rotated among tables organized by Viacom’s departments. Two employees were stationed at each table facing one Dreamer, providing an intimate setting that provoked thoughtful questions about job-search processes and career tracks. Throughout the two-and-a-half-hour event, the room buzzed with motivational chatter, as conversations trickled on long after each timer expired. Viacom’s employees were eager to share personal anecdotes to show Dreamers that they too can pursue careers in the entertainment field and the students, in turn, left our offices energized and inspired.

i-have-a-dream-event

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Nick’s Sarah Landy’s Bottom Line: Helping the Under-Served Find Their Way in Higher Education

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Sarah Landy has had a pretty great career so far.

Straight out of Skidmore College, she interned and assisted at Nickelodeon during the nascent days of the now-iconic Blues Clues, Several divisions and promotions later, she is vice president of preschool production and development, regularly flying out to collaborate with Nick’s animation teams in LA and partnering with production companies in Toronto, Vancouver and Dublin. The smash hit Blaze and the Monster Machines and the upcoming animated Butterbean’s Café are two shows she oversees as executive in charge.

As with any successful career, however, it began somewhere. And Landy traces that somewhere back to a network of counselors, relatives and mentors who supported her from a young age. Her parents set a life framework that all but guaranteed she would attend college. A sequence of advisors led her to choose Skidmore through an immersive college application and selection process. A college professor connected her with Dr. Alice Wilder, one of the head researchers behind Blues Clues and the person who helped Landy score her first internship.

Landy, left, with Alice Wilder, one of the head researchers behind Nickelodeon's hit show, Blues Clues.

Landy, left, with Alice Wilder, one of the head researchers behind Nickelodeon’s hit show, “Blues Clues.” Photo courtesy of Sarah Landy.

“I realize I had a lot of help along the way identifying what would be a good fit, guiding me through the application process, encouraging me to go visit – and I can’t imagine my life without it,” Landy recalls.

Unfortunately, not everyone receives such robust support. So when Bottom Line, an organization that helps low-income first-generation students get into and graduate from college, arrived in New York City from Boston five years ago, Landy knew immediately that she had found her cause.

“I have a passion for students and equal opportunity, and it felt like a really good match,” she said.

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What Kills More Americans Than Car Crashes or Guns? LISTEN for the Answer

Our nation is, without a doubt, in the midst of an addiction epidemic.

Nearly 21 million Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol, making substance abuse as common as diabetes, and more prevalent than cancer. Drug overdoses killed more people in 2013 than car accidents and guns, and an alarming 1 in 7 people in the U.S. are now expected to develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lives.

So how do we turn the tide against this crisis?

It starts with getting rid of people’s long-held misconceptions. For many, that means removing the shame synonymous with substance abuse.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, who today released the first-ever Surgeon General report on alcohol, drugs, and health, sums up the challenge this way: “We need to change the way we see addiction – not as a moral failing but as a chronic illness that we should approach with the same determination as we do diabetes, hearth disease, and cancer.”

This issue has touched the lives of tens of millions of Americans across the country. It’s the impetus behind MTV’s powerful documentary on opioid addiction, Prescription For Change: Ending America’s Opioid Crisis.

And it’s why Viacom announced yesterday the launch of “LISTEN” an awareness campaign in partnership with non-profit Facing Addiction to break down the stigma of addiction, promote resources to help those struggling with substance use, and encourage people to approach America’s addiction crisis with empathy, not condemnation. As informed citizens, actively listening to others impacted by this disease is the first step toward progress.

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