The Becoming America Anthology Series explores three different stories from three different parts of the USA (Los Angeles, Chicago, and Durham). Each explores the journeys we take during times of duress, opening us up to explore our differences and discover the surprising bonds that bind us together.
Created by Break The Room in partnership with Pop Culture Collaborative, it took a committed village with an undying spirit to pull the series off; created and produced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
WWS sat down with Sameer Gardezi, the Founder and CEO of Break The Room to discuss the project.
Can you describe the creative process? Origination of idea, how the writers were assembled and worked?
Our storytelling process comes from Break the Room, a methodology but also an IP incubator company I founded, which tells stories from and by the community. Since the creation back in 2018, I’ve had the privilege of starting up over 15 rooms within the States but also globally in regions like Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. In our first year we secured a production greenlight with Paul Feig’s company Powderkeg with our digital series East of La Brea (SXSW selectee, Urban World Film Festival winner), which centred on two Muslim women navigating life in Los Angeles. We also sold our first network project with Dwayne Johnson’s company with an all Polynesian writers room to tell the story of Hawaii’s last Native-owned resort.
In building our ideas, we always turn to the community and its voices. So much organic storytelling comes from listening and building from there. Once the seed is planted, we assemble the room from our 300+ network of global writers which simply came from word of mouth. The thing is there is so much talent out there. Hollywood tends to just sleep on it all.
Our room foundation is collaboration. We break the hierarchy and really spend the extra time to empower our writers and talk through things with delicacy and preciseness. Having worked on several shows in the industry, I learned very quickly that shutting down voices in the room only leads to an awful product.
What did you and the team use as inspiration for the stories?
Absolutely our lives. But beyond that, this anthology was so specific. Each of us came from a place of exhaustion and hopelessness. As artists, a lot of how we express ourselves had to evolve just like all industries. So with that, release was the inspiration. Being vulnerable, true to ourselves and knowing that we haven’t had a chance to connect in ways we desperately need acted as our centerpiece in storytelling.
The anthology will be an enlightening experience for viewers. Did you and the team have any ‘learning moments’ during research or production?
Creating three mini webisodes within two months during a pandemic on an ultra low budget is absolute insanity. But beyond that, as it is with any project, we learned how to communicate and work more effectively. When you literally cannot talk face-to-face with someone in the same room, you have to quickly figure out how to build that connection and rapport in other ways. Fatigue comes in staring at a screen all day. How do you function like a team when you’re in three different time zones? All these things definitely presented learning moments.
Filming with COVID precautions must have brought some challenges. Were there any positives things that came from these production challenges?
Limitations lead to creativity. There is beauty in imperfection. And if you can, just go do it. I’d say those three thoughts immediately come to mind. We got to create stories by people who would normally not have access to the industry. We were able to empower folks who never get opportunities. The negatives are countless but the positives, though few, are so impactful.
What do you hope will be the lasting effect of these stories?
Embracing change despite our differences is one of the most difficult things anyone can do. It requires you to look across the table, put yourself out there, and at times to your own detriment. We hope these stories bring truth to the complicated ways we find ourselves in uncomfortable spots. But, most importantly, I hope these stories uplift and inspire. That’s why I became a storyteller so if I could share that with anyone, that is truly a gift.
Watch the first chapter of the series and stay tuned for further instalments.