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Prentice Penny press photo

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Emmy-nominated producer, writer, and director Prentice Penny and his A Penny For Your Thoughts Entertainment banner announced the launch of “The First Up” program for writers of color at the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA).

Dean of the USC SCA, Elizabeth M. Daley, made the announcement today (June 2). The program will begin this summer and will select three SCA writers who are in the final year of their undergraduate or graduate studies to participate in the year-long program.

Penny and A Penny For Your Thoughts created “The First Up” program to give BIPOC writers the opportunity to have their work seen, while providing real-world work experience as they embark on careers in the entertainment industry. Students will receive guidance and participate in the process of creating a film or TV project from script development to pitching to network and studio executives.

The program is open to all SCA students. They are not required to be enrolled in classes in the John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television to apply. However, they should have the goal of entering the industry as a professional writer. All candidates must be students of color.

Penny graduated from SCA in 1995 with a BFA in Writing and received the SCA’s Mary Pickford Award at the 2022 Commencement ceremony.

“I’m so excited to partner with USC’s School of the Cinematic Arts and start The First Up program for graduating seniors who are writers of color,” Penny shared in a statement. “One of the hardest and scarier things is to enter into the workforce without any momentum and no clear understanding of how to get your career started. I know it was for me and it’s even more daunting when you see limited opportunities for people who look like you. I’m so grateful that Dean Daley, Justin Wilson and the rest of SCA are aligned in helping my company make that change and I couldn’t think of a better place to do it than my Alma Mater.”

The program will launch summer of 2022. Applicants will first submit a writing sample, either a TV or feature script. If selected they will move to the second phase of the process which includes submitting a 5-minute live pitch of their show or movie idea. The final candidates are then chosen and will work directly with executives from A Penny For Your Thoughts who will help guide the students through all stages of the development process. The program will culminate in pitches to networks and studios through Penny’s overall deal at Disney/Onyx Collective which includes all the subsidiaries under the Disney umbrella including Hulu, FX, Disney Plus, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, ABC, Fox, ESPN, Fox Searchlight, National Geographic, and 20th Television.

“One of the aspects that has always set our school apart is the way our alumni use their unique platforms to actively support students and help them launch careers in our industry,” Dean Daley comments. “Prentice Penny is one of our most esteemed alumni, and has dedicated his production company to creating hit content that centers upon people of color, but finds fans in everyone. For him to provide this level of guidance to students with similar goals is extraordinary. We couldn’t be more thrilled to help implement this program and to see our students reach their goals and continue to make enormous impacts within the industry.”

Alongside creating “The First Up” program, Penny will also establish a database for participating students’ work, similar to Franklin Leonard’s “Blacklist”, which will allow agents, managers, showrunners, and executives to access the projects with the goal of creating additional pathways for career advancement.

Congrats are in order for Prentice and the future of film and television!