May 24th, 2023, Manhattan, New York. Ziegfeld Ballroom. — Reel Works, a non-profit organization founded in 2001 by Producers John Williams and Stephanie Walter, hosted their Annual ChangeMakers Gala, honoring Val Boreland, EVP of Content Acquisitions for NBC Universal Television and Streaming; and Producer, Director and world-renown Actress, Nia Long. Reel Works serves over 1,600 NYC youth annually from middle school through high school and beyond. The services offered through Reel Works aims to develop the hope filled youths as industry professionals, artists and citizens, all while helping them to excel in academics, preparing them for graduation, encouraging them to pursue higher educational goals, while aligning their professional development to launch careers in media, film and related industry sectors. To date, Reel Works is the only filmmaking program that matches teens 1:1 with professional filmmaker-mentors that show them how to tell their stories and have their voices heard.
The event was held at Ziegfeld Ballroom in Manhattan, New York City. The evening began with various hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and the bar signature beverage, “The Sparkler”, made with Espolon Tequila, mango puree, fresh lime juice, topped with Pra Della Luna Prosecco and garnished with a lime twist. While the guest in attendance awaited the ceremony that would soon highlight the work of both the organization and student film award nominees, media outlets in attendance engaged in Red Carpet interviews with the Reel Work staff members and notable guests that included Yolonda Ross, Krystal Joy Brown, founders John Williams, Stephanie Walters, Wu-Tang Member, Ghostface Killah, Sheryl Underwood, Nelson George, Maya Cade, Sade Baderinwa, Dometi Pongo and more.
As the curtains to the ceremonial hall opened, guests poured into a room of 40 fully dressed tables, plated appetizers of fresh garden salad, sparkling water and choices of red or white wine served by the ballroom waitstaff. The show began with a 3 minute video presentation highlighting the success stories of the graduates and current students. The reel showcased clips of their projects as they shared their first hand experience with Reel Works. The students and alumni mentioned how much they have expanded as creatives, grown in their love of Cinematography and how the art form has improved their problem-solving skills. They’ve learned that they can teach empathy through film and perspective and how much their approach to the professional world in film has advanced due in part to their time with Reel Works. The most moving aspect of this presentation was their appreciation for their mentors who showed them how to navigate the field of film and media. The Reel Work students expressed their gratitude for the preparation they have been given by their mentors, and how to avoid the early career mishaps and mistakes. They expressed that this hands-on approach to their development helped them to step confidently into their craft.
Shortly after, the Master of Ceremony, SNL’s very own Ego Nwodim, took to the stage and shared her warm yet comical story of her uncomfortable journey to establishing her career as an Actress, Comedian, and Writer under the guise of a “medical student” in fear of her strict Nigerian parents not approving of her passion to act. The hostess celebrated the Reel Work students for their ability to trust their inner voice and for their courage to pursue their passions in the media and filmmaking industries. The 2023 Reel Works ChangeMaker film student award nominees were showcased, along with clips of their projects submission as they anticipated the announcement of the winning film student.
An overjoyed Val Boreland, EVP of Content Acquisitions for NBC Universal Television and Streaming was the first to receive a ChangeMakers award and shared gems of wisdom to the attending student body, “Take advantage of every opportunity you can, because you’ll never know when you’ll get them again.” She stressed that Reel Works and programs like it were vital because the opportunities they present for students to shoot, create documentaries and develop interviewing skills are invaluable experiences, some of which she wished she could ‘go back in time’ to have for herself. When asked “What does it mean to be a ChangeMaker? ” The Executive was brought to tears, “To think that you can change people’s lives [by choosing the stories they see that represent the people that watch them]…and to think that my son will be proud of me one day,” overwhelmed with joy, she finishes with “…that’s what it means to me.” She thanked the NBC Universal team for supporting her, her assistant Morgan Spann all while giving a tribute to the late Tina Turner in gratitude to her colleagues. “A large part of my job is changing people’s attitudes,” Val states in the body of her speech, “and depending on the room, that is sometimes a difficult task; but as my coworkers know, I rarely surrender”. Spoken as a true leader and change influencer.
The show merged into an auction where the guest in attendance raised thousands for the organization to continue garnering resources for the underserved New York City youth, and the organization’s expansion outside of New York City.
Nia Long, the second ChangeMaker honored by Reel Works, engaged in a fireside chat moderated by Ego Nwodim. In the acceptance of her award and during her one on one conversation with Ego, Nia shares that the face of the industry has changed but that it still has very far to go as it pertains to representation. She shared that her pursuit of her career in the Arts was an act of survival, and that she always prayed for grace along the way. She told the students of Reel Works “Young people, take up space. Don’t apologize. Take up space. Spread your wings because when I began [in the industry as an actress], there were not a lot of opportunities for us….and when I see how much this industry has grown, I am grateful. But there is still much more work to be done because we need more representation.”
Nia continued on to reaffirm her resilience and place as a ChangeMaker, “…and one of the reason why I almost demand a Producer’s credit is because number one, I know what I’m doing and that is not coming from a place of ego, that’s coming from a place of knowing that I am so sure of what I am doing, and [
also knowing] I am still a student. We have to take up space, we have to take it up a couple of notches because I am relentless. Two, I demand these credits so that the set can represent the subway system (as quoted earlier by Film Director and New York City Deputy Film Commissioner, Kwame Amoaku). You have to know the experience to tell the story. Someone that looks like me will tell my story without me having to explain myself. I don’t want to have to keep explaining myself. I want to just ‘be’ and inspire and continue to grow.”
The student nominee award winner, Violet Gallo, received the John F. Outcalt award for Outstanding Filmmaking and expressed her gratitude for the confidence the program has given her and the ability for her to give comfort to others that relate to her story. The event closed with an after party in the ballroom with music played by twin DJs, desserts and more wine. Guests were encouraged to continue to support the organization which offers additional branches such as MediaMkers a workforce development program that partners with industry leaders, educators, and government agencies to create pathways from classrooms to careers for talented early-career professionals to build a media workforce that looks like NYC. Outside of New York City, Reel Works has expanded to partner with various local I.A.T.S.E. unions across the country to help introduce hands-on training and credentialing programs to students of all ages nationwide. For more information visit https://www.reelworks.org/.