Pillars Fund

Before the Fellowship Begins, A Rigorous Process to Cultivate the Cohort and Experience

Posted By Katie Grimes  /   June 26, 2024

Learn what goes into creating a one-of-a-kind fellowship for Muslim filmmakers


Hollywood is a notoriously tough business. Knowing one key contact could be the difference between having a successful career and never breaking through. For Muslim filmmakers, who have historically been excluded from the entertainment industry, these career-making connections are almost impossible to come by.

That’s why Pillars and our partners at Left Handed Films started the Pillars Artist Fellowship: to expand opportunities for emerging Muslim directors and screenwriters and provide financial support, mentorship, and a supportive community. We curate an experience that celebrates and honors our fellows’ Muslim identities for what they are: assets, not disadvantages.

Our first cohort of ten fellows graduated from our program last year, and we are thrilled to see them already making a name for themselves in the industry. (Catch up with our 2022-23 fellows in Pillars’ annual report.)

An ad in Variety magazine celebrating the 2022-23 Pillars Artist Fellowship graduates

Now, we can’t wait to do it all again! We accepted applications for our second class of fellows last autumn and are excited by the incredible abundance of Muslim talent. As we prepare to announce our 2024 fellows, here’s a look at how we select our cohort and what goes into developing a fellowship tailored to our Muslim communities.

Reviewing and Reviewing Again and Again and Again

It takes more than six months for our team to announce our cohort because we take our selection process very seriously. There are four rounds of review for our fellowship applicants, each with a different set of goals, reviewers, and point system. We want to ensure our final 10 fellows are the right fit to benefit the most from our program!

Round 1: Values Alignment

In the first round of review, we examine hundreds of applicants to determine their fit for the fellowship at this time and evaluate their artistic perspective. We are looking for artists who have a strong vision and who show a nuanced understanding of storytelling and Muslim representation.

Round 2: Artistic Vision

In the second round, our Culture Change team and a group of selected external readers evaluate whether applicants can skillfully articulate their artistic vision. We are looking for storytellers who have an artistic style and a clear, fresh point of view and whose scripts tell joyful, honest stories that diverge from harmful tropes.

Round 3: Strength of Work

At this point, we select the top applicants to move into our semi-finalist round. During the third round, we dive deeper and evaluate applicants’ technical skills. Are their storylines captivating throughout, do they develop a strong story arc, do they develop characters with depth that you become emotionally invested in?

Round 4: Selection Committee Review

Approximately 20 applicants are looked at in the final round. Our selection committee looks for 10 applicants with distinct creative voices, strong desires to create thought-provoking work, deep commitments to growth, demonstrated skill sets that need a bit more support to achieve mainstream success, and a desire and openness to grow and participate in community-based learning.

After we make these final decisions, we get to tell our selected fellows the good news and announce our new cohort to the world!

Planning Continues

At the same time that we are organizing multiple rounds of review, our Culture Change team is hard at work developing a tailored curriculum, engaging new fellowship mentors and advisors, and planning for days-long retreats in New York, London, and Los Angeles.

This year, we get to learn from our first go-around of programming and iterate using the feedback of our fellowship alums: keeping the sessions they learned the most from and adjusting the sessions that could be even stronger. During our retreats, we try to strike a balance between community, craft, and industry professional development and we invite speakers who our fellows have expressed interest in learning from. For our retreats, we plan fun and educational city-based excursions and expert-led programming. During the first fellowship, that included a private tour of The Met’s Islamic Art wing, a walking tour of London’s Historic Muslim Quarters, and private pitching sessions with studio executives. Once our plans and dates are set, our team starts the logistics of booking hotels and caterers and thinking through how we will announce our next class of fellows to the world.

We hope this one-of-a-kind fellowship offers a life-changing experience to our fellows. We can’t wait to announce our cohort this summer!



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