Inspiring Next Level Success

It’s been a long time coming, but Sparkland Fellow Dija Renuka Henry is ready to share her own stories.

That’s what she told a panel of branding, marketing, community engagement, and entertainment-industry professionals earlier this month, as our first Sparkland Creative Fellowship ended with an exclamation point: a slate pitch day simulation. The simulation really lasted a couple of days and our meetings took place in Indianapolis, but the exercise was organized to create an atmosphere similar to what Dija would encounter pitching her projects to producers in Los Angeles and New York City.

Our team worked with Dija, an Indianapolis-based actress and award-winning filmmaker we chose as our inaugural fellow, for four months. We helped her further define her brand and creative mission and prepared her to present her slate of projects to film and television producers. The work was done through the inaugural Sparkland Creative Fellowship, a customizable program aimed at kicking the creative process into high gear.

The capstone of Dija’s fellowship was her pitch day, when we assembled a high-caliber panel of professionals to experience her presentation and offer feedback. They advised her on how to level up her career as a spirit-led social impact creator.

The Pitch Day Panel

Our panel included:

  • Nicole Halper, Director of Creative Strategy at the Indianapolis-based creative agency INNOVATIVE and member of the 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee.
  • Jennifer Magley, Indianapolis-based talent manager and media consultant, speaker, and writer; founder of Magley Mass Media. Jennifer is a former NCAA Division I head coach and the author of “Queen: A Leadership Fable.” 
  • Conrad Piccirillo, CEO at the Indianapolis-based creative agency INNOVATIVE. Conrad’s work has won multiple Emmy awards and he is the director and co-owner of INNOVATIVE. 
  • Angelo Pizzo, a Bloomington-based screenwriter and film producer, best known for his films, Hoosiers, which was nominated for two Academy Awards, and Rudy. Among other awards and accolades, Angelo has been named an Indiana Living Legend. Angelo’s other films include The Game of Their Lives, My All American, and The Hill
  • Judith B. Thomas, Deputy Mayor of Neighborhood Engagement for the City of Indianapolis, Associate Faculty of Africana Studies at IUPUI, and former President of the Madam Walker Legacy Center.  

“I am so humbled and proud that some of the most accomplished creators and professionals we have in the Sparkland network took the time to pour their experience and wisdom into Dija,” said Lauren Sparkman, Sparkland founder and head of ventures. “Our first pitch day was a really multifaceted experience, not just for Dija but also for our team. Each of the sessions became a master class for all of us.”

Advice from the Best in the Business 

Dija delivered her presentation in three rounds to the panelists. First, she met with Judith and Jennifer, then Conrad and Nicole, and finally, Angelo.

“I spent the last 20 years acting, producing, and directing. I’ve worked in every medium from screen to stage to commercials and online content, but where I really shine is when I’m creating original content and seeing it from the beginning to the end,” Dija told them. “So I’ve had the privilege of telling others’ stories for years. Now, I’m ready to tell mine. I’m here to present myself and my slate of projects to you as potential collaborators to bring my dream to life.” 

Each time she finished her presentation, the panelists responded, offering guidance and telling stories from their own careers. 

“Pitch week was a nerve racking, absolutely amazing, and validating time for me,” Dija said. “The Sparkland team worked with me through every step of preparation for my pitches until I felt confident about what I was going to present.”

Advice Dija received covered everything from how to make her presentation better to how to budget projects and use social media to grow her community. Angelo led her in a conversation about script writing and how to create authentic characters. First, though, he gave her a few compliments we suspect she’ll never forget.

“I did watch both your films and looked at all of your material and you did a really good job. You have a nice eye,” Angelo said. “You got some really great performances (from your actors) and you’re a terrific actress yourself.” 

Judith offered to connect Dija to her network of contacts following her own compliment.

“You have an amazing portfolio and I can see you’re ready for what’s next and how you’re going to pivot and take it even bigger and wider,” she said. “I’m just very impressed—congratulations.” 

Jennifer suggested Dija tell her own story, every day, on social media so she can continue to build a community around her projects.

“The question to consider thinking about is how do I create an audience for the project before the project even begins,“ she said. 

Conrad and Nicole told Dija what to expect when she begins pitching her projects in the biggest markets—with a lot of encouragement. 

 “It’s going to take somebody like you to change the world because it’s one person at a time,” Conrad said.

Those words resonated with Dija, who includes social impact campaigns to foster cross-cultural understanding and mental health awareness in all of her projects. 

Dija’s Next Level

“During pitch week I felt very supported and equally challenged by the Sparkland team to bring my ‘A game’ to every session,” Dija said. “The feedback I received was absolutely instrumental in helping me feel more confidence and joy going to the next level with my pursuits in the entertainment business.” 

For our part at Sparkland, we’re committed to collaborating with Dija long after her fellowship wraps up. Just what shape our future projects will take remains to be seen, but we’re committed to helping Dija bring her own stories to life.

Teresa Sabatine, Sparkland’s managing director, reflected, “The response to Dija’s work and the synergy created in those rooms has opened up mentorship opportunities, sponsorship opportunities, and access to a whole new network of partners. I know whatever door opens for Dija next she is going to blow it wide open with her talent. She is ready and the world needs her message more than ever.”