New York-based filmmaker Dane Clarke II is on a quest to diversify Hollywood – one project at a time.
The CEO launched Pineloft Entertainment in 2020 when he was a sophomore at New York University. A year later Clarke’s childhood best friend and Northeastern University graduate, Joel Poku, joined the independent media company as brand director.
Last summer, Pineloft Entertainment released a proof of concept for Nork, a dramedy TV series based on the Black founder duo behind a Newark-based tech startup. “They went to a city that’s known more for its criminal history than its tech innovations and were able to build this company up. And get some huge backing from Fortune 500 companies,” Clarke said.
Nork is based on the real-life story of Chisa Egbelu and Kayla Michèle the creators of PeduL, a diversity recruiting marketplace building pipelines for qualified, competitive underrepresented talent.
Horane Henry, Disney Streaming’s director of technical project management, Dennis Schultz, executive director of the Blacks in Technology Foundation, and PeduL founders Egbelu and Michèle joined forces as executive producers on the project.
Clarke said Nork challenges common-held conceptions of the startup world.
“When you look at a show like Silicon Valley, that is what the tech world looks like, but it’s not what the whole industry looks like,” he said. “There’s more than just white men in Silicon Valley doing this and I think that’s what brought me to this project, and to Kayla and Chisa [because] they look like me.”
Still, Clarke said Nork is larger than one Black-owned startup’s success story.
“I like to say that we have an ethos of empowering people that look like us and lowering the barrier of entry,” he said. “We want to show them that yes, you may claim yourself as a hustler like that’s my side hustle. But no, you’re a founder. You made a company– Call yourself a CEO. Give yourself the respect.”
The project also challenges Hollywood’s lack of progress improving diversity on set. Only 8% of US-produced films have a Black producer, according to a McKinsey study.
And it has not been an easy road for Pineloft Entertainment.
“When it comes to TV and film, it’s a very high barrier of entry,” Clarke said. “We don’t have the luxury of already being known to the public, so we had to carve a lane for ourselves and show that we could acquire IP, go into meetings and know what we’re talking about.”
Notable Black production companies including Tyler Perry Studios, Issa Rae’s Hoorae Media, John Boyega’s UpperRoom, and Kerry Washington’s Simpson Street are headed up by A-list actors and directors.
Clarke is a working actor who starred in a Nike commercial as a young Lebron James in high school. Clarke said his interest in producing began shortly after he signed with Innovative Artists Agency at 16.
“I remember the agent said where do you see your career going?” Clarke said. “I said, I see it being where I’m an actor, but I also have a production entity backing myself…to give opportunities to people who look like me.”
This year, Clarke is focused on lining up a buyer for Nork and discovering more diverse stories. Pineloft Entertainment intends to pinpoint emerging talent by looking further than pricey intellectual property on New York Times bestsellers lists.
“We really are there to have a diverse point of view and provide emerging auteurs with the support, connections, and the resources to do their best work,” he said. “When it comes to representation, it’s a matter of going the extra mile to find that screenwriter that hasn’t gotten that shot yet but has brilliant work. And bringing them into an atmosphere where they can collaborate and actually expose what they’re working on.”
Pineloft Entertainment is self-funded, but that may change in the future.
“We’ve been talking to different consulting firms, so that’s definitely on our radar,” he said. “To scale we know that’s a necessity.”