Filmmaker Update: Carolyn Kras and Etana Jacobson

Inspired by the recent H-1B visa crisis that has impacted major companies from Google to Disney, two Sloan filmmakers—Etana Jacobson and Carolyn Kras—are collaborating to make a narrative film. Their new project is a comedy called NEXT GEN (aka MAGIC WORLD).

NEXT GEN is about Emily, a rising star at an entertainment tech firm, who is compelled to train Shen, her hot-headed replacement from China, to take over her job. As the two develop a cutting-edge virtual reality project, she's torn between sabotaging him to save her career and falling for him.

NEXT GEN explores two individuals caught up in hot-button immigration issues, economic upheaval, and the race to be first to market virtual reality. The H-1B visa program has been especially notorious because sponsoring companies frequently exploit H-1B visa workers, threatening deportation to anyone who reports labor violations—a reality that factors into the plot of NEXT GEN.

Writer Carolyn Kras graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in dramatic writing. While there she received a Sloan award for her script MAGNETIC which then went on to be developed through the Hamptons Labs under the mentorship of Sophia Lin and Hawk Ostby. NEXT GEN will be directed by UCLA graduate Etana Jacobson who won a Sloan award for her short ELEMENTAL which will soon be available to stream on Science & Film.

Carolyn Kras and Etana Jacobson met at two Sloan Film Summits and reconnected in London. Kras's experience with the Sloan film program at Carnegie Mellon University made her excited about developing stories rooted in science and tech environments. The story centers on a major American tech company which flies in H-1B visa holders—the pass that allows employers to temporarily employ those non-U.S. citizens with special skills—to replace its American staff. The two groups of employees’ strained relationships include the potential for romance. Kras read national headlines about the controversial H-1B visa program, and it sparked an idea for a romantic comedy. "I want to uncover the human stories underneath the headlines," Kras said over email to Science & Film.

Jacobson was drawn to direct the film because "The story is a knockout: a sexy comedy, a culture clash driven by unforgettable characters pushing to create new forms of story and human-computer interaction against unbeatable odds. Emily has to find a way to survive against massive forces similar to the virtual experiences she creates."

Jacobson draws on her experience working as a narrative designer and interactive developer at Sony, LucasArts and Ubisoft. Writing on STAR WARS games and a PlayStation launch title led to location-based games and projects with tech similar to NEXT GEN. "NEXT GEN is about industry-leading tech shaping our lives–immersive, wearables, VR–and the lives of engineers and designers making it. It's a great example of style fitting story," she says.

The heated US-China romantic rivalry of NEXT GEN provides ground for coproduction in the explosive US-China market. NEXT GEN has a completed treatment and marketing package. Kras and Jacobson have been in talks with award-winning producers based in the US, EU, and China. As the comedy bridges East and West, with a percentage of the film shooting in Beijing, it is positioned for the global market. NEXT GEN is also set up to cross-platform as a series with a VR component. It was a finalist for the 2016 Sloan Sundance Commissioning Grant. The project is in the development and finance stage with plans to start principal photography in summer 2016.