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RANK, A New Scripted Drama Print E-mail
By Kelly Susco   
March 12, 2014
LOS ANGELES - March 10, 2014 - Los Angeles-based director Tonya Michelle has launched a 30-day Kickstarter campaign beginning today for the scripted chess drama, RANK, a new series profiling characters who call Los Angeles home and battle it out on the chess board to establish rank.  The goal for the Kickstarter project is set at $100,000 to cover costs associated with producing the pilot episode of the new show.

The first season of RANK takes inspiration from the sometimes edgy and intense action that Michelle has experienced in the Ladera Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles.  Michelle's interest in chess came about in college when she was intrigued with "the thinking man's game." Seeing a challenge in the male-dominated competition, Michelle tracked down the only African American Grandmaster, Maurice Ashley, in the United States while living in New York and pursued the game in earnest.  Back on the West Coast, Michelle found her way to the Ladera Heights section of Los Angeles where Grandmasters, experts and novices come together every afternoon and face-off while playing one of the world's most popular games...and started to play herself. 

As she continues to explore this class-breaking game subculture, Michelle believes that chess has the power to bring communities together regardless of profession or income level - a core tenet of the series. RANK explores a little-known world, where the games on the chessboard often mirror the life lessons that each of the characters experience - with the show moving from the adrenaline rush of winning to trying to survive the daily grind.  The ensemble drama aims to illuminate the complexities of how people interact while living together in Los Angeles, where all ranks of people intersect in an interwoven world of chess, gambling, passion, friendship and loyalty.

"RANK is inspired by community, and the highs and lows that people experience in everyday life-not everyone in Los Angeles is a Hollywood starlet or a gang-banger, as many TV shows would have you believe," said Tonya Michelle. "I'm calling on the chess community and people who are intrigued about this world to support my idea so that I may have a chance to create a smart and resonant drama, much like HBO's The Wire."

Michelle is using Kickstarter funds for production costs including film equipment rentals, actors, locations, production crew and vehicles, editing, theatre rental, publicity, post production costs, insurance, rental truck and catering.  Pledge levels range from $1.00 to $10,000 and offer rewards such as being a featured extra in the pilot or receiving an Associate Producer credit.

Kickstarter is a crowd-funding platform for creative projects where backers pledge money in exchange for rewards.  As an all-or-nothing platform, if a project meets its funding goal, backers receive their rewards and the project creator receives the backers' pledges.  However, if a project does not meet its funding goal, no money or rewards change hands.

For more information about RANK and to support the project, please visit Tonya Michelle's Kickstarter project.

About RANK Creator Tonya Michelle:
Chicago native Tonya Michelle is a writer/director living in Los Angeles. An avid chess player herself, Michelle was inspired to create RANK based on the super competitive chess community at a local Starbucks in the Ladera Heights section of Los Angeles. Michelle has directed five short films, including 1031, which starred Taraji P. Henson, Isaiah Washington, and Vanessa Bell Calloway.  In addition, she has written two screenplays, and one stage play.  In addition to production-side work, Michelle has worked in business-side capacities at Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, MTV, and Warner Bros. Studios.

Michelle is a graduate of Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago.  She has a BFA in Theatre Directing from Howard University in Washington, DC, and an MFA in Film Directing from The American Film Institute (AFI) in Los Angeles.