21st Century Fox's Peter Rice, director David O. Russell, Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo and Los Angeles' film czar Ken Ziffren were among those who helped launch a West Coast version of New York's Ghetto Film School, which prepares high school-age students in cinematic storytelling and production training.
The Ghetto Film School, started in 2000 by Joe Hall, has enrolled an initial 25 students in its Los Angeles program, with financial and in-kind support from Fox and plans for studio figures to serve as mentors and guest lecturers. It is based at the Heart of Los Angeles, the community youth organization located in the Rampart District.
Students in the 30-month program will get college-level training as preparation for later education and internships, as well as for making industry connections.
After going to USC for a year as part of a community based fellowship, Hall, trained in social work, came up with idea to start the New York program in the South Bronx, opening in a small storefront. The next year he met Russell, who spread word to other filmmakers like Spike Jones and Wes Anderson. Russell currently is a member of the school's board of directors.
"We have seen 12 years of kids in New York City graduate, go on to college, far beyond the average in New York City," Russell said. "The kids are inspired. They have to work hard, but they learn about every aspect of filmmaking."
The school grew into a non profit with full time staffing, and, five years ago, partnered with New York's Department of Education to create the Cinema School, the first film-dedicated high school. Ghetto Film School also runs a production company with alumni called Digital Bodega, which has produced shorts and has taken on assignments for advertising clients like Nike and General Mills.
Hall said that he was not sure if the L.A. program will lead to a permanent high school, but their L.A. launch also will include a West Coast version of Digital Bodega.
He said that students, who were selected by an application process, may have had plans to attend college after high school, but they "may not understand a creative life and creative career is an option. What we want to do is demystify all of that."
Monday was the first day, and students wasted no time going right into instruction. Simone Walker, 14, of Baldwin Hills, said that by midday they had already been taught the basics of camerawork, and then were given shot lists to start filming in nearby Lafayette Park.
Walker said she found out about Ghetto Film School via a theater program she is attending, and said that she wanted to "give everything a try and figure out if there is something I want to do more."
Another student in the program, Axel Colin, 13, of Koreatown, said he was interested in becoming a director or cinematographer. He learned of the Ghetto Film School via an apprentice program, Spark.
He's entering the school with a concept in hand. "I have actually done my own screenplays," he said. "I did it because I wanted to make my own movie. I named it the 'Earth's Second Chance.'" What is about? He's off to a good start when it comes to pitching a project: "Basically, we can't live here any more, and the Earth is about to blow up and we got to go to space and look for another planet. Will we get there?"