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ELA Hosts High School Youth Film Program

Four high school students sit together hunched over laptops and talk about applying for jobs, envious childhood friends, and casting spells. They’re not gossiping or trying to complete homework, they’re discussing the screenplay they will soon write for a short film they will produce and direct.

“It’s so dramatic,” says Daniela Peñaloza, of the short film she and her group plan to create.

Peñaloza, a senior at Lynwood High School, and more than 20 other LA-area high school students are participating in Film2Future, a nonprofit creative program that highlights LA’s dynamic youth and provides them with career and learning opportunities in the entertainment industry. For two weeks at Emerson College Los Angeles (ELA), the students will get hands-on training on professional equipment from experts in the digital, music, television and film industries as well as receive career advice from a series of guest speakers.

“We’re trying to give them an overview of real life in the business,” said Rachel Miller, a partner at Haven Entertainment, who created the program.

Rachel Miller speaks with students with students participating in the Film2Future program at Emerson College Los Angeles. 

Each participant in the program receives free transportation to ELA, healthy food from local restaurants like Tender Greens, Border Grill, and Starry Kitchen, Final Draft screenwriting software, and goodie bags filled with headphones, books, movies, Stussy bags, Billabong sunglasses, Nixon watches, and many other donated items. Students accepted into the program had to submit an essay and video as part of the competitive application process. Miller says she created the program because she wanted to find a pathway to increase diversity in Hollywood and let students know that a career in the entertainment industry was possible.

“I spend a lot of my day seeing a lack of diversity in the entertainment industry,” said Miller. “If you really want voices that are diverse, you have to start early, when students are in high school, and let them know there is a path even if they don’t have movie-star parents.”

For many of the high school students, participating in the Film2Future program has opened their eyes to career paths that they didn’t even know existed. Edwin Hernandez, a junior at Animo Ralph Bunche High School from South Central LA, said learning about different facets of the entertainment industry has helped him focus on the type of work he might like to pursue, like sound mixing or audio production.

“I’ve learned so many different things about what happens behind the scenes,” said Hernandez, an aspiring rapper. “It’s been really good.”

From left: Edwin Hernadez, Brianna Fernandez, Daniela Peñaloza, and Janet Rojas discuss their short film during a brainstorming session. Photo/Daryl Paranada

Once the students complete the training and speaker series at ELA, they will edit their films, screen them, learn about the distribution and marketing process, celebrate their work during an awards ceremony, and perhaps have their films featured at a festival. In all, the intensive program lasts a year.

“Every one of us comes from a different background, different high schools, and different areas of the city,” said Janet Rojas, a sophomore at Alliance Collins Family College Ready High School. “We are all in this program for very different reasons, but we’re all interested in film and the entertainment industry.”

ELA donated the space for the program and three alumni participated in the speaker series: Dominic Ottersbach ’02, an executive at the independent film production company Steakhaus Productions, Colette Patnaude ’11, talent manager at the media company Big Frame, and Maria Pelletier, director of development at Awestruck, a digital network for millennial moms. Over 60 additional speakers participated in the program, including Emmy-winning writer/actor Ben Schwartz, writer/director Elgin James, Oscar-nominated writer Meg LeFauve, Oscar-winning sound mixer Craig Mann, and Wrecked creators Justin and Jordan Shipley.

Students in the Film2Future program listen to guest speakrs at Emerson College Los Angeles. Photo/Daryl Paranada

Brianna Fernandez, a senior at International Studies Learning Center in South Gate, said the speakers have provided a lot of insight into the industry and offered indispensable career advice.

“A lot of them say it’s tough, but don’t give up,” said Fernandez, who hopes to be a cinematographer one day. “They’ve shared great tips with us.”

Peñaloza said she has learned so much from the program that it’s difficult for her to name one highlight. Soon, she will begin applying for film programs at various colleges. As the daughter of two factory workers, she said her parents were reluctant for her to pursue a career in film.

“They know the industry can have ups and down,” said Peñaloza, an aspiring director. “Eventually, they saw how passionate I was about film and now they support me in every way.”

Daniela Peñaloza, Edwin Hernadez, Brianna Fernandez, and Janet Rojas pose with actors in their short film and a Film2Future volunteer. 

For now, Peñaloza and the other students are focused on learning everything they can about the industry and completing their short films.

“They gave us all the tools we need to film a movie and I’m excited to get it done,” said Peñaloza.

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