In 2014, 21st Century Fox and Ghetto Film School jointly founded GFS Los Angeles, an education center dedicated to giving young people from historically under-served areas the chance to realize their dreams of becoming filmmakers. GFS students get hands-on industry experience, writing scripts, pitching story ideas, shooting on location, and editing a finished product. 21st Century Fox companies have opened their doors to ensure GFS's filmmaking education is comprehensive, providing students with unprecedented access to filmmakers, executives, and talent. Together, GFS and 21CF are developing, celebrating, and opening new avenues for the next generation of great American storytellers.
Initially founded in 2000 in the South Bronx, Ghetto Film School gives teens the chance to express their creativity in unique and imaginative ways, while imparting critical skills like improvisation, problem-solving, and teamwork. Its Fellows Program is a free, 30-month college level immersion course in cinematic storytelling and production training, providing students a thorough education on all facets of moviemaking. Hollywood visionaries from David O. Russell to Lee Daniels have become actively involved, guest-lecturing and mentoring the budding filmmakers. In 2014, 21CF expanded its support by bringing the NY-based program to Los Angeles - and GFS LA was born. Headquartered in MacArthur Park, the new school offers its rigorous Fellows program free of charge to a new group of creative young people from high schools across the city.
21CF donates financial and in-kind support for GFS, covering all core operating costs and bolstering the school's curriculum by involving executives and talent as mentors and guest lecturers. Fox Networks Group CEO Peter Rice helped launch GFS LA in 2014, meeting with students and promoting the program to the MacArthur Park community. Since then, 21CF has been involved in countless programs and meaningful experiences with GFS students by providing a deeper insight into the industry and setting them up for successful careers after graduation.
GFS prioritizes offering their students real-world access to industry experts and standards, which 21CF businesses often help out with. Fox Searchlight has a long history of hosting screenings for students followed by Q&A panels with the directors and crew behind them, from The Wrestler’s Darren Aronofsky to Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Behn Zeitlin to Birth of a Nation’s Nate Parker. These filmmakers all offer lessons from their personal career paths and practical advice about their craft—after showing Birth of a Nation to the students, Parker talked about how the film was a “function” of his activism and that his goal was "to use my art, the moving picture, to inspire people to start thinking a bit differently about how they're doing to deal with systemic crises in their communities." GFS also offers programs exclusively for female students, giving them access to women working in their fields and mentorship to help break down gendered barriers in the industry.
21CF also regularly hosts GFS students in its film and TV studios, offering them behind-the-scenes looks at production operations and technical activities, often with real-world practices involved. After GFS LA opened, among the students' first projects for their Industry 101 class was the development of promotional shorts for the "Every Simpsons Ever" campaign on FXX. The students reviewed the channel's creative brief, developed concepts, and pitched to the FX Networks marketing team. After receiving the green light, the students worked in teams of three to shoot six 30-second spots, with plans to put the winning team's promo on-air - a major achievement for a group of up-and-coming high school students. “Pitch Day” has become a regular part of Industry 101, teaching students the art of promotional storytelling and the process of working closely with clients.
“Our students are very diligent about content brevity and accuracy, about formulating engaging hooks and demonstrating their visual vocabulary. They practice over and over again in front of their peers to make sure they’re pulling the audience into the emotional center of their pitch,” says Montea Robinson, LA Program Director and graduate of GFS’s program in the South Bronx.
Every year, GFS students have the unique opportunity to present their work and receive guidance from top industry executives at a star-studded table read and fundraiser. In 2016, 21CF CEO James Murdoch and producer Brett Ratner co-hosted GFS LA’s table read, where talent such as Max Greenfield (“New Girl”) and Grace Gealey (“Empire”) read students’ short film scripts, followed by feedback from producers David O. Russell and Lee Daniels.
Most recently, Katie Couric and Nat Geo’s Courteney Monroe hosted GFS NY’s table read, with script readings by actors Christian Slater and John Leguizamo and feedback from producer Robert Carlock. Students will film one of the scripts at the Frick Collection in NYC, and will travel to Israel this summer to film the other. Because 21CF covers 100% of GFS’ core operating costs, all additional donations go directly back to programming for students and young artists.
At the culmination of every program cycle, students have the coveted chance to screen their completed films in front of an audience of talent, filmmakers, and business executives at prestigious venues such as New York City’s Lincoln Center. In 2015, students showcased at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the largest art museum in the western U.S., in front of a panel that included cinematographer Jan De Bont and director Catherine Hardwicke. 21CF also partnered with British nonprofit, Bold Tendencies, for a year-long international collaboration between film students in LA, NYC, and London. In the spring of 2017, GFS students traveled to London to screen their films at BAFTA for leading figures from London’s film industry. The partnership marked the first time GFS shared its curriculum with another organization to develop young filmmakers outside of the U.S., and the first time that the Bronx and LA fellows collaborated on their thesis projects abroad. The two organizations connected seamlessly and inspired Bold Tendencies to create Bold Filmmaking, a course offered to 14 to 18-year-olds from local state secondary schools in London.
From its hundreds of current students to its thousands of alumni, the Ghetto Film School has changed lives every day for the past 17 years. Its innovative and ambitious filmmaking curriculum empowers young people from diverse communities that traditionally have been underrepresented in the industry. GFS's platforms use filmmaking to nurture their creativity, hone skills like collaboration and public speaking, build their confidence, and challenge them to achieve new levels of understanding of themselves and the world. After graduation from GFS, alumni are given access to GFS’ young professionals network, The Roster, as well as to 21CF recruiters for relevant positions at the company, giving a direct line into the industry and an opportunity to put their skills to use. The partnership with 21CF will enable GFS to positively impact new communities, providing a pipeline for bringing diverse, creative voices to the industry and giving many more young people a pathway to success.