21CF Chats: Ghetto Film School students talk television, the creative process and working with Fox on international promos for ‘Outcast’

For teenage filmmakers in New York and Los Angeles, Ghetto Film School provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity to receive a rigorous, college-level film education, all at no cost to its students. Through its Fellows Program, the organization guides its members through both the art and business of moviemaking, giving them the tools they need to navigate professional careers in a creative field.

21st Century Fox, founding sponsor of GFS LA and a longtime supporter of the organization, has been a key partner in connecting GFS students to leading figures in the entertainment industry and regularly gives them chances to gain hands-on experience in film and television. This spring, 21CF partnered with GFS LA for their Industry 101 course, a semester-long class where students create video promos for a media client. The project gives them first-hand exposure to the business behind filmmaking and teaches them the day-to-day process of working with clients.

For nearly five months, GFS LA students worked with Fox Networks Group International to create promos for Outcast, the new horror drama from “Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman. The series, a Fox International Studios production, will air on Fox’s international channels around the world starting this week.

We spoke to GFS LA students Eugene Ko, Aletris Palm and Andrew Velasquez about working with Fox, creating promotional materials for the first time, and how GFS taught them to trust their creative voices.

You all worked on digital promos for Outcast for Fox Networks Group International. Walk us through the process a little. Where do you start on a project like this?

Andrew: We actually got to see an early screening of the pilot for Outcast, which was really interesting. We got to talk to some of the people at Fox about what they would want as far as the promos go.

Aletris: We all had to come up with ideas that fit their brand for the show. They chose the best five pitches, and then the students who made those pitches were the writers and directors of the promos. At that point, the rest of us pitched for positions we wanted for the promos that were chosen… It was such a cool thing to say “We’re working with Fox International.” It’s such a big deal; we were all pinching ourselves when they weren’t looking.

Photo courtesy of Ghetto Film School

What were some of the lessons you learned over the course of the project?

Eugene: A big part of the process for me as the DP was learning the difference between how I would shoot something versus how Outcast would. When we met with them, they told us, “This is what the brand is, and you want to stick with that, because you don’t want to end up with something that doesn’t fit the story.”

Andrew: The project was very realistic. The last few projects we did were just our own creative input, but with Industry 101, we’re getting input from our clients, so the projects aren’t just for us anymore. It’s the reality that you’re not going to be creating just for yourself; you’re going to be creating for somebody else.

Aletris: After shooting the promos, I see brands everywhere. Every television show has a brand. Everything has an identity and style that it follows. Now, as we move forward with other projects–like right now, we’re doing web series and television–we can talk about what the brand is for the project when we pitch it to our classmates. It’s a way to get our points across without getting jumbled up in our own creative ideas.

You hit on an interesting point there, which is how Industry 101 taught you skills you can use going forward. Were there any other things you’ll take away from this project to use on future shoots?

Andrew: I’d say being able to understand each person’s ideas, respecting others’ ideas, and learning how to work smoothly with each other were big for me. Also, not everything is going to go how you think.

Eugene: Yeah, we went location scouting the night before we shot and found a nicely lit area in a park, but the day we got there, it had rained the night before, so there was all this water where we had planned to shoot.

Andrew: There was literally a river running through our location. Something like that’s always going to happen. You have to face that and get through it.

You guys are a good way through the GFS curriculum now. Are you thinking at all about pursuing careers in this field afterward? If so, do you see GFS as preparing you for it?

Eugene: There’s definitely a career for me in filmmaking. Ira Glass has this quote where he says that in order to get good at something, you need to do more work. I think GFS is definitely letting us do tons of work. They give us space to make films, and then they let you experiment with what your voice is as a filmmaker.

Aletris: All you have to do is do it. If you have an idea, and you’re really for it, you have this group of people you can go to and say, “Hey, can you boom op for me on this day?” It’s nice to have a community you can always go to for help. Film isn’t a lone medium. It’s very much a collaborative medium. It’s a community; it’s a culture. When I leave GFS next year, I’ll always have those 30-35 people to call whenever I need something.

Photo courtesy of Ghetto Film School

What were some of the things that have surprised you the most about GFS so far?

Andrew: The thing that really surprised me was how hands-on the class actually was. The first day of class they give you a camera and a shot list, and you go outside and get started. You’re not sitting down for hours and hours in lectures. Most of the time, we have gear in our hands, and we’re working together.

Eugene: It surprised me how freeing filmmaking in general is. I mean, you can go anywhere. And we watched a lot of movies that I never would have watched that were more on the experimental side. And we found examples of really great storytelling even in blockbuster films, so I was really impressed by how far you can take it. And I think that’s compounded by the fact that in Ghetto Film School, they don’t give you creative limitations. As long as you can tell a good story, they can make it work.

Aletris: I think when you get a room of aspiring filmmakers together, we’re not trying to step on each other. We’re all trying to get to the same place, and we’re trying to help each other get there. It’s a very supportive community. We’re all trying to make it; we’re all struggling.

It sounds like GFS is not just a place where you get to learn about filmmaking and the craft behind all of it. It’s also a place where you get to do the work that helps you learn about yourself.

Andrew: Yeah. For me, I learned there’s a lot of stress in preparation and stuff like that. I usually am not that good with stress. But being a director helped me through it and figure things out one step at a time. Now I’m not only more productive in film school; I feel it transfer to the rest of my life, at high school and elsewhere. I feel more productive and less stressed than I did before.

Eugene: If they teach you how to make films a certain way, you don’t really get to explore yourself as a creative person. So just getting to explore yourself is such a huge, beneficial exercise.

Learn more about Ghetto Film School, and check out the rest of the students’ promos: “Can’t Stop,” “Mommy,” “Little Boy,” and “Grocery.”

Outcast premiered globally on Fox Networks Group International on June 3.