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Ghetto Film School in London

(L-R Barbara Broccoli, Kyra Peters, Ray Gurrola, Gillian Lyons, Emma Thompson, Stacey Snider, Keith Burrus)

On Tuesday, March 21, students from 21st Century Fox partner Ghetto Film School and South London creative non-profit Bold Tendencies held a special screening in London for Ghetto Film School’s 2016 Thesis Films, Ghost of a Chance and Genesis. The short films are the product of almost a year of cross-country and international collaboration between students in Los Angeles, New York, and London. The event brought out the good and the great from London’s film industry, including Academy Award-winning actress Emma Thompson, The Darjeeling Limited actress Amara Karan, actor Babou Ceesay, model and actress Lily Cole, and filmmakers Matthew Vaughn and Ol Parker. The night was hosted by Twentieth Century Fox Film Chairman and CEO, Stacey Snider, and producer Barbara Broccoli, best known for her work on the James Bond film series.

Founded in the South Bronx 17 years ago, Ghetto Film School (GFS) has since expanded to MacArthur Park in LA with the help of 21CF, and currently engages over 1,500 people annually through its two tracks: a pre-professional narrative filmmaking education program, and an early career support network for professional already working in the creative media industries. Every year, the GFS Fellows Program takes high school students from communities traditionally underrepresented in Hollywood through 30 months of intensive instruction from leading filmmakers, mentorship from industry experts, and exposure to the business behind film and television. The fellowship culminates in the Thesis Film Project, a six-month short film production experience in which students travel abroad to create a 15-minute movie in collaboration with a cast and mentoring crew local to that city.

As part of 21CF’s commitment to developing the next generation of creative talent around the world, the company has supported GFS for many years, funding the first program outpost in LA and providing curriculum support, mentors and access to resources, executives, and talent. 21CF is also funding all of GFS’ core costs for the next three years.

In 2016, GFS partnered with Hannah Barry and her Peckham-based non-profit, Bold Tendencies, to bring the Fellows Program to London. 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. Seven students were selected for the inaugural 2016 Bold Filmmaking class, out of which one student secured an acting agent, two were selected to join the British Film Institute Future Film Academy, and the group’s short film Single Russian Ladies in your Area was screened at the 2017 London Short Film Festival.

The GFS Thesis Project began as a three-month writing contest in which all fellows completed and submitted a script, collectively picked the top script as a team, and then pitched themselves for the Director position as well as various other crew positions—camera operator, script supervisor, editor, sound designer, etc. Local London-based teens from Bold Tendencies’ new Bold Filmmaking program helped prepare for the visit and created original behind-the scenes content during the GFS Thesis Film productions. Bold Tendencies also helped with logistics, budget management, and supplies, and worked with Sky to provide first class equipment and a “mentorship crew” of industry professionals who gave guidance and technical advice to the students during production.

After scripts for the two films were chosen by the students in May 2016, a cast of Hollywood greats including Stacey Snider, Max Greenfield, Mariah Carey, Lee Daniels, and Simon Helberg gathered in LA for a table reading with the students. The event was co-hosted by 21CF CEO and GFS board member James Murdoch, and served as a celebration of the organization, as well as a chance for students to receive feedback from top Hollywood talent and directors.

"This script is very funny. You had your audience laughing out loud, which is hard to do," said filmmaker and GFS board member David O. Russell to high school student Gillian Lyons, who wrote one of the scripts.

The students presented their final films on March 21 at the BAFTA in London, with welcoming remarks from Stacey Snider and Joe Hall, Founder and President of Ghetto Film School. “The result [of GFS] is a group of young people that are not only empowered to think analytically and creatively, but also one that has acquired the skills necessary to succeed in any situation – they’ve practiced teamwork; they’ve learned to take contructive criticism from their peers; they’ve learned to take risks and push boundaries; they’ve even gone through writer’s block!” said Snider before the two films began.

Ghost of a Chance, written by Lyons and directed by Niko Baur, follows a failing playwright who finds and steals the last written work of William Shakespeare, whose ghost comes back to haunt him on opening night. Genesis, written by Romeo Ortiz and directed by Kyra Peters, unravels the story of what inspired a young Jack the Ripper, the disturbed man who became one of London’s most notorious serial killers in the late 1800’s.

Following the screenings, Hannah Barry of Bold Tendencies moderated a Q&A panel discussion with the GFS students involved in each film. “Ghetto Film School showed me exactly the path that I wanted to take. Prior to coming to GFS, I wanted to be an author but…they showed me there are so many more things you can do as a writer—you don’t have to just write a book, you can create a whole narrative piece that you can actually see before your eyes, and that was just amazing to me. It’s a lot of fun to make this movie magic,” remarked Keith Burrus, a GFS student who operated the cameras on Genesis.

“What makes it even more impactful is the fact that Ghetto Film School’s programs are embedded in specific local communities, so they earn the trust of both students and their parents and are truly part of the landscape of those local creative communities. It also ensures that the stories the students tell are diverse and authentic – two things the creative world needs to embrace now more than ever,” said Snider.

Watch Ghost of a Chance and Genesis today, and learn more about Ghetto Film School's visit to London below.


naacp image awards taraji henson janelle monae octavia spencer

21st Century Fox businesses took home a collective 11 trophies from the 48th NAACP Image Awards on February 11, scoring wins for acting and directing on film and television projects such as Empire, Atlanta, The People v. O.J. Simpson, This Is Us, and Hidden Figures. The ceremony, which celebrates the accomplishments of people of color across the media landscape, was broadcast live on TV One and was hosted by Anthony Anderson.

A complete list of 21CF businesses wins is as follows:

  • Outstanding Motion Picture – Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox)
  • Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture – Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures
  • Outstanding Television Movie, Limited Series or Dramatic Special – The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)
  • Outstanding Directing in a Dramatic Series – John Singleton, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
  • Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Limited Series or Dramatic Special – Courtney B. Vance, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
  • Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series – Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us (20th Century Fox Television)
  • Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series – Taraji P. Henson, Empire (FOX)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series – Jussie Smollett, Empire
  • Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series – Donald Glover, Atlanta (FX)
  • Outstanding Song (Traditional) – Kim Burrell and Pharrell Williams, “I See a Victory,” Hidden Figures soundtrack
  • Outstanding Literary Work (Nonfiction) – Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures

“There are roles you accept that scare you. And this one did because I failed math,” Henson said during her acceptance speech for her role as Katherine G. Johnson in Hidden Figures. “I made it my mission to do this film. This film was very important. It was bigger than me.”

Both Hidden Figures and The People v. O.J. Simpson were the focus of recent social impact campaigns. Hidden Figures has become a rallying cry for diversity in STEM, screening at the White House in December and serving as the basis for the Search for Hidden Figures scholarship contest last fall. 21CF also partnered with the LA Promise Fund to screen the film for nearly 10,000 young women in LA middle and high schools. Last year, the company took The People v. O.J. Simpson on a screening tour of HBCU campuses around the country.

21CF received 34 total nominations, including nods for FOX’s Lethal Weapon and Pitch, National Geographic’s StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson, 20th Century Fox Television’s Fresh Off the Boat and The Carmichael Show, and Fox Searchlight’s The Birth of a Nation.

"The Image Awards is the premier showcase for art and advocacy reflecting the depth and diversity of the African-American experience," said Cornell William Brooks, President and CEO, NAACP. "It is an American prism through which we see a breadth of culture and color reflected in film, television, music, and literature in ways that reveal our shared humanity. At a moment when America is so divided, the Image Awards represents an hour that brings us together.”

Learn more about this year’s NAACP Awards, and view the full list of winners.


Gavin Grimm talks to Couric about his story and having his case heard by the Supreme Court

The two-hour National Geographic special, Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric, celebrated its world premiere at the New York Times Center on Thursday, February 2. The documentary accompanies National Geographic’s January issue, which dives into the world’s rapidly changing beliefs about gender in 2017.

Gender Revolution approaches the conversation of gender through lenses of social relations, brain chemistry, cultural norms and personal experience. Couric’s interest in gender identity arose three years ago, when her daughter came home from college and mentioned that new classes began with each student sharing their name and preferred gender pronoun. “I thought there was so much important information behind the headlines, the tweets, the articles—and I wanted to take a step back to see if it all indicated a shift in our thinking and really roll up my sleeves to connect the dots,” said Couric at Thursday’s premiere.

Gavin Grimm is a high school senior and transgender male whose story is one of the many featured in the film. Two years ago, Gavin’s school ruled that he wouldn’t be allowed to use the boys’ bathroom despite identifying as a boy—the case made its way up to national debate and will now be heard by the Supreme Court in the spring. “I’m excited for the humanization that this documentary will bring to the trans community, because for a lot of people, it’s still just an abstract concept…There’s not a lot of representation of trans people in television or other forms of media…so I’m hoping it will bring a clear look at who trans people are,” says Gavin.

The film premiere was followed by a panel of notable experts, doctors, and activists, including Hari Nef, the first openly transgender woman to sign a global modeling contract, and Georgiann Davis, professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, both of whom were featured in the documentary. The panel was moderated by Susan Goldberg, editor-in-chief of National Geographic.

Gender Revolution is produced by Katie Couric Media with National Geographic Studios, premieres on National Geographic television on Monday, February 6 at 9pm Eastern, and will air around the world in 171 countries and 45 languages. In partnership with Picture Motion, National Geographic will also be hosting free screenings of Gender Revolution at high schools, colleges, and nonprofits around the country.

Watch the trailer now:  


Fox Filmmakers Lab Class

Fox and the American Film Institute have selected 25 of the most dynamic new voices in Hollywood to participate in the Fox Filmmakers Lab, a mentoring program designed to increase the number of female directors working in the industry. The group consists of alumnae of the AFI Conservatory and the AFI Directing Workshop for Women, and the Lab will allow each of them to develop a short film concept based on Fox’s franchise titles, such as Alien, Planet of the Apes, Predator and more, providing the necessary experience to work on more major studio films as they progress in their careers.

“The dearth of female directors is not a matter of passion or talent,” said 20th Century Fox Film Chairman and CEO Stacey Snider when the partnership was announced in September. "Instead, it's often a question of access and resources. We're excited to offer these to talented women filmmakers who then can build upon this practical work experience."

The directors will spend the spring working closely with 20th Century Fox to develop their material and eventually pitch franchise or reboot ideas to Fox executives. The studio will then choose one or more of the filmmakers to make their concepts into short films. The program allows participants to gain critical experience in the action and science fiction genres, in which female voices are often underrepresented, clearing the way for future work on large-scale studio productions.

The filmmakers will be able to add the projects to their portfolios and pitch Fox feature films unrelated to the shorts in the future.

“AFI believes that the future of this American art form is a true symphony of voices,” said Bob Gazzale, AFI President and CEO. “This landmark collaboration with Fox [will] impact the art and entertainment landscape in a profound way.”

The partnership with AFI continues a long tradition across 21st Century Fox entertainment businesses to support and develop the next generation of storytellers, particularly those from communities traditionally underrepresented in the film and television industry. The company has launched several programs to bring new voices to light in Hollywood, including the Global Directors Initiative and the FOX Writers Intensive, and is a key partner of Ghetto Film School, a nonprofit that teaches filmmaking to diverse young students in historically underserved communities in New York and Los Angeles.

Learn more about the Fox Filmmakers Lab, including the full list of AFI alumnae selected.


X Files Styrofoam UFO

On the latest episode of the GreenBiz 350 podcast, GreenBiz executive editor Joel Makower interviewed 21st Century Fox’s VP of Social Impact Vijay Sudan about the company’s efforts to green its film and television productions. Vijay spoke about the studio’s recent production achievements, such as 24: Live Another Day’s success at becoming the first TV series to use 100% FSC-certified lumber for set construction, as well as the company’s ongoing efforts to manage waste.

“There’s a baseline of behind-the-scenes work that has continued for decades,” he said. “As we move forward from looking at our energy and carbon issues, we’re really looking at what goes into a production and what the environmental impacts are... we’re looking at waste issues and how we responsibly dispose of those materials and reuse them.”

Listen to Vijay’s full interview, which includes looks at how The X-Files event series was able to recycle “dirty” Styrofoam, the wardrobe department’s reuse policy, and House’s donation of the doors from its hospital sets to Habitat for Humanity.