Film2Future helps young filmmakers from many backgrounds find their way to Hollywood
By Shanee Edwards
Gushing with positive energy, professional film producer Rachel Miller talks a mile a minute. But it’s easy to see why she’s so excited.
Miller’s nonprofit Film2Future, a two-week film lab for racially diverse groups of under-served high school students, is in full swing. Held at Deutsch’s advertising offices in Playa Vista, kids with cameras, storyboards and fresh ideas are buzzing about. This year’s project guides students through the creation of original animated films. The theme? Diversity — a word that’s been causing Hollywood a lot of grief as of late.
It’s hard to forget 2016’s #OscarsSoWhite hashtag on Twitter or the controversy over whitewashing certain roles like casting Emma Stone as a half-Chinese, half-Native Hawaiian character in the 2015 film “Aloha.” Even jobs behind the camera are predominantly white as well. But Miller sees a possible solution.
“People have been talking about lack of diversity, but it’s really lack of a pipeline. I wanted to build a real pipeline into Hollywood that not only sparks passion but also builds a resume of work,” she explains.
In addition to making films, Film2Future includes one-on-one mentorships, resume workshops, college essay review and panels of industry professions. Today’s panel featured Adolescent Content Executive Producer Hope Farley and two of the teenaged commercial directors she represents.
Yes, teenagers are directing television and internet commercials and getting paid for their work.
But the kids in the Film2Future program don’t yet consider themselves professionals. Many of them are looking to build their confidence as much as they are learning how to make films.
Eighteen-year-old Aiden Molasco, until recently a student at South El Monte High School, describes his animated film “Just Bear It” as a comedy with an important message about racism.
“It’s about a mother grizzly bear who’s white,” he says, “and her baby grizzly who’s brown.”
In the film, the mother grizzly goes to a grocery store run by polar bears and experiences racism — a scenario Molasco has experienced in his own life. “One time, I was at a bus stop with my mom and someone asked her if she could babysit for them, since she was ‘babysitting’ me. They assumed she was my babysitter because she has dark skin and I’m light skinned,” he recalls.
Until coming to Film2Future, Molasco thought he was the only one who experienced this type of bias. Now he realizes just how common it is.
Seventeen-year-old Marlene Leyva says she’s had similar experiences.
“When Aiden wrote it, he thought he was the only one who went through this. But we can all relate to it because we [the kids at Film2Future] are all mixed in a way,” she says. “I’m Mexican, but my mom does look a lot lighter than me. Everyone would always ask her, ‘Is that your baby?’ because I’m darker. Aiden shared his story and realized, ‘Oh my God, I’m not the only one.’”
Janet Rojas, also 17, is a seemingly shy girl but came to Film2Future with some stellar ideas. Instead of the animal kingdom, she looked to the solar system for inspiration.
“My characters are Earth, Mars and Saturn. Earth and Mars are both boys, Saturn is a girl. They go to a new school and Earth and Mars make fun of Saturn because she has rings around her, making her look different,” says Rojas.
She says the message of her film is to “always get along with people, no matter how they look or what color their skin is.”
It’s a lesson Hollywood should really take to heart.
When Miller isn’t running Film2Future, she’s running her for-profit company, Haven Entertainment, which recently debuted their TV show “Wrecked” on TBS. She brings her professional standards and experience to the lab.
“We work on professional-level equipment: Adobe donated software and Final Draft donated software, as well as Eagleson music. We rent Mac laptops for the kids. Deutsch awesomely donated their space and said ‘Come in!’ It’s a perfect space because there’s a recording studio and there’s edit techs and lots of people to help us,” she says. “I’m so happy we could be here.”
Even though the program is only in its second year, Miller says it’s already working for at least one student from East L.A. After dealing with the death of his best friend in a random drive-by shooting, the student discovered his love for composing. Through Film2Future, Tom Holkenborg, aka Junkie XL, took the student under his wing.
“He’s a huge music composer who did “Deadpool,” “Justice League” and “Mad Max.” He brought him to the studio and has been mentoring him so, ideally, once this student finishes high school and gets to college, he’ll start working for Todd,” says Miller. “So, it’s working.”
Films created during the 2017 Film2Future will be screened locally in October. Visit film2future.com to learn more about the program and how to get involved.