Film2Future’s new grAD school helps young creatives find their way into the advertising industry
Story By Stephanie Case | Photos by Maria Martin
In 2017, Film2Future needed a new home. The burgeoning nonprofit, which had hosted its inaugural summer filmmaking intensive for underprivileged and at-risk youth the year before, had lost its grant funding and location.
To help out, ad agency Deutsch offered up space inside their agency until Steelhead, their brand-new Jefferson Boulevard production studio across the street, would be ready to play host. That summer, teens from all corners of Los Angeles traveled to Deutsch for their second annual workshop, centered on animation. As Deutsch creatives buzzed around the building, hard at work producing ads for big-name clients like Volkswagen and Target, the Film2Future students worked on their animated shorts in Deutsch’s commons area.
With marketing pros operating under their same roof, the high schoolers naturally got curious about their neighbors.
“I remember [Film2Future founder] Rachel [Miller] said to me, ‘When they walked into the building, [the students] asked, ‘What goes on here?’ ‘What are people doing here?’” recalled Ted Markovic, Steelhead’s Managing Director.
Inspired by that piqued interest, Miller worked with Markovic and others at Deutsch to develop the punnily-named “grAD School,” a summer workshop that offers Film2Future students another creative crash course — this time, in advertising.
Over the course of three weeks this July at Steelhead, Miller’s cohort of teens and twentysomethings developed 30-second social media spots for 7-Eleven based on real client briefs from the company. Despite being ad world newcomers, they excitedly embraced the challenge, applying the filmmaking and animation skills they’d learned from their previous summers to bring their visions to life. Dozens of Deutsch creative directors, copywriters and digital strategists popped in, helping them hone their concepts to fit the client’s needs.
“We ran it very seriously,” says Miller. “They got feedback. They were told no. They were told to change their ideas.”
In three weeks’ time, they’d shot, edited and shipped their final pieces to 7-Eleven — and it’s not out of the question that you could spot one of them on your computer screen or mobile device.
“The hope is that we’ll send it to the brand, and they’re like, ‘We love this. Let’s do it,’” says Deutsch’s Karina Brennan.
Getting professional-level experience is vital for these young adults, many of whom would have a near-impossible time getting their start in these creative industries — let alone imagining them as viable careers — without it.
“I’ve always been into photography and editing, but it was always just a hobby. I didn’t think, ‘Oh, this could be a job,’” says Marlene Leyva, a 19-year-old grAD School participant, who’s entering her sophomore year in Cal State L.A.’s film and television program.
Back at South El Monte High School, she and her friends would recruit Drama Club kids to participate in short films, shooting them on her iPhone under the football field’s bleachers. Now, after two years with Film2Future, she’s the lead producer on her 7-Eleven spot and has an internship with Magical Elves (the production company behind “Top Chef” and other non-scripted TV hits) lined up for the fall.
Miller, who also works as founding partner of Haven Entertainment, originally built Film2Future to help Leyva and diverse students like her get a foothold in the tough-to-crack (and white and male-dominated) film industry. In developing grAD School, she realized that this type of program was just as necessary in the marketing world.
“To [Deutsch’s] credit, they were like, ‘Advertising also has a similar pipeline problem. Let’s build a program that can help solve that,” she recalls.
In one grAD School session, a guest speaker showed the students a series of tone-deaf ads, apparently made without feedback from people of different races and genders. For 22-year-old Hailey Young, a recent Spelman College grad with a psychology degree, the experience helped solidify her desire to break into brand strategy and advocate for the underrepresented.
“In a room that’s made up of one demographic — whether it’s all males, all white males, all one race — you can skim past how other people can be offended,” says Young. “I want to be a part of those conversations. I want people to know, ‘Hey, this isn’t the smartest [idea], because you’re putting a whole demographic of people in the shadows.”
While a program like grAD School might help Young, Leyva and other aspiring creatives get their foot in the door, it’s the ad world that needs their creativity and voices more than ever.
“Being a woman and being African-American puts me in a unique position where I can help this industry grow and put other people’s perspectives out there,” says Young.