Elevating a New Wave of Filmmakers
with Sharese Bullock-Bailey and Montea Robinson of the Ghetto Film School
In recent years, Hollywood has seen increasing representation in front of and behind the camera.
Sharese Bullock-Bailey, Chief Strategy and Partnership Officer of the Ghetto Film School, and Montea Robinson, Executive Director of the Ghetto Film School – Los Angeles, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss efforts to ensure filmmakers from underrepresented communities get to tell their own stories, through their own lens.
January 31, 2022
Anderson: Filmmakers like Ava DuVernay and Chloe Zhao have taken on some of Hollywood's biggest projects of recent years, and from Marvel's "Black Panther" to "Shang-Chi" to Oscar darlings like "Get Out," "Moonlight," and "Minari," Hollywood is seeing increasing representation in the kinds of films that get made and recognized. -We have something to say, and we want you to hear us say it.
Anderson: One organization has been working to empower young people of color to make films of their own, and their work has never been more relevant. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. The Ghetto Film School has been working for more than two decades to ensure that filmmakers from underrepresented communities get to tell their own stories. They provide education for more than 8,000 young filmmakers every year, and joining me today to discuss those efforts are Montea Robinson, executive director of the Ghetto Film School Los Angeles, and Sharese Bullock-Bailey, Chief Strategy and Partnership Officer of Ghetto Film School. Ladies, thank you for being here. Bullock-Bailey: Thank you so much for having us, Tetiana.
Robinson: Thanks for having us.
Anderson: So, Montea, I want to start with you, and I've got to start by asking about the name Ghetto Film School -- it's evocative, it's provocative, all at the same time. How did you guys settle on that name and what does it speak to in terms of the context of your work?
Robinson: Great question, Tetiana. Ghetto Film School was formed in 2000 in the South Bronx and prior to, our founder, Joe Hall, had been running community-based organizations in the South Bronx involved in social services and public health. And as a part of his training at Columbia, he did a student exchange semester at USC Film. And when he traveled to USC film, he found that he was not necessarily going to become a director, but he saw a level of rigor and high expectations of students in that classroom that was not available in the local programs he saw in the South Bronx. And so he actually nicked the curriculum from the USC classroom, brought it back to the South Bronx, gathered a group of students one summer, and actually taught them a USC graduate course. It was a huge success. At the end of the summer, all students had made a film, and he asked them, "If I were to turn this into a formal organization, what would be important to you about it?" And one student raised her hand and she said, "You know, what we don't want is a ghetto film school. We don't want a place where people come to the Bronx and talk down to us or make expectations about what we're capable of. We really want to go to an actual film school." And so that's sort of the ethos that's guided the curriculum and the students that we serve.
Anderson: And it's great because it grabs attention, and that's what you want. And, Montea, let me stay with you for this next question because I know that the school is designed to give traditionally underrepresented storytellers really the chance to tell their own stories through their own lens from where they stand. Give us a quick overview of how this all works.
Robinson: Absolutely. So, our program exists in three cities -- New York, London, and Los Angeles, and at the core in each location is something we call the Fellows Program. It's 30 months of really rigorous, student-driven production courses in which the students write, shoot, and direct original work. You know, for ambitious and wildly creative 18-year-olds, that really is a long-term commitment in high school, but you know, it sets them up perfectly to be really experienced and well prepared for graduate-level film school or a path directly into the industry. Surrounding the Fellows Program is something we call the Roster, which is the second level of pipeline development at GFS. It includes creators who are 18 to 34 across a variety of jobs and ambitions, who are looking for opportunities that will turn the key on their career. That looks like networking, professional development, and training opportunities.
Anderson: So, a lot going on there, and of course, what impacts your students is also what's going on in Hollywood, and Sharese, I want to turn to you for this because we've seen a big push in Hollywood to have more diversity in the last couple of years, from major awards to networks tweaking their content to sort of meet this demand. There's really been what I would say is an observable shift in the whole conversation around representation. And I'm wondering if you sort of feel the effects of that in your work.
Bullock-Bailey: Yes, Tetiana, thank you. I really do see that the last two years has been an example of what we've seen at Ghetto Film School for the last 22 years of our existence, which is there is an amazing supply of talent, inclusive talent, especially through the pipelines of our programs. But now the demand is starting to increase. And so in many ways, we're seeing a shift in perspective. What may have been seen as a risk or an opportunity or a hand-out or a hand up is now a necessity in business. All of the films that you mentioned really make the case for observable and measurable shift and impact by filmmakers who come directly from programs like GFS and in many cases, directly from our programs.
Anderson: Has this been enough change? I mean, where do you want to see things go from here in the industry, Sharese?
Bullock-Bailey: Well, it's amazing. You know, one of the things that we've seen in terms of expansion in our work is a great demand for GFS intellect and talent through our SCOPE consulting agency. SCOPE was really built out of this heavy demand, particularly in the last five years and acutely in the last two years. And what we have provided is a strategic consulting agency that allows our GFS talent to meet the needs and solutions of our industry partners. So we work with many of the amazing partners, including NBCU and Comcast, but a great example even working globally with Stavros Niarchos Foundation, a foundation that is really focused on our mission, which is to educate, develop, and celebrate the next generation of storytellers.
Anderson: It is about the next generation. And, Montea, I actually would love for you to weigh in on this conversation about the changing face of Hollywood and representation. I mean, have you seen enough? Where would you like to see it go from here?
Robinson: Great question, Tetiana. You know, over the last two years, we've really seen an uptick in brand and corporate engagement with GFS talent. That has looked like film competitions that have awarded production stipends to our directors, writers, and producers looking to get original work off the ground. You know, if there's an expansion in that area, if we can really scale in that place, I think that we're going to see a really successful future for both our students and the partners that we serve.
Anderson: And, Montea, you just mentioned students, so I do want to ask you about them. What are some of the things that they've gone on to do after being part of your program?
Robinson: I'd like to describe a student, Alexi Gonzalez, who was actually in the first cohort of Ghetto Film School in Los Angeles in 2014. In a lot of ways, Alexi exemplifies the prototypical GFS student. She is wildly creative, she's ambitious, she is seen, you know, as a leader among her peers. But at the end of her journey with Ghetto Film School, she was really adamant about taking a path directly to the industry. She saw options at NYU and USC and thought that, you know, she would be best learning at work, and so GFS was able to connect her to an internship at Netflix on the show "On My Block," and she rose through the writers room to direct episodes of season three. Right, we see that as a long- term development of a student. That entire trajectory looks like about six years, but ending in a place where our students are in positions of meaningful creative leadership in the industry.
Anderson: That is absolutely incredible, and, Sharese, I know that people are going to want to know a lot more about your organization. So, where can they go? What's the website?
Bullock-Bailey: Please join us at ghettofilmschool.org to learn more about our programs and amazing artists.
Anderson: Montea Robinson and Sharese Bullock-Bailey of the Ghetto Film School, thanks to both of you for joining me.
Bullock-Bailey: Thanks so much for having us.
Robinson: Thanks for having us, Tetiana.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.