How David O. Russell and James Murdoch Are Creating the Next Generation of Great Directors

9:00 AM PST 08/14/2014 by Tina Daunt
Christopher Patey
James Murdoch and David O. Russell with students and staff of Los Angeles' Ghetto Film School

In THR's Philanthropy Issue, the director and 21st Century Fox exec talk about how they're helping aspiring filmmakers as part of L.A.'s new Ghetto Film School

This story first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

There won't be a red carpet or popping paparazzi flashbulbs, but on Sept. 15 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, some of L.A.'s newest filmmakers will debut their first movies. Six-minute shorts, actually. But it will be quite the spotlight for a bunch of high schoolers from Boyle Heights, Compton, Watts and other disadvantaged L.A. neighborhoods.

It's all part of Ghetto Film School, the new L.A. branch of New York's GFS, which was founded 14 years ago in the South Bronx by former social worker Joe Hall to give inner-city kids the education for a future in the film industry. In NYC, the Ghetto Film School runs its own high school, The Cinema School, in partnership with the NYC Department of Education. L.A.'s GFS, based in MacArthur Park, is a full-ride, 30-month college-level weekend and after-school program in storytelling and production training. Propelled by funding from 21st Century Fox, this year's first crop of young filmmakers includes Francis Arana, 17, who heard about the program from a friend ("I couldn't believe it. I asked, 'Are you sure it's free?' "), and 16 other aspiring auteurs.

"It's about creating a center of gravity for students hoping to break into the industry," says 21st Century Fox co-COO James Murdoch, 41. "There's lots of employment in this business. What I'm excited about is getting the entertainment community here engaged, so we have directors or grips or executives or whatever mentoring these kids. It's about giving them a sense of self and ambition of what they can accomplish."

David O. Russell, 55, who serves on GFS' board of directors (as does Lee Daniels), has been involved with the organization for 12 years, raising money and bringing in his Hollywood peers to teach classes. "These kids have stories and ideas that could be movies or TV shows," he says. "It always tickles me whenever I interact with them. I think the ideas that will come out of this can be used by producers and studios someday."

Like Arana's, perhaps. Her short movie, about two lonely demons who fall in love, is titled Bloody Games. "Ever since I started the program, I'm watching movies differently," she says. "I'm watching as a writer, a director, a cinematographer. Of course, it's collaborative -- we had our friends help. But the more we do, the more I fall in love with the idea of being a filmmaker."

Go here to find out more about Ghetto Film School and make a donation.

Read more from THR's Philanthropy Issue here.

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