Ghetto Film School L.A. is welcoming a new program to its spring curriculum, with one condition: no boys allowed.
Titled “Iris-In: A Ghetto Film School Program for Young Women,” the class is being offered to the nonprofit’s female students and will feature showbiz women including writer Lauren Blum and Cake producer Kristin Hahn as guest speakers and panelists.
Erika Olde, who has three pictures lined up after producing Sacha Gervasi’s upcoming film November Criminals, is spearheading the program. In August, Olde reached out to the Ghetto Film School with the idea for a program aimed specifically at young women. Olde began her career at the age of 22 and was able to open Hollywood’s notoriously closed doors thanks to family and friends in the entertainment industry. But she knew that many young women hoping to enter the field did not have the same connections or opportunities she had.
“I felt like there was so much talent that really probably deserved to have a chance to be involved that didn’t have the access,” said Olde. “I really just felt like they could and should have a place to gain that access and to speak with people who have been in the business for a while and actually learn about the business itself as opposed to just the ins and outs of specifically making a movie.”
Ghetto Film School founder Joe Hall liked Olde’s idea and launched a program in New York in the fall. The Los Angeles program followed, and Olde played a major role in wrangling the speakers for both cities.
“It’s usually people that I know from the business that are really happy to do it and they want to be supportive of it,” she said.
The New York program has hosted Christine Vachon, who produced Carol and Boys Don’t Cry, and Rebecca Miller, who most recently wrote and directed Maggie’s Plan.
“It was great that it was coming from outside of the organization from someone who had this idea and wanted to help leverage their own interest, but also their contacts and network,” said Hall. “I thought it was quite generous of her to bring that forward.”
Ghetto Film School has been providing opportunities to high school students interested in filmmaking for more than a decade. Hall started Ghetto Film School in the summer of 2000 after noticing the lack of diversity in his graduate classes in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. That summer, he and two other cinema students he met at USC taught 16 kids in a small storefront in the South Bronx, where Hall had worked as a social worker before attending the School of Cinematic Arts.
For its first three years, Ghetto Film School was merely a summer arts program for local teenagers with no engagement after the course ended. By 2009, the nonprofit had opened its own high school in the Bronx named The Cinema School, partnering with the New York City Department of Education to create the first and only film high school in the nation. In 2014, the nonprofit expanded to the West Coast with the opening of GFS L.A., which leads a 30-month program for Southern California teens with curriculum based on the graduate classes Hall took at USC.
Though the objective of Ghetto Film School remains the same in both cities, its structure differs from coast to coast, which is one reason Hall was impressed with Olde’s pitch for “Iris-In.”
“It was really compelling to have someone come in and say we can do this in New York and we can do it in L.A.,” Hall said. “It wasn’t like we had to pick.”
To satisfy the needs of the two cities, “Iris-In” functions differently on each coast. In Los Angeles, the program is directly integrated into existing curriculum as an opportunity only available to students. But because of the strong alumni involvement in New York, both students and alumni can sign up to attend the program there. Hall thinks “Iris-In” is just as important for the female Ghetto Film School alumni to learn from.
“It’s particularly valuable to the young women who are not thinking of themselves as students anymore,” he said. “I think that kind of insight, that kind of mentoring, that kind of advice is incredibly valuable when they’re a little bit older.”
Students in both New York and Los Angeles travel from different areas of the city to attend Ghetto Film School classes, a commitment that impressed Olde.
“If you’re that passionate to get on a bus and be going back and forth for several hours, you must really be interested,” she said. “I just feel like, why wouldn’t you want them to have the same access as everyone else? They work so hard for it.”
“Iris-In” is not the only program Ghetto Film School has dedicated to developing its female talent. Earlier this year, the nonprofit received a grant from the Kate Spade Foundation to launch a Young Women’s Initiative to support women enrolled in its various New York programs, including the International Thesis Program, the Frick Collection Project and The Roster, a new initiative to help young professionals enter the industry.
Students can continue to sign up each semester to supplement the Ghetto Film School curriculum with “Iris-In’s” all-female community. Olde remembers one student who valued the female-driven aspect of the program from when she visited “Iris-In” in New York as a guest speaker during the fall semester.
“She was saying to another classmate that she was so glad that there were no boys in the class because they really kind of felt further kinship to each other, and I think when you’re that age too, there is sort of still that awkwardness,” said Olde. “I think that they really felt just kind of like it was cool for them to be focused on.”