Producer to Fund $500K Grant for Ghetto Film School Student

Courtney Cannon-Booth
Erika Olde-Coggin (sixth from right) with Ghetto Film School students in August.

Erika Olde-Coggin, who has made projects with first-time filmmakers like Whitney Cummings, is investing in Hollywood's next generation with an annual feature film grant for a graduate of the nonprofit film education program whose industry supporters include James Murdoch and Lee Daniels.

"A lot of people will think that I'm insane for giving half a million dollars to an 18- or 19-year-old," says Erika Olde-Coggin. "But I give $1 million and more to people all the time. And age, arguably, is a number." Adds the 27-year-old producer behind such first-time filmmakers as Whitney Cummings (The Female Brain) and Hallie Meyers-Shyer (Home Again), "The best way to influence change is within a generation that comes after you." So Olde-Coggin is doing just that by funding, through her new Erika Film Foundation, an annual grant for a student from the Iris In program at Ghetto Film School.

GFS — a New York and L.A. nonprofit for high school students interested in filmmaking whose supporters include James Murdoch, Lee Daniels and David O. Russell — has served about 700 students since its 2000 launch. To boost the girls among them, GFS in 2015 added a female-focused program, Iris In. What started as a speaker series grew in 2017 to add mentorship and internship opportunities spearheaded by Olde-Coggin — and Iris In, with its focus on the business as well as the art of film, became so popular that in 2018 the program was offered to boys as well.

Iris In students can apply for the EFF grant at any point in their career. But only 15 boys and girls so far have taken part in the full program, and they're all under 21, so the first $500,000 will go to one very young filmmaker (to be announced in late 2019). "If you show somebody you believe in them and think they're capable, they take that seriously," says Olde-Coggin, who adds that GFS' practical curriculum is a boot camp for the rigors of production. "They know how much work they have to do."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.