Open­ing doors to Hollywood

In­dus­try pros teach un­der­priv­i­leged stu­dents how to work be­hind the scenes

Los Angeles Times - - Business - RICHARDVERRIER

A few years ago, Jonathan Caballero was sit­ting in a prison cell, pon­der­ing his bleak fu­ture as he served time for a rob­bery con­vic­tion.

He could scarcely have imag­ined the jour­ney that brought him to a sound­stage in Cul­ver City last week, where he and fel­low crew mem­bers were pre­par­ing to film a scene taken from the movie “It’s a Won­der­ful Life.”

The clas­sic tale of sec­ond chances could eas­ily ap­ply to Caballero’s own life, but he was think­ing about more prac­ti­cal mat­ters: how to po­si­tion the cam­era dolly and track cor­rectly so that the cam­era op­er­a­tor could prop­erly frame a shot of two ac­tors sit­ting at a ta­ble.

“I’ve come a long way,” said the 23-year-old, who was help­ing set up the scene for a class­room ex­er­cise. “If I didn’t have this pro­gram, I’d be in jail or prob­a­bly dead.”

Caballero is among 200 stu­dents en­rolled in an en­ter­tain­ment arts train­ing pro­gram at West Los An­ge­les Col­lege that teaches the nuts and bolts of film­mak­ing to an un­der­served group: pre­dom­i­nantly low-in­come stu­dents who can’t af­ford film school but want a shot at work­ing be­hind the scenes in Hollywood.

The 18-month pro­gram, which of­fers cour­ses in such ar­eas as cos­tume de­sign, set dress­ing and light­ing, is run by a non­profit group called Hollywood CPR, which stands for Cin­ema Pro­duc­tion Re­sources.

‘If I didn’t have this pro­gram, I’d be in jail or prob­a­bly dead.’

Jonathan Caballero, stu­dent in the Hollywood CPR en­ter­tain­ment arts train­ing pro­gram

Funded through pri­vate do­na­tions and govern­ment grants, the group works with lo­cal unions to pro­vide job­train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for un­der­priv­i­leged youth look­ing for ca­reers in the tech­ni­cal as­pects of film­mak­ing.

“I wanted to help kids in need find their way, and I felt that teach­ing en­ter­tain­ment crafts was a good way to do that,” said Kevin Con­si­dine, a for­mer set dresser and prop man who launched the char­ity in 1997.

Con­si­dine wanted to ad­dress what he saw as a dearth in vo­ca­tional train­ing: Schools have se­verely cut arts ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams, stu­dios have long since aban­doned ap­pren­tice­ships to train work­ers in crafts, and film schools fo­cus mainly on the more high­brow as­pects of film­mak­ing such as writ­ing, di­rect­ing and edit­ing.

By con­trast, Con­si­dine wanted to fo­cus on teach­ing ba­sic skills needed on the set, such as light­ing, scene paint­ing and work­ing with props.

“We don’t train any­thing pie in the sky,” Con­si­dine said. “We want real.”

Fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful pi­lot pro­gram de­vel­oped with var­i­ous craft unions, Hollywood CPR be­gan of­fer­ing an ac­cred­ited train­ing pro­gram at West Los An­ge­les Col­lege in 2008. Op­er­at­ing out of an avi­a­tion train­ing fa­cil­ity on the cam­pus, the pro­gram has a dozen in­struc­tors, all of whom are in­dus­try vet­er­ans. The cur­ricu­lum is hands-on: Each class makes a project, such as build­ing a set for a crime show, and stu­dents spend one se­mes­ter do­ing in­tern­ships on movie and TV pro­duc­tions.

Stu­dents also learn fun­da­men­tal work­place skills, such as show­ing up on time and re­spect­ing the peck­ing or­der on film and TV sets. Hollywood CPR has trained more than 475 stu­dents since its in­cep­tion. The rig­or­ous pro­gram has a high dropout rate — 30% to50% — but con­tends that about 60% of its grad­u­ates have gone on to work in the in­dus­try.

“It’s a vi­tally im­por­tant path­way to be­low-the-line jobs,” said the group’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, Laura Peter­son.

Many pro­duc­ers praise the pro­gram for open­ing doors in an in­dus­try that has been no­to­ri­ously tough to get into with­out hav­ing con­nec­tions or a de­gree from a top film school.

“It brings in a whole group of peo­ple who would never have a shot at the film in­dus­try,” said Geary McLeod, a cin­e­matog­ra­pher on the CBS show “The Men­tal­ist” who has worked with half a dozen grad­u­ates.

Film pro­ducer Scott Bud­nick said the stu­dents he worked with were “more ea­ger to please than any other per­son on the crew: They work harder, they hus­tle more, they’re just grate­ful.”

Bud­nick was so im­pressed with one grad­u­ate he hired as a prop as­sis­tant on the block­buster com­edy “The Han­gover” that he re­cruited him to work on his lat­est film, “Project X,” also di­rected by Todd Phillips.

The stu­dent, Isi­doro Avila, 26, has worked on a string of big Hollywood movies, in­clud­ing “Iron Man 2,” since grad­u­at­ing from Hollywood CPR in 2007. He’s moved up from prop as­sis­tant to set dresser and now makes $33 an hour — a far cry from the near-min­i­mum wage he once earned at a ware­house in On­tario.

“Hon­estly, this pro­gram just changed my life,” Avila said.

“If it wasn’t for these guys, I don’t know what I’d be do­ing. Ev­ery day I go to work with ex­cite­ment.”

Anne Cu­sack

BA­SICS: Maricela Men­dez, left, and Lynn Gettman get video cam­era in­struc­tion from David Howard.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.