It’s not every day that some of Hollywood’s most recognizable faces roam the halls of a high school.
But on Wednesday, Sept. 14, actors George Clooney, Mindy Kaling and Don Cheadle visited a campus in downtown Los Angeles to celebrate the launch of a new film and television program aimed at serving historically underrepresented students in hopes of diversifying Hollywood’s workforce.
According to Clooney, who helped established a fund to support the Roybal School of Film and Television Production Magnet program, there are about 65,000 so-called “below-the-line” jobs in the film and television industry – people who work behind the cameras such as editors, cinematographers, visual effects supervisors, production designers, costume designers and makeup artists.
Yet there’s a lack of diversity in these fields. The goal of the new academy, which launched this year with 150 ninth and 10th graders, is to prepare students – many of whom are low-income or represent communities of color – for such careers in the film and television industry.
The actors who spoke during Wednesday’s school assembly stressed the importance of exposing students of color to jobs in the industry, and giving them access to those jobs.
“These are jobs that, unless you’ve heard about them, you can’t chase ‘em, and there (are) whole communities that haven’t even heard about this — don’t know anything about it. We aim to change that,” Clooney told the crowd of high-schoolers.
If the academy at the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Roybal Learning Center proves a success, Clooney said the model may expand to places such as New York, Chicago and other parts of the country to “change the face of our industry.”
He urged the students to help ensure the program’s success.
“In our industry, no one really thinks of education. … If you think of actors, you don’t really think of education in general. I mean, you look at me, you just think, ‘Oh, he’s just the best Batman,’” Clooney said to laughs.
Kaling and Cheadle also addressed the students. They serve on the school’s advisory board along with actors Kerry Washington and Eva Longoria, as well as other celebrities and studio and network executives.
The daughter of immigrants, Kaling said she fell in love with the television industry as a youngster but felt she did not have a way to participate.
“What’s amazing about the school is that we’re going to try to provide that” access, she said.
Added Cheadle: “Hopefully, we will be able to provide a pathway for you to get into this industry, find lucrative jobs, have greater representation in this business.”
Before this school year, L.A. Unified offered a program called Innovative Cinematic Arts and Music Production (iCAMP) at the campus, which the new academy has replaced.
Among those listening was 16-year-old Jayohn Carlton, a junior who has attended school on the Roybal campus since freshman year.
Carlton’s goal is to become an actor, though he’s also learned screenwriting thanks to the program. He likes the curriculum, he said, because students get lessons with real-world applications. For example, rather than a typical math lesson, students might learn to calculate timestamps – a skill needed for film editing.
As someone who identifies as a Black bisexual male, Carlton said it was encouraging to hear celebrities who’ve made it in Hollywood talk about wanting to help ensure that underrepresented minorities have a voice in the industry.
“Gender, race, sexuality – those things used to play a part, but they are starting to lessen more as far as who gets a role” in Hollywood, he said.
The Roybal School of Film and Television Production Magnet launched with $4 million in support from leading media companies.
Along with Clooney, film producer Grant Heslov and talent agent Bryan Lourd of Creative Artists Agency helped establish the fund to support the program, to expose students to working professionals as well as internship opportunities in everything from costume and production design to hair and make-up to editing, lighting and animation.
LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho thanked all those pushing for further inclusion and equity in the industry.
“Talent is equally distributed; opportunity is not,” he said.
The experiences will “put our children on … the right side of the stage of opportunity, no longer lingering in the shadow,” he added.
Austin Beutner, who was superintendent of L.A. Unified when the effort to launch the academy began in 2021, said in an emailed statement that the program represents “the future of teaching and learning.”
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“Students use algebra to design sets for TV shows, physics is involved in cinematography as one learns to understand how light passes through a lens, screen writing is literacy of high order, and high schools already have lots of make-up artists and costume designers, though we call them 9th and 10th graders,” Beutner said.
“One thing we learned during the pandemic is schools need to do a better job connecting book knowledge with real-world applications, all while making it more interesting,” Beutner added. “Roybal can become the model for many schools as it connects the jobs of tomorrow with today’s classrooms.”