In Los Angeles, a school supported by George Clooney tries to diversify the face of Hollywood

(AFP) – Music, camera angles, character of the characters: at only 14 years old, Ja’saray Juarez is already dissecting with his comrades the recipe for a successful advertisement, to soon produce his own spot to be broadcast in progress.

In a few years, this ninth grade student hopes to earn her place behind the camera, thanks to a course launched by a public high school in Los Angeles and supported by actor George Clooney to train hundreds of disadvantaged young people in careers as Hollywood.

“I’m so happy to learn how to make films, (…) how to produce a script, how to write dialogues”, confides to AFP the teenager, in her class filled with cinema posters, claps and a director’s chair.

His school, the “Roybal Learning Center”, has 90% Latin American students, often from modest families. For them, Hollywood and its star-studded boulevard, located only a few kilometers away, remains a world that is difficult to access.

But since September, this college-high school has launched specialized training from ninth to final year, thanks to a big boost from the star of “Ocean’s Eleven”. George Clooney brought together other actors, like Eva Longoria or Don Cheadle, and several studios, including Warner Bros, Paramount and Disney, to help finance this project.

– “Start early” –

Objective: to attack the roots of the lack of inclusiveness of American cinema, often criticized during the Oscars.

To solve the problem, “you have to start early,” said the actor in a press release. “We need to create high school programs that teach young people about cameramanship, editing, visual effects, sound and all the career opportunities this industry has to offer.”

Colourist, costume designer, light technician… In Ja’saray’s class, posters listing 80 film professions remind students of all the opportunities available.

“I had absolutely no idea there were so many, I was just thinking of the director and the actors”, breathes the young girl, who initially planned to work in animation but is now thinking of becoming a screenwriter. “It opened my eyes.”

The sector has “65,000 technical jobs in the United States”, largely unknown, insisted George Clooney when launching the curriculum in September.

Ever since Hollywood realized its lack of inclusivity with the #OscarsSoWhite controversy in 2015, the portrayal of minorities onscreen has come under scrutiny.

The Academy which awards the precious statuettes has diversified its voters and the prize list is affected. This year, many see the 11 nominations for “Everything Everywhere All At Once”, a comedy with a majority Asian cast announced as a favorite, a symbol of progress.

But behind the camera, the teams remain largely monochromatic. Monopolized by the unions, these well-paid jobs are almost inaccessible without a network.

– Professional internships –

“There is a real problem of diversity, especially in the film crews”, testifies Brittany Hilgers, who teaches the basics of cinema to students, after 12 years spent in the industry as a screenwriter.

In one of the few studies on the subject, the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California analyzed the credits of 300 films between 2016 and 2018. Result, 80% of the editors were white men , and only 14% of the costumers belonged to minorities.

To correct the situation, the school relies on unions and partner studios to offer internships to students, or even hires. After a generalist year, they gradually specialize.

“Young people who will want to do editing will learn about the real software used by professionals in the industry”, explains Ms. Hilgers, emphasizing the employability of future graduates.

For a sector in need of new faces, “it’s important to invest now and not wait for them to arrive at university, because in truth, not all students make it that far”, underlines the principal , Blanca Cruz.

“I have the feeling that we have a head start,” rejoices David Flores. Coming from a family of social workers, this first-grade student now knows how to use a boom microphone and editing software.

But beyond the technique, “this school taught me to network, it’s very important”, underlines the young man, who did not really know how to become an editor. “Now (..) I see a path for me.”

If the program proves successful, the Los Angeles school district hopes to replicate it in other schools. George Clooney is already dreaming of exporting it to New York, Chicago or Atlanta.