Why George Clooney pushed for a new L.A. public school to train movie and TV crews

A man in a gray suit sits at a table
Actor and director George Clooney is helping to support a new magnet school in L.A.
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Last year, George Clooney pushed an idea that could help make Hollywood production crews more diverse.

That dream became a reality this year in the Roybal School of Film and Television Production Magnet, which opened last month with 150 ninth- and 10th-grade students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The magnet school in downtown L.A., housed within the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center, aims to build a pipeline of students from underrepresented backgrounds who are interested in entertainment but may lack the opportunity to break into well-paid union jobs on film sets such as camera operators, set decorators and makeup artists.

“It’s like training to be a doctor. You’re going to learn a trade [and] if you work and get good at your trade, there will be jobs for you,” Clooney said in an interview. “We’re in desperate need of workers.”


He and other celebrities, including Mindy Kaling and Don Cheadle, were set to join L.A. Unified Supt. Alberto M. Carvalho at a press event Wednesday to mark the school’s debut.

“When our children are left out, the adults who they should become and will become will never have the opportunity they should,” said Carvalho, speaking to students at an assembly marking the official opening. “Talent is equally distributed. Opportunity is not. And that makes a difference.”

The effort comes as Hollywood has faced criticism that it remains too white and male. Several companies have vowed over the years to diversify their staffs and publicly release their racial demographics to hold themselves accountable for change, but the industry has struggled to diversify its ranks, especially among film crews. The school is among several initiatives backed by studios and filmmakers to address the problem.

For the record:

1:39 p.m. Sept. 14, 2022This story was updated to correct a quote by George Clooney on the school’s training.

The Times spoke with Clooney, producer-actor-writer-director Grant Heslov and Creative Artists Agency Co-Chairman Bryan Lourd, who established the Roybal Film and Television Production Magnet Fund, which raised more than $4 million for the school.

The fund’s founding partners include Amazon Studios, Walt Disney Co., Fox Corp., NBCUniversal/Telemundo Enterprises, Netflix, Paramount, Sony Pictures Entertainment, the History Channel/A&E Networks and Warner Bros. Discovery. The school’s board members include Kaling, Kerry Washington and Eva Longoria.

The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Creative Artists Agency and a group of filmmakers such as George Clooney are creating an L.A. magnet school to help train high schoolers for jobs on movie and TV sets.

June 21, 2021

What inspired you to push for this school now?

Clooney: When you’re directing or producing a film, one of your goals is to make sure you’re covering the fabric of the American culture. We find ourselves constantly trying to fill in at the wrong end. We’re trying to fix a problem, which clearly since the inception of our industry has done a pretty poor job of.

Grant and I started to talk about it. What’s a way we could fix this? We talked with a friend of ours, Eric Fellner, who runs Working Title in London, and he said he started a school for older kids. And I said, why don’t we have a school like that in Los Angeles, the heartbeat of Hollywood? It’s just insane. We should start earlier, in high school.


The basic idea is that there’s all these jobs that are available. There are 65,000 below-the-line jobs in the United States. These kids going into Roybal, 90% are [living] below the poverty line. They don’t know these jobs exist. They don’t know [how] to pursue them. Why aren’t we attacking this problem early on?

So I called up Bryan [Lourd] and I said, “How can we do this? How can we start a school?” Listen, I’m an actor and I didn’t finish college, so education is something you wouldn’t necessarily attach with me.

Lourd: Austin Beutner [former L.A. Times publisher], at the time, who was the head of LAUSD, was someone that I had worked with on various initiatives in the school district. I called [in June 2021] and said, “There’s this idea and George, Grant and I want to help if we can,” and he said, “If you can pull together the right board and commit to this, I can get you a school, and we can cut through the red tape and we can go to work on it right away.”

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June 28, 2021

How will you measure the success of the school?

Heslov: We want kids to be able to have the opportunity — if they’re interested — to go straight from the curriculum into work, to well-paying jobs. If we can get one kid graduating into the business and keep following that up, to me that’s success.

When I really know we’ve been successful is when George and I go to cast up our movie, and we’re able to hire kids who have come through our training program, and be able to fill those jobs, which frankly right now we can’t fill.

Clooney: It’s important to understand that we don’t know if it will work. We’re taking a shot at this. We believe it’ll work.

We went to everybody, every single studio, and we hit them up and said, “We want money, but more than that, we want your participation.” The first studio we hit up, they said, “We’ll pay for the whole thing.” We’re like, “It can’t be [just] you, it has to be everybody.” The participation has to mean apprenticeships and internships, and this has to lead to jobs for these kids. That also means getting your editor or cinematographer that is going to teach. We also had to have buy-in from the union.

We needed everybody in on this so that you could stand up and say, we recognize there is a problem. We also recognize that if we can fix it, if this works in three years, then you could do this in Atlanta, New York and Chicago. There’s nothing that could stop this thing from really changing the dynamics.

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Feb. 15, 2022

What steps will the school take to give full-time jobs in the industry to students ? Is there a long-term commitment from partners to offer a set number of internships to students?

Lourd: Many people are working on great programs. What was missing was 9-to–12[th grade] chapter of this. That was them crossing their fingers and hoping that graduates, or people entering the job market, would find their way to the right union or to the right apprenticeships. That’s what Grant and George were referring to, that there just aren’t that many people that are well trained, that know how to get into the industry.

So the simplest hope in this curriculum that we built is that they’ll graduate with a degree from high school. They’re going to take all the normal courses that you have to take to get to it, but they’ll be specializing [in] these areas that are below the line [behind the camera], ranging from hair and makeup to editing, costume, lighting, all the categories. The plan is if you graduate or if you get into this program, that we’ll be able to place every single one of them that wants to work.

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May 8, 2021

Clooney: After four years at that school, you get a diploma, you want to go to college, go to college. It’s just like a normal high school, but it’s also a trade school, so you’re going to be able to home in on something that really attracts you. Look, you’re not going to come out of high school and start as a department head, right? You’re going to start at the bottom like everybody does, but you’re going to have such a giant leap ahead of everyone else. You’re going to have incentive from all of the studios who have buy-in on this, not just financial, but all of it to make sure this works.

What steps will the school take in ensuring that these crew jobs provide a livable wage and aren’t just a pipeline of unpaid diversity hires?

Clooney: I think if you’re in the union, you’re getting paid at a fairly decent clip. So for the union jobs, we’re focusing on making sure that the unions help us out, because it’s going to be some effort from them along the way because there’s some things they’re going to have to help us do to get these kids in. That’s sort of the reason we were doing this also is because you can find people to do the jobs that nobody pays. What we want is it to [have] decent paying jobs quickly.

Times Staff Writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.