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Teens try out college, entertainment worlds in Ghetto Film School-LMU program

 Teens try out college, entertainment worlds in Ghetto Film School-LMU program
Actor Pat Finn, far left, watches as high school students Francis Arana and Jevonne Davis, right, participate in an improv class for 14 high school students at Loyola Marymount University on July 22, 2015. (Christina House / For The Times)

The Ghetto Film School started in the South Bronx as a way to encourage and mentor teens from low-income neighborhoods who might want to pursue careers as filmmakers. Founded in 2000, the program has taught movie- and TV-making skills to hundreds of students.

Naturally, when GFS was looking to expand its reach beyond the New York area, its first choice was the moviemaking capital of the world, Los Angeles. The Los Angeles chapter debuted last summer out of offices near MacArthur Park.

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This summer the program expanded when Loyola Marymount University in Westchester, which has a heralded film school, created a College Residency program for GFS students. It ran for four weeks starting in early July and involved 14 L.A. students from local high schools including Crenshaw and Roosevelt. The program, free to all students, is scheduled to continue for the next two summers.

Stephen Ujlaki, dean of LMU School of Film and Television, reached out to the New York-based program about the possibilities of a residency program at the college after visiting GFS in the Bronx.

"L.A. is the creative media place of the world," said Ujlaki. "It's surprising we don't have more programs like it," referring to the Ghetto Film School.

The college residency students received practical training from LMU professors as well as from LMU students and alumni. Guest lecturers were also brought in, including producer James Wong ("X-Files" and "American Horror Story") and actor Pat Finn ("It's Complicated"), who taught an improv class and showed students how to work with actors. During the program the students created a four-part Web series called "Cheese Brothers."

Stosh Mintek, the GFS executive director of its L.A. program, said the university offered students a unique degree of access to the entertainment industry. "The kind of commitment LMU has made I can't imagine another school being able to offer."

Simone Walker, a 15-year-old high school student from Baldwin Hills, said she enrolled in GFS "because of an email I got from a theater company I was in recommending the program. I had little to no insight on what film was, so I blindly entered into the program."

Walker, who attends the Music Academy at Hamilton High School, said she learned valuable lessons about the industry while giving her a taste of what college life would be like. In an email, Walker explained: "I see myself going into the film industry as a producer or an assistant director, but education comes first. As of right now, my sights are set on majoring in production or producing, but I am only 15 and that is subject to change."

Mintek noted that GFS students get hands-on experience including making short films, commercials and Web series. The program also has international outreach, such as the students that went to Tokyo to shoot a film.

Ujlaki of LMU said he's been impressed with the quality of the GFS students, noting "there is such a desire to learn on their part."

Walker said the program helped her prepare for college. "Being 15, college is something I've spent a lot of time thinking about but not having a good idea of what I had to do or how it worked. The program really helped me to understand what college is and what I've got to do to succeed in it."

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