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Observer at Large

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Kathleen Milnes’ monthly column focuses on private-sector initiatives and public policy in the entertainment industry. Milnes is founder of The Entertainment Economy Institute, a nonprofit research and education company. It’s the New Year and you’ve made (and probably already broken) your usual resolutions. You know the ones: lose weight, exercise more, take up a new sport or hobby. If you happen to live in the Los Angeles area, why not add something that requires nothing but a bit of your time—sharing what you do and what you know with high school students.For the last dozen or so years, I have been working with a number of local high schools that have media- and entertainment-related programs. Several of these are very well established, such as Cleveland High School in Reseda, Hollywood High in Hollywood, and Crenshaw in South Los Angeles. Others are brand new such as Arleta High School in Pacoima.All of these schools (and there are at least 10 more in the Los Angeles School District) benefit from having industry professionals engage with them on a variety of levels. For example, you can speak to a class during a career week, arrange for a group of students to visit your workplace, mentor a student project or review student work. You can also help teachers create curriculum that is exciting and relevant.When you think about what we do in this industry and all the skills and knowledge one must have to be successful in any of the below-the-line positions, you realize that you can teach everything using the industry as a lens. For example, the first time I ever saw calculus being used by a working professional was a 3D animator at Sony Imageworks describing a walk cycle with the axis and vectors necessary to make it look authentic. (Don’t ask me to explain anything further!) Think of the geometry a construction foreman needs to know to estimate materials and build sets. Imagine the historical research required to design period costumes or replicate buildings. And how would networks decide which of their new shows to keep on the air without ratings—which are just another form of statistics.One friend in the education world calls this “learning through work, learning about work, and learning for work.” Even if a young person in one of these programs is not destined for your job, the industry theme keeps them engaged and learning. It answers that age-old question: “Why do I need to know this?” It also provides them with options to continue on with school or enter the workforce—or, in many cases, do both.But many students have gone on to work in the industry. For example, Cleveland High School’s film program, established in 2000, can point to a number of successes. One recent graduate is the first African American to work as a set painter at J. C. Backings on the Sony lot. Another attended USC’s film school and is now working as an assistant editor. Some have followed related career paths such as starting their own graphics company. Another went on to Occidental College and has worked on camera crews for M. Night Shyamalan and Richard LaGravenese.While Cleveland’s programs may seem unusual, the student population mirrors that of most of the District—with 70 percent of the students falling at or below the poverty line. The 3,800 students represent 40 different nationalities.Other schools are also doing amazing things in partnerships with others. For example, this summer, 11 media academy students from Crenshaw spent 12 days at the Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television. Six students were chosen for film production and five students for animation. The students received hands-on, intensive training from top Loyola faculty on story and screenplay development, directing actors, cinematography, lighting, sound, editing and the full range of 3D and 2D animation story development and production.Most importantly, the students learned how to work creatively at a high level in a fast-paced, deeply collaborative environment. Each student wrote a short screenplay that reflected his or her personal voice and experiences. Then the students chose two live action and two animation projects to produce. The results were four short films that were showcased at a gala luncheon hosted by LMU president Father Robert B. Lawton, S.J.But you don’t need to run a production facility or be an Oscar-winning cinematographer to help and have an impact. Just say yes to one request, one event, one opportunity, and you’ll see what a difference you can make. We promise to make the entire experience a pleasant one for you and we also promise not to suck you into some black hole of volunteerism. If you are interested in helping out at any time, we have schools all over the Los Angeles area. Email me at [email protected] or call me at 310-459-9177 and we’ll make it happen. NEWSCLIPS DIGESTUK: US Companies Boost Film Training FundThe Skills Investment Fund has hit the £4 million ($7.8 million) mark after six years, thanks to contributions from Casino Royale (Sony Pictures), Bean 2 (working title) and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Warner Bros. Pictures), among others. All paid the maximum contribution of £39,500 (nearly $80,000) into the training levy on theatrical film production. It is expected the levy will become mandatory at the end of 2007.Source: Regional Film and Video, http://www.4rfv.co.ukUK: New Industry Tax Policy Starts January 1, 2007The European Commission approved a new “cultural test” for British films to determine whether they can qualify for the new system of tax relief announced in 2006. Filmmakers will be awarded points in each of four categories—cultural content, cultural hubs, cultural contribution, and cultural practitioners—and must score a minimum of 16 points out of a possible 31 to pass the test.Source: HM Revenue and Customs, http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/films/India: France works to Attract Production from IndiaThe French Film Commission, which is 95-percent government-supported, is working with French tourism officials to boost the production of Indian films in France. One of the primary purposes is to spur tourism from India as well as take advantage of the large volume of film production in India.Source: The HinduNew Jersey: Infomercial Giant Builds Studio TriStar Products, marketer of the Ab Roller and the Power Juicer, has opened a high-definition studio in Fairfield, New Jersey. It is available for inventors who want to promote their product via infomercials, home shopping networks, direct-response ads, and cable and network commercials. The studio comes with staff and crews for multicamera shooting and postproduction, as well as advertising professionals, writers, editors, producers, package designers, a web department, order fulfillment services, and a call center to take phone orders generated by the infomercials produced on site.Source: PR WebTo be added to my mailing lists, email me at [email protected]. I welcome comments and suggestions for future columns. You will find a number of studies about the industry at www.entertainmentecon.org.

Written by Kathleen Milnes

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