TheThings recently spoke to Hollywood producer Rachel Miller, founder of FILM2FUTURE, an intensive educational program that is working towards solving the problem of a lack of diversity in Hollywood. Specifically, the plethora of good behind-the-scenes jobs that are available but are typically only for those who have an "in." Miller told us why a direct pipeline was needed for minority youth into the well-paying, union and benefit-providing careers that Hollywood provides, and how she and the folks at FILM2FUTURE worked hard to build it.
Frustrated with seeing no female directors nominated for an Academy Award year after year and a lack of minority representation both in front of and behind the cameras, Miller saw that the solution was early education for kids who may not even know they have been harboring a passion for content-creating.
"[There are] many great jobs out there that people don’t know about and don’t have a way in,” Miller told us.
Now four years strong, Miller's FILM2FUTURE teaches subjects like editing, narrative filmmaking, animation, VR (virtual reality), advertising, sound design, post production and much more in their classes which last for 3 action-packed months.
Please enjoy this uplifting exclusive interview!
TheThings (TH): "Rachel, FILM2FUTURE give inner-city minority high school students an amazing opportunity to learn the ins and outs of filmmaking from narrative filmmaking, animation, advertising and more and most of your students graduate your program with full college scholarships or jobs in the industry. How did this incredible idea come to be?"
Rachel Miller (RM): "So my background is a little interesting. I hated high school. Didn’t have any arts in high school. I was definitely the kid who, let’s say, acted out because I was bored and didn’t have my tribe and all those things. I randomly fell into film, I had no connections with it, and it saved my life and it changed who I was and it showed me what I wanted to with my life. I ended up getting into a summer program at NYU Film School where I fell in love with film and I used that to apply to Tisch. I got into Tisch but I didn’t have enough money to go to Tisch all four years.
I ended up working and graduated in three years. One job that I had at that time was teaching at a public school in Manhattan and while I was teaching at the public school with no credentials, which should tell you a lot about the education system, I saw first hand what I call this “socioeconomic drawbridge” that gets drawn up very fast, very early. If you don’t have books at home, a computer at home, parents reading, healthy eating, parents who can take you to extracurricular activities, being able to afford PSAT tutors, you start falling behind.
That experience really sat with me. I graduated early. I worked as an assistant. I started my own company at 23 and as people were talking about the lack of diversity. From my experience, I’m interested in the bottom-up problem. How do we kids, who at 18, magically know they want to be in arts, have their resume, have their portfolios, have support… it’s just impossible. We have to start early. We have to build a real pipeline starting in 9th grade which is what we do starting with resumes, portfolios, mentorships and all of our programs to get kids ready at 18 for the creative industry."
TH: "The students leave FILM2FUTURE with a decently packed portfolio, invaluable experience, a ready-to-go resume and in some cases, an internship. Do many of your students leave with a paid/unpaid internship in place?"
RM: "Actually, we have a 100% graduation rate of our 18-year-olds getting paid internships. We specifically do not do unpaid internships because again, in Hollywood, we’ve created a socioeconomic boundary. How do you work for free? How do you have a car, car insurance and all of the things that you need with a magical unpaid internship? Once they turn 18, all of our students are placed in a paid internship. We’ve had students on "G.L.O.W.", "Scandal", "Mayans", "Station 19", "Magical Elves", and "Blindspot." We’re really focused on paid internships again because of the socioeconomic barrier of what an unpaid internship means."
TH: "Many of your students have gone on to receive paid employment at companies like “Shondaland” and “Netflix” and shows such as “G.L.O.W.” and “Mayans.” Since the program is intensive, are you able to tell fairly quickly who would be a good fit for a certain job in the industry?"
RM: "Yeah, we really work on placing each student in a job in a field of their choice. One of our students who’s into editing, she worked in the post department at "Magical Elves." We have other students interested in cinematography so they worked in the camera department. We really try as best as we can with individual matching with our students’ interests with the fields of their choice."
TH: "65% of your students are female. Why is this necessary in Hollywood filmmaking?"
RM: *laughs* "Have you seen the reports? Look, I think that every study, every report has shown that the statistics are startling. There are very few females, very few people of color and diversity if needed everywhere - not just acting and directing and creating but in cinematography and editing and post-production editing. We need female voices. We need to represent 100% of the population in our entertainment in creating great content that reflects humanity, we need the full spectrum in making the content as well.
Personally, I was not encouraged to go into the arts. I think female voices are needed. I think everyone’s voices, LGBTQ, non-binary, that’s what makes great content that people are responding to."
TH: "Why is it important to teach these “college-level” skills to high-school students?"
RM: *laughs* "Do you want me to unpack L.A. Unified or is that not the point of this article? I’ll say this, as someone who personally hated high school and didn’t go to a high school that supported what I wanted to do, I think high schools are, and we’ve seen this in strikes across the country, are leaving students behind. I don’t even think it’s maliciously on the part of the teachers. I think they are overwhelmed, not paid enough and not given support staff and so it becomes easy to focus on the kids who are exemplary. And I am interested in kids who again, like me, didn’t fit in high school and didn’t know how they didn’t fit in but just didn’t fit in. But I didn’t even have video in high school. If I had, it might have changed. So, for a variety of factors, I am interested in kids who are not going to schools who have huge art programs. Not everyone, including me, is great at math and science. Like me, I am terrible at it. Finding creative, intelligent and talented students who might not be finding their place in high school. I don’t believe there is a difference between high school courses and college courses. Our students are incredibly talented, they just need people who care, they need to be interested in the subject and they need to be believed in."
TH: "How do you select students for your program and about how many do you take per class?"
RM: "We take about 25 students per class. That seems to be a good dynamic, we’ve found. And again, we’re not looking for students with perfect SAT scores, our application process is two short essays, an optional video essay and two letters of recommendation but they don’t actually have to be school-related. One of my favorite stories is one of our older students who wrote a letter of recommendation for his little sister. I was like, ‘Great! You’re a producer! You found a loophole and worked your way through it! Great on you. Congrats.’ Now that we’re on Year Four of our program, it’s been word of mouth, we’ve had two sets of siblings, friends telling their friends at school so it’s been fantastic."
TH: "What can you tell us about the future of minority representation in the film and TV industry?"
RM: "The good news is that I think everyone is waking up to the problem and working to solve it. There’s a lot of programs who are looking at, what I call, the 360 problem, top, down, bottom, up. I am particularly focused on getting minority representation into entertainment who might not know or might not believe that they have a place. I think the good news is that it’s changing, and not even because people are that nice but it’s great if they are, but because it’s better business. Simply put, it’s better economics for diverse content with diverse voices. If you look at what’s working, movies and television shows and podcasts and all of these things that have a real multi-level point of view… "Empire," "Black-ish," "Black Panther," "Fresh Off the Boat," "Wonder Woman," the list goes on and on… if you look at what’s working, it’s stuff that feels inclusive. Again, I don’t even think that people need to be altruistic, it’s just simply better business and ultimately, entertainment is a business. So you’re going to see this huge shift because it’s just making sense, financially. And it happens to be great content and inclusive which is great but it’s also good for everyone’s bottom line."
TH: "We can imagine that you have MANY favorite success stories? Can you share a few of your personal proudest moments?"
RM: "Oh, you want me to get all weepy… great." *laughs* "We have a student who was living below, what we consider, statistically, the poverty line and for last year’s program, he didn’t want to pitch in front of the whole class. He was so nervous and didn’t believe that anyone would like his idea. Part of our program is that everyone has to pitch their own idea because pitching is an important skill set. Getting up in front of the room and being confident in yourself is a life skill. So everyone has to pitch and our student had to pitch. There were four judges and as soon as he pitched, let me tell you, we all looked at each other and were like, ‘That’s an idea. That’s great!’ His idea got picked and he was the director and the creator and it’s such an incredible VR short. Now he’s been going to Fox and working with editors and he’s just blossoming. I’m so proud of him.
We have another student who immigrated to the U.S. when she was four from El Salvador and she’s been through all four years of our program. She was a PA on "Mayans" last season and she did such a good job that they asked her to come back for Season 2 and to be with them for the whole process from the writer’s room all the way through to production. And that’s the whole point of the program. It doesn’t take that much. The kids we have are hungry and creative and work hard. They just need a door open and someone to believe in them and have an actual pipeline. Most schools do not teach portfolio writing, resume writing, how to interview, how to talk about shows you love. Our program not only focuses on technical skills but we focus on “soft skills” or life skills, we do an interview class, we get our boys ties, we teach them how to do a good handshake, all the things that are missing in our schools that they need for life, we do."
TH: "What about FILM2FUTURE has been your biggest “wow” moment in that you have made such a difference for these kids?"
RM: "I will tell you a great moment. We have a student who is hilarious, he’s spent two years telling us that he wasn’t going to go to college but he would commute himself from Riverside to our class in Playa Vista, my husband would pick him up from the train station and we spent a lot of time with him, working with him. So last year, he said that he was going to apply to college. We helped with his resume and his recommendation letter and when he called and told us that he got a full ride to Syracuse - probably one of the best moments of my life."
TH: "Wow. So he’s there now?"
RM: "He’s there now, yeah. We actually got him a bunch of big winter coats in matching Syracuse colors."
TH: "So these kids become family to you?"
RM: (without skipping a beat) "Yes."
TH: "Rachel, finally, how can we, as viewers, help to encourage diversity in the behind-the-scene industry of filmmaking and television?"
RM: "Oh, that’s a good question. I will be shameless. We are a non-profit. Any donation helps. It’s a tax write-off. Our program provides food, transportation, all of the equipment. We are literally a zero barrier to entry program and so donating is hugely helpful. Another way to get involved is that we are always looking for volunteers within the industry, people to donate their time or their equipment, cameras, headphones, computers, tablets, phones. We’ve bought our kids phones in the past because how can you communicate with a potential employer without a phone? Donations are always helpful. Volunteering time and donating equipment.
And I’d say on a general note, support diverse content. Support "Black Panther," support "Empire," support "Wonder Woman." The powers that be are monitoring who’s watching what. The more that we support diverse content, the more they’re going to make it. It’s just going to have to be. Support the shows that are doing great groundbreaking work. On the business side, more of those shows will be made and more opportunities will happen on those shows for women and people of color."
TH: "Rachel, thank you so much for all of this information and for your time!"
RM: "Thank you so much for your time and for writing about us. Getting the word out is one of our biggest struggles."
TH: "And thank you so much for what you’re doing for making a huge difference for these kids."
RM: "We’re just going to change the world as boss ladies. It’s going to happen."
Readers, you can check out FILM2FUTURE's website to learn more about this incredible program and learn more about producer and educator Rachel Miller by checking out Haven, an entertainment company that she co-founded.
Thanks for helping to change the world for the better, Rachel!