“It was a long and treacherous drive up,” said a guest, amusingly, of the dark, narrow and winding road leading to Ghetto Film School’s annual gala, held on a Beverly Hills summit at the estate of James Murdoch, former chief executive officer of 21st Century Fox, founder of Lupa Systems and son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch. The event was held on the poolside patio of the Spanish-style home, which seemed to overlook all of Los Angeles. “It’s worth it. Look at this view.”
It was easy to imagine a scene straight out of “Succession” coming to life. Jesse Armstrong — the creator of the popular HBO series, which centers on the life of an aging media tycoon and his family — once wrote a screenplay for a film called “Murdoch,” after all. And everything was seemingly in place on Thursday night as hors d’oeuvres were passed around in the demure yet lush setting that brought out executives like Universal Pictures president Peter Cramer, NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer and Amazon Studios’ Ted Hope.
“I’m over here looking at this view, like ‘Why am I here?’” said film student Alyse Arteaga. Actress Rashida Jones stood just steps away. “It’s the main question in my life, ‘Why am I here?’”
The 18-year-old comes from a world far removed from the film industry, let alone the setting, she said. She applied to join the nonprofit after coming across it online. “I researched the school, and I found out that it was free and very diverse and would provide me with all these tools for filmmaking.” She shared with excitement that she had just finished producing a pilot for FX. “I was a showrunner. It’s hard for me to believe it. A year ago, I was in my bedroom watching shows on FX.”
The program provides ambitious, aspiring filmmakers with access to major industry players like David O. Russell, who was out in support.
“They’re celebrating 20 years,” said Russell, standing alongside Ghetto Film School’s chief executive, Stosh Mintek. What began as an organization in New York’s Bronx, founded by Joe Hall in 2000, has expanded to L.A. and is now in London, too. Every year, students create shorts and travel to an international destination to film a thesis project aboard.
“This is an example right here,” continued the director, after sharing a warm exchange with Alexi Gonzalez, an alumnus who’s now associate producer on Netflix’s “On My Block.” “I’ll never forget your film,” he told her.
The evening honored playwright Sarah Jones, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Jeff Shell and Black Bicycle Entertainment chief executive officer Erika Olde, who announced that her organization, The Erika Film Foundation, would help finance this year’s international film in South Korea.
“So even though GFS stands for Ghetto Film School, and while that’s not the most obvious name for a venerable institution now, they started with a beautiful, powerful, forward-thinking idea that diverse voices are crucial in storytelling in Hollywood,” shared Jones.
The sentiment was echoed throughout the night.
“Kathryn and I just want to welcome you here, and thank you all for coming tonight,” said James Murdoch of wife Kathryn Hufschmid when he addressed the crowd. “[The Ghetto Film School] remains a crucial, crucial mission in the industry of storytelling. We have to have more diverse voices. We have to be an inclusive industry. This is a business of ideas that has a huge impact across the world and in our own society and neighborhoods here in America.”
Shell shared similar thoughts: “For those of you who don’t know Universal Pictures, we pride ourselves on having a diverse slate. We don’t do that for public good, we think it’s best for the business. We think that people respond to all kind of stories…The only way to get those kinds of stories is to have diverse filmmakers who can tell different stories. People not just of different colors and ethnicities and religions, but people who come from different backgrounds and have that experience to tell that. What Ghetto Film School does is incredibly important, which is why we support it. It’s critical to our business.”