Local Students Attend Film and Television Academy
November 7, 2019
It's not every day that high school students get a chance to work shoulder-to-shoulder with successful television and motion picture writers to hone their craft – unless those students are part of the St. Bernard high school Film and Television Academy.
Just two years old, the Academy on the school's Playa del Rey campus allows students to learn the industry from the inside, working closely with the successful brother writing duo of Todd and Richey Jones.
Todd and Richey Jones began their writing career on the Emmy-winning sketch comedy series "In Living Color," where they created and wrote sketches for various comedians. From there they wrote and co-produced films and sitcoms starring two of the Original Kings of Comedy: D.L. Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer. They have contributed scripts to TV series from Nickelodeon and Disney Channel and have sold original pitches and rewritten scripts for Universal, Fox Searchlight, Fox, Sony and Warner Bros. They were part of the original creative team behind the animated hit "Rio."
Along the way, the pair learned not only about how to craft a script, pitch ideas and work collaboratively with a writing team, but they learned about perseverance.
"Hollywood is the Land of 99 Noes," said Todd. "Everything, every kind of success, comes through the world of perseverance and grit. In this business, you're going to hear a lot more noes than yeses."
So the Joneses spend just as much time working on fleshing out story ideas and character development as they do about preparing students to be mentally strong as they dip their toes into the shark-infested waters of the television and motion picture industry.
An early class exercise had students developing a monologue based on a quote about determination.
Celeste Reza, a St. Bernard junior from Culver City, chose the quote, "Failure I can live with; not trying is what I can't handle."
Reza, who hopes to go to film school, said she is learning nuances in the Academy that will help her succeed in the field.
"I've learned how not to write a cliché story, how to pitch an idea and how to work well with others so I can get my ideas across," she said.
"It's great to see how engaged the students are once they are able to see behind the scenes and how to get to the final product, from concept to the screen," said Richey. "This is really something I wish I had when I was starting out – the practical knowledge of how to get the idea on the screen."
After all, having a winning script under your arm only matter if you know how to accept constructive criticism, develop relationships with other people in the industry and play well in the creative sandbox.
"I'm interested in how each student works with others and collaborates with others," Richey said. "If I can write, but I can't work with other people, that doesn't help me. Learning how to sit in a room with other people is a big part of being successful in this business."
Richey said he remembers his own experiences starting out in the business and the pitfalls of not being well versed in dealing with other creative minds.
"It was an adjustment for me to understand the etiquette of being collaborative in a room," said Richey, adding that his students will go into the industry better prepared than he was. "They are going to go in having a leg up because they will understand how that room functions. They will be a lot more comfortable listening to an executive producer or bouncing ideas off each other. When it comes to collaborating with other people, they will be much more well-equipped than I was."
Sophomore Kayli Cooper, a Culver City resident, moved with her family from Texas to pursue a career in Hollywood.
"I started off acting," she said. "That's really why I came out here."
But after spending some time in the Academy, she has honed her vision for her future. While acting may be the job the public most clearly identifies with, there are lots of other jobs in the industry that she is just learning about.
"I like to be in charge. I'm not gonna lie," said Cooper, who is now focused on becoming a film director. "I love editing videos and seeing my ideas come to life."
"At the end of every film or TV show, you see the credits," Todd said. "You see a lot of names that scroll by, and each name represents a career opportunity."
And while his students are primarily focused on TV and movies careers, Todd said the skills he and his brother are teaching will benefit everyone.
"No matter what goal or career path you take, you need to learn how to tell a good story," he said. "Whether you are a doctor or you're going to college or you're doing a job interview storytelling is important."
Working on both theory and practice, the Academy is project-focused, and the Joneses said their goal is ultimately to produce a St. Bernard high school television show. But in their circumspect style, the show won't just focus on actors and directors or even just writers.
"Sure it will be about that, but we also want to make sure we're covering directing, wardrobe, casting and budgeting," Richey said. "We want to make sure every student can utilize their specific talents. Heck, if you have culinary skills, there's always craft services."
"There are a plethora of job opportunities in the industry, and it's important we show the students all the possibilities," Todd added.