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Future directors, fall in

Inner-City Filmmakers is a film boot camp, and the participants are thankful for it.

August 28, 2007|Amy Kaufman | Special to The Times

Esther Yoo is tapping her strappy black high heels at a frenetic speed.

"Yeah, I guess I'm a little nervous," the 18-year-old says, her eyes darting around the courtyard outside the USC Norris Theatre, where in only a few minutes, her first short film will make its world premiere.

Yoo, her 32 classmates and family and friends gathered on the USC campus last week to celebrate the commencement of the 2007 Inner-City Filmmakers summer program, an intensive, eight-week film boot camp for underprivileged youth. ICF gives a select pool of just-graduated high school seniors access to professionals and elaborate technical equipment, allowing those interested in movies to further their passion without concern for finance.

Yoo's interest in film began in the eighth grade, when her Sunday school teacher asked a few church members to help him with a film project he was creating for a class at Los Angeles Community College.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, August 31, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part Page Metro Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Inner-City Filmmakers: A story in Tuesday's Calendar section about the Inner-City Filmmakers summer program said that one of the students became interested in moviemaking while working on a project her Sunday-school teacher was creating for a class at Los Angeles Community College. It was at Los Angeles City College.

"I just thought seeing how it all worked was so cool," Yoo remembers, clutching the minuscule silver cross resting around her neck. "After that, whenever I'd drive around my neighborhood and see professional film crews set up, I thought it was something I'd like to do."

A self-proclaimed "movie freak," Yoo hopes to one day direct her own films, helping to mesh her Korean heritage with her American upbringing. She created her first short film as part of ICF's curriculum.

Much is crammed into the ICF's two-month period: screenwriting, producing, directing, cinematography and Avid editing are skills students take away when they complete the program.

The students attend a minimum of 25 hours of classes per week at ICF headquarters at the Lantana Hines Production Center in Santa Monica, learning from industry professionals and guest speakers who discuss their experiences in the business.

The kids' most concerted effort, though, culminated Thursday, when friends and family gathered at Norris to watch the silent four-minute films each student created. Working in teams of six, all students helped one another complete the films by taking on different roles within the group, such as art director or grip.

Yoo's film, "Jang-Ku," tells the story of a fragmented relationship between a sister who attempts to stop her brother's downward spiral into the world of drug dealing.

There were lots of people at the ceremony to support Yoo -- friends from school, her Koreatown neighbors, even the actors who star in "Jang-Ku" -- but her parents couldn't be found in the crowd.

"Yeah, they couldn't make it tonight," Yoo says, looking downward. "My mom doesn't think I'm gonna make it big. It's hard to not get the support from my parents, but I still have faith in what I want to do."

Jessica Garcia, a 2004 ICF graduate and the program's back-to-school coordinator who recruits kids from local schools and social service agencies, knows firsthand how difficult it can be to persuade less-than-enthusiastic parents that the film business is a viable career choice.

"I was going to join the Navy after school, and when I got the acceptance letter from ICF, my parents were, like, 'OK, so that's what you're doing? You're on your own. We want nothing to do with you. You're a girl, you're Hispanic; what are you going to do in the film business?' "

It was the ICF graduation that helped clinch the "180-degree turn" for Garcia's parents, she says, but she understands why many from low-income backgrounds are hesitant about jumping into film.

"When I go to these schools in South Central, the kids are, like, 'The film business, what is that?' " Garcia says. "They think of it as either you're an actor, or you're nothing. So when I ask them, 'Who stays in their seats after the movie and has seen the credits go by?' and let them know those are all jobs they could have, they get interested."

The 1992 Los Angeles riots prompted husband and wife Fred Heinrich and Stephania Lipner to found the nonprofit organization a year later.

Heinrich, a graduate of the USC School of Cinema-Television, owns the post-production company Wildwood films. Lipner is a theatrical producer and former vice president at the McCann-Erickson ad agency.

Their efforts have created a program that has spawned numerous successful graduates, including Gil Kenan, whose first feature film, "Monster House," was an Academy Award nominee for best animated feature.

Hundreds of kids apply to attend the program, but only a few are selected to attend on scholarships funded by individuals and Hollywood entertainment companies. The rigorous schedule helps to focus the attention of the youth, coordinators say.

"I would edit for about 12 hours a day during the past few weeks," says Devindra Somadhi, 18, who's wearing a simple black T-shirt proclaiming "I JUST SKATEBOARD" and has his hair done up in a poufy Mohawk. "Yesterday I was there until 6 a.m. And now, it's like . . . I just feel I can really get something done. If you really want something, sleep doesn't matter."

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