DON GONYEA, HOST:
There's an ongoing debate about the lack of diversity in Hollywood, so there's a new focus on what it would take to develop a diverse workforce. One school program in California addresses the extra hurdles poor minority kids face when trying to break into show business. Reporter Jeff Tyler explains.
JEFF TYLER, BYLINE: The filmmaking program that Jessica Just came up with is all about creating opportunities.
JESSICA JUST: We bring in film professionals and pair them with the classroom teacher and the students to create their own short films.
TYLER: Students write, direct and act in their own movies. The program, called Creating Creators, is currently in five Southern California schools which serve low-income minority students. That's how Jessica just met 11-year-old John Flores.
JOHN FLORES: People think that I'm cute because I have chubby cheeks. It's weird.
TYLER: His classmates picked John to star in their zombie movie.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: (As character) Run, Gabriel (ph), run.
JUST: He just comes alive in front of that camera. And I thought, this is the kid I'm going to take the risk on.
TYLER: But for many kids in the program, talent alone isn't enough. There are other barriers. John's father was deported to Mexico about nine years ago. His mom struggled to pay the bills even though she worked two jobs.
JOHN: We got kicked out by many houses because, like, my mom didn't have, like, enough money, like, for the rent.
TYLER: The family of seven actually lived out of a van for nearly a year. Just says it's harder for poor kids like John to break in.
JUST: There are financial costs for being in this industry that I don't think many people understand fully.
TYLER: Kids need the right clothes to go on auditions, and they need profile photos, called headshots, which run about $500. Then there are logistical issues. Who will drive the kid 90 minutes for a casting call?
JUST: With our kids, their parents are working two jobs. You have this restraint of transportation that is a big issue.
TYLER: Creating Creators started as a pilot program here at The Los Angeles School of Global Studies. Principal Christian Quintero says the program's industry connections are especially valuable for his students.
CHRISTIAN QUINTERO: That professional network is something that's not open to a lot of students who are in impoverished communities, who don't have access to something like the film industry.
TYLER: During a visit at Sony Studios, students met a powerful executive who encouraged them to contact her.
QUINTERO: When the executive director of development was talking about networking, I asked her to pause. I said, could you just talk briefly about what do you mean by networking?
TYLER: The students had no idea what that meant. But despite all those extra hurdles, two kids in the program have gotten paid work as actors. Three former students have worked behind the scenes as paid production assistants on the TV show "Bosch." And 11-year-old John Flores landed a starring role in a national commercial for Samsung.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YADADA")
BENJAMIN EARL TURNER: (Rapping) Yeah. Yadada (ph), whoa.
TYLER: As this song plays, John dances and makes funny faces. He made several thousand dollars and helps with rent for the house the family lives in. Around school, he's famous.
JOHN: Every single kid in my school was like, oh my gosh, you're that kid from the commercial. Two weeks later, they were still doing that. And then, like, to be honest, that thing kind of actually got annoying.
TYLER: In this town, that kind of annoyance is called success. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Tyler In Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.