Home Grown

New nonprofit The COOL Cooperative aims to get kids excited about careers in the film industry.

On a gorgeous Monday afternoon about a month ago, I took a drive across the Crescent City Connection to meet with what could very well become some big players in the film industry in the future.

Not the near future, mind you, because, well, they’re all in the seventh grade.

My destination was McDonogh #32 Literacy Charter School in Algiers, where a group of approximately 15-20 seventh graders have been meeting after school Monday through Thursday since September to learn about film careers as part of a new program called The COOL (Creating Outstanding Opportunities Locally) Cooperative.

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A six-year program, The COOL Cooperative will work with students from seventh grade through high school graduation to introduce them to a wide variety of film careers.

“We’ve focused our efforts on kids that may not see many options, in terms of careers,” says Mark Shays, executive director of the 501c3. “There’s about 110 different jobs in the film industry – good-paying jobs that don’t necessarily require a college degree. Our goal is to introduce these kids to all the options and see if something resonates.”

The COOL Cooperative has partnered with the Algiers Charter School Association and is currently offering the program to students at Martin Behrman Elementary and McDonogh #32. Next year plans are to expand the program to the remaining two schools in Algiers Charter and add an eighth-grade program.
For now, students meet at McDonogh 32 from 3 to 5 p.m. three days a week. During this time they learn about everything from broad film themes, to how to work as a team, to the individual job descriptions of various careers.

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During shortened school schedules on Wednesdays, the students meet at Algiers Technology Academy, where they are given access to top-of-the-line Apple computers to work on their own screenplays.

Founder Felicia Stallard says the idea to form the organization came while producing her first feature film, a romantic comedy entitled “Love Me True” – currently in post-production. She and writer/director Kirby Voss, chose to use college students and recent graduates for their crew.

“I know from experience how hard it is to get a job in the film industry,” Voss says. “We gave these people a way in and they were so appreciative. It felt good, and they did a great job. Afterwards we thought to ourselves, wouldn’t it be great if we could systematize this? So we have. Basically I’m creating the kind of program that I wish I would have had.”

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According to Stollard, there’s plenty of opportunity for locals in the growing Hollywood South.

“I just got a call last week from a producer who had been approved for a $1.7 million budget, and he wanted to find local workers, both so he could take advantage of the tax credits and so that he could save on housing expenses he’d have to pay for workers coming in from other areas,” she says.
Martin Behrman student Aaliyah Bartley is excited at the chance to be one of those local film industry professionals someday.

“I’ve been in three school plays already, and so when I heard about the program I got excited about learning about what goes on behind the scenes in plays and movies,” she says.

Currently students are working on creating their own PSAs about bullying. They also just finished a music video.
“Aaliyah was awesome,” Stollard says. “She storyboarded everything, wrote it, directed it and got everyone in their places.”
“Yeah, directing is starting to grow on me,” Bartley says with a toothy grin.

For more information, including how you can donate, visit TheCOOLCooperative.org.


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