WE School students join the ranks of Hollywood with the help of a new film initiative geared towards youth.
Hollywood multi-hyphenate Evan Goldberg knows film. Toronto-based educator Adrienne Slover gets teaching. What do you get when you put their collective knowledge together? A WE Schools initiative with mass audience appeal.
It’s called And Action, and as Evan see it, its success will help put an end to the myth of Hollywood and encourage youth to consider a career in the entertainment industry. “A lot of young people see working in film and television as some sort of mystical, unachievable thing, when it’s [actually] extremely achievable.”
Launched this past summer, And Action stepped onto the scene like a Tinseltown fairytale, complete with a star-studded premiere to celebrate its pilot production, Dumpster Diving, about the perils of peer pressure.
Boasting A-listers the likes of James Franco and Seth Rogan, the film’s production value stands shoulder-to-shoulder with blockbuster movies. The only difference between this dramedy and one you’d pay to see at theatres is its unique team of writers, which happens to be comprised of students from John C. Fremont High School in South Central, Los Angeles. “For our group in Los Angeles, they have a lot of gang life in and around their neighbourhoods,” says Evan when explaining the students’ choice in subject matter. “They really wanted to do something about people who wanna be kind of ‘gang guys.’”
In addition to working with these creative teens, the And Action duo also put together a crew of primary school students at Rene Gordon Health and Wellness Academy in Toronto, where Adrienne teaches, to produce a second short. Titled Robot Bullies, the futuristic film—starring comedy heavy hitter Jay Baruchel—imagines a dystopia in which nasty androids run the schools. “As a teacher, I’m always amazed at their understanding of real world issues,” says Adrienne of her students’ script, praising “their drive to make a difference.”
Long before these shorts saw their first fade in, And Action was just a passing conversation between two old friends from Vancouver. As Adrienne recalls, it began with Evan sharing how he would “love to take inner city kids from the city to a set to see all the different jobs”—careers they might not even know exist.
Years later, Adrienne’s involvement with WE Schools—a service learning program available to schools across North America and the UK—presented the opportunity to revisit the idea and push it forward with a plan. “That kind of set things in motion,” says Evan. “We had access to the kids we wanted to give these opportunities to and that [was] that.”
At the top of their agenda: how to prevent potential from getting swallowed by lack of sight on opportunity and providing a platform for young people to speak their minds. As Evan explains, “The main purpose of the project is to help people share messages that are socially conscious—messages about the lives they live and the changes they’d like to see in the world.”
This is business as usual for students involved with WE Schools. “They’re in a program about working together to make a difference,” says Evan. “Team work and being kind to one another is important [to them].” For Adrienne, she’s keen to see how the initiative can further students’ education. “I definitely believe in the media literacy component. Just writing with the kids is so amazing.”
Below, Evan and Adrienne dig further into the inception of And Action and talk the importance of amplifying youth voices, while sharing memories of their younger selves.
Adrienne (A): Evan Goldberg, what made you want to start the And Action Program?
Evan (E): Well… I have a friend named Adrienne. I work in film and you, Adrienne, have always worked with kids in schools. I was on set one day and started thinking how many people I know who just would have ended up in a more traditional discipline—[people who] now work in film and television. [You] and I started talking about it, and we realized that it’s not actually that hard to bring this opportunity to people. You just have to do it! Once we made that decision, it wasn’t that hard to do, thanks to the fact that Adrienne is a WE [Schools] teacher.
A: Do you think you would have wanted to participate in the And Action program as a kid? I know what you’re going to say… because you and I have already spoken about how you didn’t have opportunities like this and that you would have jumped at it, but tell me a bit more.
E: I’m from Vancouver, which is like a movie town—tons of TV and lots of movies. My high school had movies filmed there. I never had the opportunity to film, [though,] there were no film classes. And, I wasn’t into drama… I didn’t take acting classes. I would see film crews around, and I would see people eating craft service… I remember thinking, “I want that craft service.”
A: [Laughing.] How totally Evan Goldberg is that?
E: You always hear [about] people just stumbling into film, but it doesn’t have to be that way—you can get jobs in film. It’s a growing industry with so many different facets. In hindsight, as a kid I could’ve gone and done stuff in Vancouver… I just never did. I was writing stuff with Seth, but I really do wish I had been on a movie set earlier and seen more… sooner. I think I would be a lot better off for it. Hopefully, through this, we can get kids who normally would not be exposed to this [industry], exposed to it naturally. The dream would be that some of these kids would get into this industry and become successful electricians or actors or directors or camera operators. Even if they don’t go on to do that, just the chance to help a bunch of kids have a really fun time spreading a bunch of good messages is something I’m always down to do.
Watch Dumpster Diving.
A: The kids are getting amazing leadership opportunities! Do you think And Action was successful at getting their voices out there?
E: I definitely think we were successful at that. I’m very proud of what we did with them. We started with discussing the main issues they have as young people, and [the high school students] said that one of the biggest things they have to deal with are all these wanna-be tough guys—guys trying to be cool and picking on other people. It’s a very basic concept, but it’s something that everyone still deals with. I was badly bullied during certain parts of my childhood and can fully relate to what they’re talking about. For them, it wasn’t even bullying. The Toronto one was more focused on bullying, but the L.A. one was focused on these people pretending [to be] tough and pretending that they’re cool. I like their attitude towards it because you can tell that these kids are kind of more mature than other kids. Essentially, what their complaining about is how immature kids can be, which is such a mature thing for kids to do.
A: When you worked with them, what did you find surprising?
E: How mature they all were. I was surprised at the complexity of what they were saying. They understand that every decision you make matters, and that life isn’t a joke… that it’s not a game and everything is for keeps. They don’t want to waste their opportunities. And that very much connects to the general message of WE, which is we can change the world. We can change our future. Every choice matters. It just shocked me how aware of it they were.
A: Do you think participating in the WE Schools program—not necessarily And Action—would have appeal to the young Evan Goldberg?
E: As a kid, I would’ve lost my mind for something like this. Seth [Rogan] and I picked up a camera a few times when we were like 12 and tried to make movies, but we kind of ran out of steam because we didn’t know what we were doing. The weird irony is I was the actor and he was behind the camera.
A: Can we find those? [Laughing.] I feel like they’d be worth some money, today.
E: Seth’s mother has them. It’s not like what you’re thinking… like “Oh, I bet they did something good even when they were kids.” No… it was awful. Every blue moon, Seth’s mother is like, “I could just put it on YouTube and it would destroy you.”
A: I’m going to ask you this, but I already know you believe in it. Do you think film can be used as an educational tool for youth?
E: Oh yeah. There are few things more educational than film and television. We were raised to think: “Watch too much TV, it’ll rot your brain.” Well, too much of anything will rot your brain. Absolutely everything. Even if you read too much… I guess that’s not true… everything but reading too much will rot your brain.
A: [Laughing.] Okay.
E: But yeah, I think it’s extremely transformative. There are certain movies and TV shows that have absolutely changed my life. As a culture, it’s the most mass way to share your thoughts and your beliefs. I think that someone who wants to change the world, should be trying to do it through film and television. It’s such a good way to get your message heard.
A: Do you think youth need more outlets to express themselves?
E: Yeah. I personally think freedom of speech is the most important part of modern, free society. The more outlets there are, the better. I can’t see there being any downside to kids having more and more abilities to express themselves. We won’t always agree with all their expressions, but the more people express themselves, the more they’re communicating. The more their communicating, the more we understand each other. And, the more we understand each other, the better a world we live in.
A: I agree. I think this experience gave [the kids] confidence, and I think that’s a really important skill in life. Even with what you’re talking about—making good choices—if they’re confident in themselves and in their voice, they will do better in life. Do you think the program has helped provide some direction in these student’s lives?
E: I would definitely like to think so. Even if they don’t go into film, I hope that it’s shown them that they can be heard. If you want to do something… you got to do something. I hope that lesson carries through and they make the most it.
Watch Robot Bullies.
A: It’s pretty inspiring to me that you live that dream. [Teaching] young kids, you get the “I can’t” all the time. You can. You just have to try and change that attitude. [From the] feedback we got from the kids, they were surprised with what they made and what they were capable of doing.
E: With YouTube and the Internet, everyone has a chance to make stuff and show it to other people. The other very important thing to say is the first things that I made were awful. The first drafts of Superbad were awful. Very few people can just make something great right away. You got to make stuff, and then make mistakes, and then learn from those mistakes. I would just say the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll make the mistakes that will teach you to be great, so get started now, and don’t make excuses as to why you can’t finish. Show people and get feedback… feedback is what will make you great.
A: For sure, and I think that’s where the educator piece comes into this… someone being there to guide you and help you—the media literacy component. We keep coming back to this: confidence and encouraging kids… that really is the message. No matter who they are, where they are, how old they are, where they come from or what they’re circumstances are, it’s the confidence to go out in the world with that strength and courage to put things out there and be positive in the creations they make.
E: Well said.
A: Oh, thank you. [Laughing.] Why is it important to you to donate your time and energy to this cause?
E: I just like working with kids and I always have. I just really wanted to do something with kids again because I totally believe that a huge amount of issues in the world—specifically America at the moment—are due to a lack of education. I think education is the key to everything. There [are] a lot of good causes, but to me education is the one that I care about the most.
A: I think providing anyone with opportunity, especially children or youth, can literally change the course of someone’s life. Last question, why did you feel it was important to have And Action films focus on social issues?
E: Every story, every film, they all have messages; and if they don’t—in my opinion—they’re no good. All great stories need a message. When you’re working with a bunch of kids, generally speaking, the message should be one about how to make a better place. Kids are the ones who are going to be doing it when we’re all dead and gone.
A: Well Evan, this has been a pleasure. We know each other pretty well, but I learned some interesting things I didn’t know… like that Seth and Evan film out there at Mrs. Rogen’s house. I got to get her contact.