Hollywood is sailing into the East Bay on the wide deck of a pioneering project with a proven track record laid down by Joey Travolta, who has helped run five two-week summer filmmaking camp at Saint Mary's College.
Announcing a January 2013 launch of the Practical Film and Media Workshop, a 20-week vocational training course aimed at putting adults with developmental disabilities to work, the initiative is a partnership between Travolta's L.A.-based Inclusion Films and Lafayette's Futures Explored, Inc.
Futures Explored has teamed with Joey Travolta -- brother of John -- on the Saint Mary's film camps, geared for students ages 9-21. That program will continue, but the introduction of the Southern California adult program propels their collaboration to a new level. And Futures Explored Executive Director Will Sanford predicts this is only the beginning.
"We've been hearing about the numbers of autistic kids in schools," Sanford said, "but we're here to answer the question of what young adults in the (autism) spectrum are going to do after they graduate from school."
The Practical Film and Media Workshop is open to individuals over the age of 18 with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. Funding comes privately, or in most cases, through the Regional Center of the East Bay. Tuition is $8,500 for the course that will meet from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week.
Sanford says the workshop's location remains to be finalized, but Lafayette is most likely. Concord or Berkeley are possibilities. Broadcast opportunities and collaborations with colleges and other local organizations are also being actively pursued. In Los Angeles and Bakersfield, where the program recently expanded with a local NBC affiliate station broadcasting newscast footage created by workshop students, participants often repeat the workshop up to three times, resulting in a course of study equivalent to a two-year community college vocational training program.
Hester Wagner, who holds an MA in Educational Theatre from NYU and has worked with Travolta for the past five years, is the lead instructor. Experienced in curriculum development and versed in the acrobatics of juggling training, teaching, managing, scheduling and producing films, Wagner is eager to take students from concept to class to execution.
"This is all about helping people to get a job," Wagner says. "It's going to impact people outside, in the real world."
Using film creation as the scaffolding, Wagner and her team will teach students every step of film production, including what makes a good narrative, lighting, camera operation, acting and writing, pre- and post-production editing, artistic design and film history.
Along the way, Joey Travolta's not-so-hidden agenda and his expertise as a film director and special education instructor will produce students with the social and organizational skills they lack.
"It's not just training these kids to go into the film industry," Travolta says. "We're teaching these kids how to go into the workplace. They'll learn valuable work habits to go into any field."
Travolta is a huge presence at the summer camps, and even though the adult film school students won't technically be "kids," his big-daddy persona will likely mean no one objects to the term.
Planning to be on-site frequently when the program kicks into gear, he expects to visit once a month, but says Wagner "knows his system" and that the local professionals he is hiring to participate will keep the workshop humming.
"For it to be a success, we first need people to train and second, employment partners. Making sure the kids find work is a big part of my job," Travolta says.
For Sanford, the big job was convincing the RCEB to back the initiative.
"It was two years of submitting programs, answering questions, modifying design, specifying the licensing and explaining a payment structure that was more like college tuition than their typical structures," he says. "Showing the benefit to society wasn't enough. We had to convince them that this wasn't just a fun arts class. Proving that it leads to employment made all the difference."
Travolta boasts of the phenomenal strides Inclusion Films has made in Burbank.
"Last week, we had seven students working on four different productions," he says. "We have kids doing work for news stations, production companies, and independent producers. The Chicago School of Psychology has hired them; they've done a Wendy's commercial."
The mighty machine that is Travolta, is cruising at full steam.
"The doors are really starting to open up for Inclusion Films down in LA. Those are the same doors I'm gonna be knocking on and breaking down in the Bay area," Travolta promises.
For information about how to register for the Practical Film and Media Workshop, contact Aileen Timmers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 925-284-3240 (ext. 215). For Summer Full Inclusion Camp, go to: www.futures-explored.org/film_camp_home.htm.