Summer Film Training Program for Foster Youth Accepting Applications

Better Crew participants at the 2018 Real to Reel Global Youth Film Festival. Credit: Johna Rivers

With an afternoon on the red carpet, being photographed and interviewed about their work, and the chance to see their original films on the big screen, the Real to Reel Film Festival marks the end of a unique training opportunity for former foster youth. But for many, it also marks the beginning of their exploration into art and filmmaking as careers.

Real to Reel is put on by current and former foster youth participating in a film training program called Better Crew, a project of the youth development organization Better Youth.

Better Crew is currently accepting applications for this summer’s cohort, which is open to current and former foster youth ages 14 through 24 with an interest in media and tech.

“Throughout the program, I have learned creative confidence in many different aspects pertaining to arts and film,” said former program participant Autumn Taylor.

2018 Better Crew participants visiting YouTube. Credit: Johna Rivers

In the Better Crew curriculum, last year’s cohort of participating youth engaged in career discussions with mentors from Disney, the HBO hit series ‘Insecure’ and Netflix, among others. Professional lighting technician Reggie Owens educated the youth about the importance of light in film and television. Youth participated in workplace tours and field trips throughout the training, visiting media meccas like the YouTube Space, the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, AT&T’s Shape Expo and The Adobe Max Global Conference.

Through the course of their training, the participants got a chance to see previously unknown artistic ability in their peers and collaborate.

2018 Better Crew participant Malik Bell at the Real to Reel 2018 Global Youth Film Festival. Credit: Johna Rivers

“[It was] teamwork like you wouldn’t imagine in a million years,” said Malik Bell, another member of the 2018 cohort.

“I’ve always dreamed of having a team like that … having a consistent and well-rounded team of people that have this unlimited creative possibility that was able [to be] tapped into full potential was cool.”

In teaming up to make their own short films from scratch, the youths’ new skills and creativity were put to the test as they worked together to troubleshoot challenges and overcome obstacles.

“Flexibility is always at an all-time high and we have had many encounters where, as a crew, we had to figure out a better solution,” Taylor said.

On top of the training and access to industry experts, the Better Crew participants came away with a free, yearlong subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite, which includes video editing software as well as Photoshop and other programs, to allow them to continue practicing their new skills.

The program culminated in the October Real to Reel festival where eight short films were screened, all written, directed and produced by former foster youth.

This year’s Better Crew program, sponsored by AT&T, will focus on digital storytelling using animation and virtual reality techniques. The curriculum runs through mid-August, and the sessions will be held on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the South Bay Tech Center in Hawthorne. All participants in this interactive Adobe course will complete a media project, help produce community events and receive a professional development certificate.

Reel to Real also puts on an annual “Rising Artists Showcase” for local performing artists in Los Angeles. They’ll be holding auditions to participate in the third annual showcase on July 13. Email for more information and to RSVP for the auditions.

To apply for the 2019 Better Crew program, visit

For more information and updates on Real To Reel please visit:, and for more information about Better Youth visit

Johna Rivers is an activist who rose above her circumstances as a foster youth and beat the statistics. She is co-founder of Real to Reel, the first-ever film festival for young people, creating a platform for young kids to highlight issues plaguing their communities locally or globally. She has traveled to Africa and Brazil, and is a powerhouse making moves to create change.

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